July 07, 2016
As the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world, the U.S. government has a unique responsibility to ensure that American tax dollars do not contribute to human trafficking in our Federal supply chains. As part of the government’s ongoing work to meet this responsibility, on May 11, 2016, the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and NASA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) by providing a definition of “recruitment fees” that Federal contractors are prohibited from charging workers under Executive Order 13627, “Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts.” The Human Thread received encouragement to review the proposed rule and to provide written comments through the formal process.
A little history: the FAR policy on combating trafficking in persons was modified in 2015 to prohibit Federal contractors from charging employees recruitment fees, consistent with Executive Order 13627. Shortly after the 2015 final FAR rule was published, the FAR Council recognized a need for further rulemaking to clarify the meaning of “recruitment fees” in the FAR policy so that the existing prohibition is applied in a consistent manner.
We submitted our input in the hopes of improving the definitions for a clear and effective rule that will further the important goal of eliminating human trafficking in Federal supply chains. We consider our participation in this rulemaking to be an important effort to protect vulnerable persons.
In consultation with others with significant background, we submitted a comment for the NPRM that can be found here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FAR-2015-0017-0005.
Our comment reads:
The agencies’ efforts to clarify the FAR’s prohibition on contractors charging employees recruitment fees is welcome. Moreover, we commend the agencies on their proposed inclusion of an illustrative list of charges and costs that qualify as “recruitment fees.” However, further delineation and clarification is needed to ensure that the definition set forth in the FAR encompasses the full scope of problematic costs and charges.
The proposed definition of “recruitment fees” includes costs related to “training.” We strongly support inclusion of training-related fees, but we are concerned with the ambiguity of this term. We urge the agencies to specify that “training” covers more than just required courses or certifications needed by employees or potential employees for work in a particular industry such as teaching or nursing. In addition, “training” should include courses recruiters lead victims to believe they need in order to qualify for a position, even if the training is not actually mandatory for employment. Such courses can include English-language programs, driving lessons, and behavioral and cultural workshops (separate from cultural orientation programs).
This deplorable activity is evidenced by first-hand accounts of survivors of labor trafficking. Victims describe traffickers luring them into paying for expensive seminars and courses that they fraudulently stated were required for teaching positions in the United States. This type of scheme led to a number of individuals being forced into severe debt-bondage situations.
We urge the agencies to include “insurance” costs in the illustrative list of recruitment fees. In order to clarify the scope of this item, we suggest that it be listed as: “all insurance fees, including, but not limited to, health, medical, and dental insurance.”
Transportation & Subsistence Costs
We further support inclusion of “transportation and subsistence costs from the airport or disembarkation point to the worksite.” We urge the agencies to expand this item to include transportation or travel from the airport or port of entry to housing accommodations as well as the worksite.