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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., answers questions following a closed-door security briefing on nuclear negotiations with Iran, at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015.

Barely a month into his new role as chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Bob Corker already has called four hearings of international significance.

Three of them dealt with pressing issues of obvious import: Cuba, ISIS, Iran.

But the fourth? Corker seems to have called it independently of any headlines, sort of as an act of senatorial prioritization, almost as if moving a favored card to the top of the deck.

On Feb. 4, Corker called a hearing on modern slavery and human trafficking.

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"Congress can create and lead a vision to end modern slavery," he told Washington and the world.

Modern slavery exists no less than it did 200 years ago. Across the world, more than 27 million men, women and children -- especially women and children -- are objectified and exploited for labor and sex in a criminal underworld worth some $150 billion in global profit.

Picture nightclubs in Peru, electronics factories in China, karaoke bars in Cambodia, gold mines in Congo.

And domestic workers in the United States.

"Thousands of victims are brought into America each year from all over the world. They are used mainly for household labor, agriculture, food and care services, and in the garment industry," John Tirman wrote in The Washington Post.

Corker invited policy leaders, government workers and freed slaves to testify at the hearing, which was the first in a series and continues today.

"Slavery is as brutal as ever," Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission, told the committee.

A Christian human rights group, IJM has become one of the world's leading anti-slavery institutions. At the hearing, Haugen mentioned two specific countries: Ghana and the Philippines.

Ghana receives billions from the World Bank and U.S. development funds; yet a third of Ghana's children work in various and questionable industries -- fishing, service, mining, begging, prostitution. IJM investigated one area -- Lake Volta -- where 60 percent of children working on fishing boats were enslaved.

"Bearing telltale signs of violence, depredation and terror," Haugen told the committee.

Slavery is illegal in Ghana, yet the nation's anti-trafficking force doesn't patrol the lake. It doesn't even own a boat.

What good is a law if it's not enforced? Such illegality-in-name-only mirrors a global pattern. According to the State Department, three countries where slavery is most prevalent are the same places where prosecution is nonexistent.

"Zero convictions in anti-trafficking cases in 2013," Haugen said.

Much of IJM's model focuses on law enforcement as a means to liberation. In Cebo, the second-largest city in the Philippines, IJM partnered with national police, which led to raids, arrests, more than 200 victims rescued and 77 perpetrators arrested.

"The availability of minor girls had plummeted by 79 percent in Cebu," Haugen said.

Corker's hearing hinted at a model of public-private partnership that would use funding and measurable, concrete data as leverage for countries to implement real, toothy law enforcement programs.

Any abolition work also must include close monitoring of the supply chain of goods and services -- especially in corporate America -- as well as heavy support of post-rescue efforts. Once people are free, they need to stay free.

"U.S. government and private philanthropic funding are spurring increasingly sophisticated efforts to combat modern slavery," Corker said.

I doubt Corker called these hearings simply for appearance. They should be seen as a clear sign of his abolitionism, which we should continue to encourage and watch for in the coming year.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

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