According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking, the subject of our hearing today, is the world’s fastest-growing international organized crime.

It is also one of the most profitable, generating between 12 and 17 billion dollars per year. There are only two other illicit businesses, the trade in drugs and the trade in weapons, which are more lucrative.

The European Union has designated today, October 18, as “Anti-Trafficking Day,” and I commend our friends in the EU for their exemplary efforts to advance the cause of human rights. This step reflects the international consensus on the need to end this tragic abuse.

Every year, according to the International Labor Organization, traffickers move between 700,000 and 2 million women and children across international boundaries, mainly for the purpose of serving the sex trade.

But it doesn’t stop there: An almost equal number of men, women and children are trafficked each year for the purpose of forced labor in slave-like working conditions. In our own country, forced laborers have turned up most often in agriculture, domestic service, sweatshops and in restaurants and hotels.

But what I have been giving you here are just numbers. To get a true sense of the personal calamity that results from human trafficking -- and how huge a problem it is -- one needs to look no further than the major newspapers on virtually every continent.

Newswatch of Nigeria recently documented that children in that country are being trafficked to work on plantation farms just as they were 200 years ago. In a chilling reminder of the horrors of the slave trade, Newswatch reports that Nigerian children are being trafficked by boats to other countries and when pursued by law enforcement, thrown overboard just to destroy the evidence.

Today we will hear from a witness who will tell us of her own experiences right here in America with another form of modern-day slavery.

For the past seven years, under the leadership of our colleague, Mr. Smith of New Jersey, this committee has worked tirelessly to combat human trafficking. During that time, we have seen a substantial growth in international awareness and in international cooperation. We have also seen commendable efforts in this area on the part of our own Department of State, the United Nations and some countries around the globe.

Unfortunately, it seems that we are not keeping up with the problem.

In this year’s Trafficking-in-Persons Report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shows a significant increase in the number of countries that are failing to make any effort at all to combat human trafficking. There are now 16 countries in this category, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Equatorial Guinea, all of them pressing for better relations with the United States.

Now to explain what this categorization means, in the Trafficking-in-Persons Report, nations are rated on the basis of their efforts to combat trafficking. The highest rating -- Tier 1 -- goes to countries that fully comply with the best international standards, while the lowest rating -- Tier 3 -- goes to those countries that do not comply and who are making no effort to do so.

The President is more than a month late in issuing his determinations as to what countries are in the various tiers. While I will withhold judgment until I see the President’s judgment, I am very much concerned that the Administration will waive sanctions or move countries out of Tier 3 without any real commitments by those countries to make progress in this area. Such decisions would make it clear that we are not prepared to apply the same standards uniformly.

We cannot restore our moral leadership around the world, which has been so battered in recent years, if we are not willing to deal frankly with friendly countries.

Later today I will be introducing legislation with Mr. Smith and Mr. Conyers designed to address some of the problems spelled out in the 2007 Trafficking-in-Persons Report. The key items in our new legislation will be the following:

We will require a comprehensive analysis of trafficking data to help us understand better where victims are actually going and how to free them.

We will provide more help for countries to inspect locations where forced labor occurs, to register vulnerable populations and to provide more protection to foreign workers.

We will ensure that US assistance programs are both transparent and effective.

We will urge the Administration to work with our friends to reach agreements between labor exporters and labor importers so that vulnerable workers have more, rather than less protection,

And finally we will address the tragic subject of child soldiers.

I earnestly hope that all my colleagues will join me in supporting this important legislation.