Bill rebukes slavers, but business will go on

Posted: Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The state could cut financial relationships with companies that do business in countries that support slavery and human trafficking, under a bill heard by a Senate committee Tuesday.

But the measure actually would have little to no effect on trade or on the state's dealings with companies in Alaska.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Fred Dyson of Eagle River and co-sponsored by 16 other senators, would use an annual U.S. State Department list to determine the worst offending countries when it comes to supporting or ignoring human trafficking.

"Here in the 20th century, sad to say, slavery exists around the world," said John Miller, director of the U.S. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons.

Miller told the State Affairs Committee by telephone that as many as 800,000 people are trafficked across borders and into slavery each year. That does not count the number of people forced into sexual slavery, domestic servitude or forced labor within their own countries, he said.

The federal government is now tracking the worst offenders and imposing partial sanctions on those governments that do not make efforts to bring trafficking under control.

Dyson's bill is meant to do the same thing at the state level. The state's administration, courts and Legislature would be able to restrict their dealings with companies that do business in those countries listed.

Dyson said he would also like to limit the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. from investing in countries on the State Department's Tier 3 list of worst offenders.

But Dyson's measure stops short of cutting off those companies and countries.

The language of the bill would allow state government to "restrict" financial relationships instead of severing them.

The biggest effect the bill would have, if passed, would be to require companies who bid on state contracts to produce a human trafficking policy, said Vern Jones, procurement officer for the state.

Just six countries are listed as worst offenders by the State Department: North Korea, Venezuela, Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Cuba and Sudan. Of those six, only Venezuela has any significant level of trade with Alaska.

In 2003, the United States exported $167,469 in goods and services to Venezuela through Alaska, according to the state Division of International Trade. That makes Venezuela Alaska's 51st largest trading partner.

Many companies that do business in Alaska also do business in Venezuela, including within the oil and tourism industries.

But the bill is meant to raise awareness, not to cut off business, Dyson said.

"There is no prohibition for dealing with those companies doing business in those countries," he said.

The bill also wouldn't change Alaska's relationship with its No. 1 trading partner, Japan. Last year, more than $1 billion in goods and services moved were exported to Japan through Alaska.

Japan also is on the State Department's list, but is on the "tier two" watch list. That means it is in danger of slipping into the worst offender category, but would not be affected by the bill.

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