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But Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan policy research organization, said foreign embassies no longer are worried about enforcement of the act because of the widespread use of waivers.

“Major legislation passed, but it is not being enforced,” said Mr. Horowitz, who played a role in passing the original trafficking legislation. “It is not taken seriously by foreign governments.” He said the U.S. government’s response to human trafficking has become “a series of press conferences with no bite,” and described the State Department as “a white noise operation.”

Jeffrey J. Schott, sanctions specialist and senior fellow at Washington’s Peterson Institute for International Economics, a nonpartisan research institution on international economic policy, said there could be “all matter of complications” behind the waivers, but the State Department’s “naming and shaming” puts a spotlight on countries pursuing “outrageous practices” in hope that they will perform.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has equated human trafficking to slavery and said it is likely that more men, women and children around the world are living as human trafficking victims “than at any point in history.”

In the department’s 2012 trafficking report, she said, 27 million people worldwide are victims, but the United States is “making a lot of progress” in urging countries to upgrade their anti-trafficking efforts.

“We should take a moment to reflect on how far we have come, here in our country and around the world, but how much further we still have to go to find a way to free those 27 million victims and to ensure that there are no longer any victims in the future,” she said.