Houston mayor issues “zero tolerance” executive order on human trafficking in city contracts

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks with the media during a business forum in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. The forum was attended by business representatives from Houston and Havana, to explore opportunities in areas of health, sports, energy, commerce and art, according to local state-run media Cubadebate. (Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate via AP)

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued an executive order prohibiting the use of forced labor and human trafficking for businesses seeking contracts with the City of Houston. The order requires that contractors with the city have protections in place against the use of forced labor. The measure serves as an effort to reduce the problem of human trafficking and forced labor as the city recovers from Hurricane Harvey.

According to the text the purposes of the executive order are to “raise awareness of human trafficking,” “encourage contractors to follow… labor practices that do not violate human trafficking laws,” “educate the public” about human trafficking laws, and “declare the City will use its best efforts to conduct business with enterprises that take steps to safeguard against human trafficking.”

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The order also requires that contractors verify that their subcontractors are also not engaged in human trafficking or forced labor practices. Houston has become a destination for human traffickers. As a major port city and with its proximity to Mexico, human traffickers have taken advantages of undocumented immigrants and refugees to engage in everything from forced labor to prostitution.

Houston’s executive order follows the same language as a 2012 White House executive order, which also expressed a zero-tolerance policy for human trafficking by companies with government contracts.

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The mayor’s executive order seeks to prevent a situation similar to what happened in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina. A report from a human rights organization showed that Signal Corporation lured hundreds of workers from India with the promise of steady jobs and permanent residency in the U.S. Instead, the company kept the workers in camps and forced them to repair hurricane damage along the coast.

An investigation revealed Signal’s misconduct, and a lawsuit followed. Signal settled the lawsuit by paying $14 million to the affected workers and $20 million to federal authorities for human trafficking.

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