Vanderbilt Law School Hosts Ambassador John Richmond

Earlier this semester, the International Law Society and Law Students for Social Justice hosted Ambassador John Cotton Richmond. A current adjunct professor at Vanderbilt Law School, Richmond serves as the United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and leads the Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Ambassador Richmond comes to the highest position in the federal government dedicated to combating human trafficking, after a distinguished career in the global battle for freedom. He also co-founded the Human Trafficking Institute.

Richmond discussed the current state of human trafficking, links between international and human rights law, and more. Here are a few takeaways from the discussion.

There are strong economic motivations linked to human trafficking. Richmond kicked off the conversation with a straightforward explanation of the motivations behind trafficking: “It’s money; it always has been.” The United Nations estimates $150.2 billion in annual gross revenues from trafficking. While inhumane, human trafficking is, unfortunately, quite profitable.

Human rights violations are inherent in human trafficking. Richmond emphasized the use of trafficking to support exploitative labor, on which many international business supply chains depend. He expounded on the variety of industries that depend on forced labor, from agriculture to solar panels. “Is the improvement of the climate, represented by additional solar panels in the United States, worth tolerating slavery-made solar panels,” he asked rhetorically.

Richmond pointed a disclosure movement that began in 2010 to require companies making over $100 million gross revenue annually to disclose what, if anything, they’re doing to detect forced labor in their supply chain and combat any presence of exploitative labor.

Human trafficking needs more attention from human rights groups. “With 400 years of recorded slavery, it is evident that (trafficking) has been a key part of the world’s history,” said Richmond, who noted at multiple points in the discussion that human trafficking is a human rights issue, one that requires the attention of dedicated human rights advocates and leaders. The Libertas Council, which Mr. Richmond founded, approaches human trafficking through this lens. “It was created to facilitate the exchange of ideas and conversations to improve freedom and efforts directed towards improving human dignity through the pursuit of ending human trafficking,” he said.