Evidence of meeting #65 for Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was countries.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Nipa Banerjee  Senior fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you very much.

MP Fragiskatos.

June 6th, 2017 / 1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

Thank you for being here today.

In your comments you mentioned that a number of variables are responsible. You listed weak economies as being a primary culprit when it comes to explaining why this problem exists in the first place. I wonder if you could follow up on what you spoke about with respect to poverty reduction programs as a way to deal with that particular problem, and, in effect, help to combat the problem of human trafficking. I wonder if you could answer the question with the following perspective in mind. I know that you worked with CIDA. I wonder as far as development policy goes, Canada as a middle power has been contributing a great deal in terms of global development, and we've done a very good job of this in our history, but there's always more to learn. How do we engage in ways that prevent us from imposing our approach or view and instead allow individuals to have ownership over particular projects?

Let me give you an example. Much has been made of microcredit, for instance, and its potential in terms of allowing individuals on the ground to actually have ownership over their own lives through economic projects. I wonder if projects like that are particularly useful in helping to generate a sense of self-esteem, and generate the sense of self-ownership necessary to combat problems of inequality that exist in weak economies, and in effect help us deal with the whole issue of human trafficking in a way that is not authored by us, but by the people on the ground, with our only intervening to help as necessary.

1:45 p.m.

Prof. Nipa Banerjee

As you know, I worked for many years in CIDA. I couldn't say this if I worked in the government, but today I can say that I could count on one hand the programs that have been really successful in reducing poverty and attending to some of the other problems.

Microfinance is a program you mentioned. That program has been very successful, despite having a lot of problems. I will not talk about the problems. Those problems are brought to the attention of the activists and the non-governmental organizations that implement them. Despite those problems, they have been very successful in doing exactly what you have brought up, which is self-esteem and awareness of ownership of what they can do.

I will give you the example of my own experience in Bangladesh. I had my first posting there in 1983, and I was there until 1986. Now I go back. I have a practical program offering field courses for our students from the University of Ottawa and I take them to practical projects, the projects that operate on the ground by non-governmental organizations mainly, because the government does not have the capacity to run these kinds of programs. They are supported by the government, but run by non-governmental organizations.

I was there when these programs started about 10 years after Bangladesh got independence. These are mainly women's gender-focused programs.

What I saw then with some of the programs that even we financed—and I will talk about it—and what I see today in the women is that the difference is several-fold. I can't even compare. The same women who most likely could not even talk to me—I speak the language and I am a woman—without putting their veils up are now in open public meetings in front of men, and this is a Muslim society. They are criticizing the government, the non-governmental organizations themselves, and the men.

For instance, talking about their seeking justice, BRAC, a very well-known organization, is asking them to complain at the court in the district. A woman said it was fine for me to say that she should complain at the district about gender violence, but her husband would come to know and he would kill her. What was I going to do about it? This shows that probably a lot is still to be done, and women still cannot do things on their own because of some of the social and cultural traditions and barriers, but at the same time, they have the courage to speak up.

This is happening with microfinance. They have the courage to speak up because they are able to earn an income, get a position in society, in the family, and earn dignity. This is extremely important.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

What I take from your comments is that there are particular programs that are best suited to combatting problems like human trafficking. I know there is limited time and I think I've used my time, but you mentioned a written brief. If perhaps you do go down the path of writing a short brief for us, I wonder if you could touch on specific programs that you have found have been successful in generating the kinds of outcomes you've touched on here, and therefore, would help best to combat problems of human trafficking.

1:50 p.m.

Prof. Nipa Banerjee

I would love to do that. I was disheartened about this because in 10 minutes you can't talk about it.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

I know.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you. We appreciate the offer of sending us additional information.

We do have time for one final question from MP Sweet.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Thank you, Chair. I hope we have just a bit more than that. I think we have five minutes left. I have a couple of things.

I just want to point out to our research team, before I ask a question, that one of the things I think we need to deal with in our report at the end is with Dr. Banerjee's testimony today, as well as a couple of briefing notes that we have from today and one earlier.

We have five different figures. We have from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,150,000 people trafficked; Agape Research notes 150,000 women and girls; the Indian government is saying 20,000 women; the International Labour Organization is saying globally forced labour is 20.9 million, and we know a large percentage of that is from Southeast Asia; and, a global slavery index that Dr. Banerjee introduced has 36 million. I'm wondering if we could try to assemble a graph on that and see if we could get our heads around trying to—I know the numbers are tough—add in our report some legitimacy or veracity to the numbers as best as we can.

There is another issue too, Chair, to focus on as well when we come to our conclusions. Dr. Banerjee mentioned something that we often don't trace, in that the most vulnerable people are women and girls, but in her example, which is a very good one, because of the inequities in economies, a young man becomes victimized by the Taliban or ISIS and then he's the very one who goes about revictimizing women and trafficking them. I think we could try to focus on that, too, to see exactly how much of a problem it is with disenfranchised young boys and men who are becoming part of the problem because of that inequity.

One of the aspects that we have in our briefing note is in regard to—and I think you may have mentioned it, Doctor, and I apologize, as I was trying to listen and make notes—the organ harvesting aspect of it. That brings a different dimension into human trafficking, because it means there is a very sophisticated talent that's required to extract the organ to keep it, of course, safe and alive so that it can actually be transplanted and so it's worth something. Do you have any evidence that this is on the increase in southern Asia?

1:55 p.m.

Prof. Nipa Banerjee

I will have to look for that evidence.

There is collusion because it is such a sophisticated process. I mentioned that there is collusion between doctors and the traffickers. Both profit from this. This is definitely mentioned in several research studies talking about the organs. I think even in the UNODC protocol or report that they produce there is a.... You mentioned the focus on getting better statistics. UNODC's 2016 report is available. I will look into that. I have looked at it and you can get better statistics there, too.

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Okay.

I have a last, quick, question, Chair.

We've talked a lot about poverty in regard to the proliferation. I'm not discounting that. I like what my colleagues said that it's really about economic disparity, because when somebody is wealthier, they can victimize the person. Disparity plays a big role in that as well.

I want to say something or maybe posit this to you. I think one of the reasons this crime continues to proliferate at the degree it does is it's easy to get away with because of the cultural aspects and the kinds of profits that can be made. If you're in possession of drugs in some of these countries, you will go to jail for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years, but you can traffic people and make a lot of money and you can get away with it very easily, particularly when they are in poverty. I know in the North American aspect, you get them hooked on drugs and then they are not even a good witness against you.

1:55 p.m.

Prof. Nipa Banerjee

It is very true that not enough attention is being paid to identification of victims. With identification of victims, you can get to some of the problems more easily, and it is not done. That is an issue that should be looked into.

2 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

I just want to make the point, Chair, around profit and corruption being part of that equation, along with poverty.

Thank you very much, Doctor.

2 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you very much, Dr. Banerjee. We greatly appreciate your testimony before us here today. We also appreciate your offer of doing a little homework for us and sending it in, so that we can more fully address some of these issues.

2 p.m.

Prof. Nipa Banerjee

Thank you very much for inviting me and accepting my presentation.

2 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you.

We're going to go in camera for a couple of minutes, if we can. There are two additional items that we're going to discuss.

2 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Chair, I'm going to have to bring mine another day. I have to leave.

2 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Then the meeting is adjourned.