The US Department of State released its 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report last week. The report, released annually since 2001, summarizes trafficking-related developments around the world. Each country is ranked according to a three-tier system, including Tier 1 (governments praised for their responsiveness to human trafficking), Tier 2 (governments making progress towards prosecuting and preventing human trafficking offenses), and Tier 3 (governments condemned for negligence or complicity in trafficking). The Tier 2 “watch list” is reserved for those countries who might expect to receive a Tier 3 status from the State Department if substantial changes in trafficking-related policy and practice are not made.

The TIP Report, particularly its tier ranking system, has been criticized frequently. For instance, governments that rank poorly are frequently those that eschew positive diplomatic relations with the United States. The Report also determines geographic and thematic eligibility for organizations and service providers seeking grant funding from the U.S. government. Year-to-year changes can cause difficulties for grant applicants, particularly as they related to consistency and sustainability of existing programs.

Nonetheless, the TIP Report continues to serve as a valuable tool for policy makers, advocates, and service providers around the world. In addition to country briefings, the Report includes educational material: a 2013 thematic focus on victim identification, global trafficking-related law enforcement statistics, and a section called “TIP Report Heroes” that honors the outstanding efforts (and best practices) of anti-trafficking advocates. Finally, it should be noted, the Report carries clout. A poor ranking is more than a diplomatic slap on the wrist. It can affect a country’s overall eligibility for U.S.-backed international aid, and can potentially serve as a much-needed impetus for building a new foundation for anti-trafficking efforts nationally or regionally.