WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leader in efforts to end modern slavery at home and abroad, delivered the following remarks at a hearing on the State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Last month, Corker joined Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump at the launch ceremony for the report that grades countries on their progress in enforcing laws against forced labor, sexual servitude and other forms of human trafficking, while also supporting victims. The committee heard testimony from Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Susan Coppedge.
"This morning we will continue our oversight efforts with regard to the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report.
"I want to thank Senator Cardin and other members of the committee for their leadership and engagement in combatting this affront to human dignity and the rule of law.
"This committee has conducted extensive oversight on this issue.
"We have instituted annual briefings for members of the committee with the Office for Trafficking in Persons ambassador and regional bureaus at the State Department prior to the release of annual Trafficking in Persons report.
"We ask every nominee before this committee to commit to help lead the fight against modern slavery. This oversight has been noted at the State Department and in our embassies.
"We appreciate that the deputy secretary of state volunteered to lead the administration's testimony today. The secretary spent about 45 minutes with Senator Cardin and I before this meeting and we thank him very much for his openness and the way that he's serving, and we look forward to having an outstanding relationship with him. We thank you for being here today.
"I know the secretary of state wanted to be here. He had an unplanned trip to the Middle East. And thank you for sitting in in his stead. We thank you for the elevation of this issue at the State Department and, again, for you being here.
"The deputy's attendance demonstrates the State Department's interest in the stability of this report after Ambassador Coppedge finishes her assignment.
"We also welcome Ambassador Susan Coppedge, who agreed to remain in her post to ensure continuity with the 2017 report. We appreciate your leadership and service.
"I have to say that I think you've been outstanding. And I think there are people around the world that benefitted greatly from your service. Certainly, we have. And I cannot thank you enough for your leadership, for your dedication to this issue, and I hope our paths cross many, many times in the future.
"We also appreciate that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump personally and passionately led the rollout of the 2017 report flanked by TIP Heroes in a packed room. It was a great event, and I was glad to be there.
"I would like to begin by commending Ambassador Coppedge and the State Department for the focus of this year's report on the responsibility of governments to criminalize human trafficking and hold offenders accountable.
"Human trafficking largely exploits the vulnerable for profit. There is no greater deterrent than to make it clear that perpetrators and those who collaborate with them will pay a heavy price for these crimes.
"This year's report contains specific elements that our country and other countries can use to prosecute the crime of modern slavery.
"I hope that in compiling next year's report you will continue to highlight examples of progress in prosecution and scrutinize where corruption and lack of progress are failing victims of modern slavery.
"The 2015 report and how it was perceived did real damage to this issue. We are still recovering. We all need to continue to reinforce trust in the process of developing the report and tier rankings.
"We, for our part, are careful not to politicize the oversight process and that remains important.
"I do believe that beginning last year and again this year, the State Department has taken the integrity of the report seriously, and we thank you very much for that.
"Senator Cardin and I were talking, and there may be questions about some of the outcomes, but I think one of the things that absolutely everyone feels is that there was no politicization. There may have been differences in judgement, but we appreciate the integrity with which this was put together.
"Finally, I would like to thank Secretary Tillerson for announcing at the Trafficking in Persons Report rollout that the State Department is proceeding with the $1.5 billion End Modern Slavery Initiative that Senator Menendez and I first presented to this committee in 2015.
"This is a critical step in the effort to end modern slavery globally.
"To quote British Prime Minister Theresa May: 'Victims will only find freedom if we cultivate a radically new, global and coordinated approach to defeat this vile crime.'
"Thank you both for being here and I'll turn to my friend, Senator Cardin."