Researchers Judith Kelley of Duke University and Beth A. Simmons of Harvard University examined the longer-term effects of the tier rankings in From Scrutiny to Shame: Information as Social Pressure in International Relations, which looks at how the spread of information and peer pressure can affect countries. The report’s authors found that just being included in the report makes countries more likely to take actions on these issues by criminalizing human trafficking, for example. According to the report: “We find robust evidence that ‘information’—even if it is not scientific, even if it is not multilaterally validated—is a powerful policy tool in international relations. States respond to public monitoring and rating information, and they respond even if this information is not singling them out for bad behavior.”
The United States also includes itself in the rankings, which is important, says Lagon. “It’s part of a trend over the last two presidencies of reporting more and more about the United States so that we are an exemplar and not just a crusader.” The United States is ranked in tier 1.
The report is not without its critics, however. Brian Campbell, director of policy and legal programs at the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), says that while it’s clear that the rankings have helped some countries shape up, there have been indications of political bias in some of the past ratings, which taint the report’s integrity.
He cites the case of Uzbekistan, which was on the tier 2 watch list for years. The ILRF, which is affiliated with the Cotton Campaign—a coalition that aims to end forced labor in the Uzbekistan cotton industry—advocated for the country to be bumped down to tier 3 because of its record. For years, the rating was not changed. Uzbekistan was important to the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, so there was a perception that that was why the rating was not changed, according to Campbell. “[T]he law wasn’t being properly applied in that case,” he says.
This year, the State Department was forced to make a decision on Uzbekistan because, thanks to a new rule, countries can only stay on the tier 2 watch list for a limited amount of time. The latest report bumps Uzbekistan, Russia, and China down to the lowest tier. “This year was a test [to determine] whether the U.S. government, which was candid in the report, would be all the more candid,” says Lagon, who adds, “I believe it was.”