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GOP senator pushes to end modern slavery — but he says the battle isn’t over

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Ending Modern Slavery on Friday in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images/Paul Morigi)

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was shaking hands with the oft-comical and beloved actor Ashton Kutcher last week — but the issue that sparked the unlikely pair’s meeting certainly is no laughing matter.

Ahead of the END IT Movement’s fifth annual Shine a Light on Slavery Day on Thursday, Corker convened a Senate hearing to discuss trafficking and technological tools used to shut down traffickers.

“To be a sitting United States senator and know that you’ve got the privilege that’s been given to you from your citizens to try to address issues and to know that we’ve got an opportunity to do something that could affect, over time, millions of people around the world, you have to do it,” Corker said in a brief video Wednesday that addressed his recent involvement with groups dedicated to ending trafficking.

While the exact number of those enslaved globally is nearly impossible to pinpoint, Corker said experts believe some 27 million people are currently enslaved — an estimated 24 percent in sexual servitude and 76 percent in hard labor.

“I was not aware of the magnitude of [trafficking] until being in this job,” Corker told TheBlaze in an interview. “It’s highly prevalent.”

Championed by Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the End Modern Slavery Initiative was passed in December as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. The bipartisan initiative in part establishes a partnership with governments and the private sector in an effort to eradicate slavery and trafficking.

“I’m very encouraged, and I think you saw a tremendous bipartisan support for this,” Corker said. “But let’s face it, the hard work begins for this now.”

Corker praised the public-private partnership of the initiative but added that the next step is gathering the resources to further it — including developing an international effort which the U.S. will lead.

“We’ve got to professionalize this now,” Corker said.

While the Senate is not in session this week, Corker will travel overseas and meet with leaders in regards to the initiative. One of his stops, Corker said, will be at the Vatican where “they are committed to ending modern slavery as well.”

“We’ve got folks that are part of this effort who are now meeting with other folks all around the world who are now interested in committing resources. We know of other countries that are interested in joining in,” he said.

But there are other countries where modern slavery still runs amuck, Corker argued, although he declined to single out any specific area.

According to the International Labour Organization, forced labor generated an estimated profit of $150 billion in 2014 with the Asia-Pacific area racking in the most money.

And according to the nonprofit Human Rights First, there were 6,609 global trafficking-related convictions just last year, with 4 percent of those convictions occurring in the U.S. As the nonprofit noted, most of those convictions were with labor trafficking as labor cases are easily hid within businesses and sex trafficking cases "often involve prostitution, which is illegal across most of the United States."

[graphiq id="1RenQhvGqMt" title="Human Trafficking in the U.S." width="600" height="667" url="" ]

Corker also praised Kutcher for his testimony at last week’s hearing.

“Let’s face it, his notoriety brings a lot of attention,” Corker said. “But not only that, people were pretty shocked by his knowledge of the actual way of interdicting [traffickers]. This was no superficial celebrity; this was somebody who has really committed his resources, time, energy and focus in such a manner that [his company] is making a difference right now all across the country.”

Kutcher is the co-founder of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children — a tech company that works to eradicate child exploitation.

And although he is arguably more well-known for his acting prowess, Kutcher delivered a passionate and informed testimony about the work and products Thorn has developed that have helped law enforcement identify and rescue trafficking victims.

“I thought the hearing was good. It highlighted his celebrity, and it also demonstrated how if you’re committed to this, you can really help provide the tools and best practices that we can use in places all around the world to stop this,” Corker said.

The senator also praised millennials' passion for the issue.

"Since we began this effort, I’ve obviously been in front of people ... one of the things that we found is this is something that people become very passionate about, and it’s something that young people in this country are very much moved by and want to be a part of," Corker said.

Thursday, Feb. 23, is recognized as Shine a Light on Slavery Day — an effort to raise awareness about modern slavery. Many supporters of the initiative will draw a red X on their hands or wear a red X lapel pin.

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