In the midst of a controversy surrounding his 2008 plea deal with billionaire and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, United States Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta is proposing an 80 percent budget cut to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB), an agency that works to combat human trafficking.
The ILAB's mission is to "promote a fair global playing field for workers in the United States and around the world by enforcing trade commitments, strengthening labor standards, and combating international child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking," according to its website. One of its four offices, the Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking, researches and publishes major reports on these issues to inform policy and works with governments and organizations to help eradicate these labor abuses.
When the ILAB released two reports in September of 2018, Acosta praised the agency's work.
"These reports represent one of the Department of Labor's key contributions to the global effort to protect workers in the United States and around the world by defending the rights of all people to live free of child labor, forced labor, human trafficking, and modern slavery," Acosta said in a news release.
Yet, when Acosta proposed his fiscal year 2020 budget for the Department of Labor, it included cutting the ILAB's budget from $68 million to just $18.5 million, the Guardian reported.
Kathleen Kim, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and human trafficking expert, told the Guardian such a reduction would "undoubtedly eliminate many of the U.S. government's anti human trafficking efforts that have been critical in encouraging action by law enforcement" and increase the risk of children's exposure to sexual trafficking.
Representative Katherine Clark (D–Massachusetts) views Acosta's proposed budget cuts, on top of his lenient plea deal with Epstein, who was charged Monday with sex trafficking, as evidence that Acosta favors the rich and powerful over the vulnerable workers and victims of labor abuses his office aims to protect.
"How as Secretary of Labor can you tell this panel and the American people that you can responsibly oversee this budget, the Department of Labor, including human trafficking?" Clark asked Acosta during his budget presentation to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies in April of 2019.
House Democrats responded by proposing their own 2020 appropriations bill, which would raise the ILAB's budget to $122 million, providing funding for additional grants and employees on top of funds to continue to research and produce its key reports.