China and Russia are criticizing a U.S. report that cited both countries among the world's worst in fighting sex trafficking and forced labor.
In its annual report on human trafficking, released Wednesday, the U.S. State Department dropped Beijing and Moscow to its lowest possible rating, putting them at the same level as North Korea and Iran.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Thursday called the report "arbitrary," saying Washington should take an "objective and impartial" view of its efforts to fight human trafficking.
In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Ministry suggested the State Department was simply ranking countries according to their degree of sympathy with Washington. It threatened to retaliate against any sanctions that could result from the designation.
The report said an estimated one million people in Russia are exposed to “exploitative” labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as non-payment for services, physical abuse and very poor living conditions.
The report described China as a "source, transit and destination country" for men, women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. It also said the Chinese government’s one-child policy has resulted in a ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls, creating a demand for the trafficking of foreign women as brides and for forced prostitution.
Uzbekistan was downgraded to the worst level, known as Tier Three, because of what the report said is its state-sanctioned use of forced labor in its annual cotton harvest.
Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe are among the 21 countries rated at the lowest level in terms of human trafficking. The list of Tier Three countries also ijncludes Algeria, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.
In the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States has a moral obligation to meet the challenge of ending human trafficking. He called the practice an assault on freedom and basic human dignity.
President Barack Obama will determine by September whether to order sanctions against China, Russia and Uzbekistan.