The U.S. government accused China and Russia of dealing with human trafficking as poorly as countries like Syria and North Korea on Wednesday.
The yearly U.S. Trafficking in Persons report downgraded China and Russia from the Tier-2 Watchlist to Tier-3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, Iran and Zimbabwe.
Under the U.S. State Department’s definition, human trafficking is used as an umbrella term that includes sex trafficking, forced child labor, child soldiers, debt bondage and involuntary domestic servitude.
To determine each country’s tier placement, American diplomats and agencies survey countries’ human rights and consider the efforts each country has put into safeguarding its citizens against abuses.
China’s one-child policy has created gender imbalances that lead to an explosion in numbers of trafficked women, according to the U.S. report.
The report also pointed to Chinese labor camps, called laogai, that force dissidents to work in extreme conditions where they are exploited for money.
Changing a country from the Tier-2 Watchlist to Tier-3 is meant to be call to action, according to Secretary of State John Kerry. He stated that countries listed as Tier-3 were twice as likely to take action to weed out human trafficking.
More than just a warning, the new status also means sanctions against both countries. The U.S. can withhold non-trade and non-humanitarian foreign assistance and object to any assistance offered by the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.
Kerry called trafficking “modern day slavery,” and a problem that “we thought we had dealt with long ago,” in a live conference on June 19. Of the 27 million people who are trafficked, only 46,000 cases have been brought to light.
Bilateral relationships could be strained by the status change. U.S. President Obama just met with Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping during talks earlier this month, and with Russian leader Vladimir Putin at the G8 Summit on June 17.