Modern slavery, or human trafficking, is the reprehensible practice of holding another in compelled service using whatever means necessary, be it physical or psychological. Here are some quick facts about human trafficking:

The Numbers

  • Estimates of human trafficking worldwide range from 20.9 to 27 million.
  • Of the 27 million enslaved, 42,291 were identified in 2011. 
  • In 2011, the number of victims identifed globally increased from 33,113 to 42,291.  The most ever identified in a given year is 49,105 in 2009.
  • The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates 68% are held in forced labor exploitation aka labor trafficking, 22% in forced sexual exploitation aka sex trafficking and 10% in state-imposed forced labor.
  • In 2011, the number of criminal convictions of traffickers globally increased slightly from 3,619 to 3,969.
  • More people are trafficked for labor than commercial sex yet of the 3,969 global criminal convictions of traffickers, 3,691 were sex traffickers and just 278 were labor traffickers.
  • The ILO estimates women and girls comprise 55% of all those in forced labor and 98% of all those in sex trafficking, whereas men and boys comprise 45% of those in forced labor and 2% of those in sex trafficking.
  • According to the ILO, 74% are adults and 26% are children, defined as under the age of 18.
  • Globally, 56% of trafficked persons are enslaved in a country other than their own; 29% are enslaved in the area where they normally reside; and 15% are enslaved elsewhere within their own country.
  • 128 countries criminalize all forms of human trafficking.

The Basics

  • Trafficking is modern slavery; it is service or labor compelled through force, fraud or coercion.
  • Trafficking occurs in every country.
  • Trafficking does not mean or require movement. Some people may be transported from other regions, countries or across town, but the transportation is not the crime of human trafficking.
  • Smuggling and human trafficking are not synonymous. Trafficking is about compelled service and is a violation of an individual’s rights. Smuggling is about illegally crossing a border and may be a violation of a country’s immigration law. Just as movement and transportation is not required for human trafficking, smuggling is not required either.
  • Men, women and children are held in forced labor, also referred to as labor trafficking.
  • Poor working conditions and low wages alone do not constitute human trafficking, though they may be indicators of human trafficking. When a person uses force, fraud, or physical or psychological coercion, to compel services or labor from another, it rises to the level human trafficking
  • Men, women, boys and girls are subjected to sex trafficking.
  • Men, women, boys and girls held in forced labor can be subjected to sexual violence.
  • Some victims are kidnapped and abducted, but the vast majority are looking for work and are then forced, defrauded, coerced and unable to leave.
  • Confirmed trafficking cases have occurred in agriculture, mining, fishing, garment factories, child care, cleaning services, hospitality, housekeeping, elder care, manufacturing, construction, street prostitution, escort services, and brothels.
  • In specific countries, goods that are known to be produced using forced labor include: cotton, bricks, garments, sugarcane, carpets, cattle, coal, gold, rice, chestnuts, cocoa, diamonds, embroidered textiles, shrimp, stones, textiles, timber, tobacco, artificial flowers, beans, cement, charcoal, Christmas decorations, coca, coffee, corn, cottonseed, electronics, fireworks, footwear, granite, gravel, iron, jade, nails, palm oil, palm thatch, peanuts, castor beans, pornography, rubber, rubies, sesame, sunflowers, teak, tilapia, toys and wheat.

The Methods of Control

  • Traffickers use dehumanizing tactics to compel service such as physical force, but often more subtle devices like psychological coercion, threats and outright fraud.
  • Physical force can include physical and sexual violence as well as forced drug use, barbed wire, locked doors and other methods of confinement.
  • Psychological coercion has proven to be just as powerful if not powerful than physical force, creating invisible barriers to a trafficked person’s escape. This includes confiscation of immigration and identification documents coupled with threats of jail and deportation, threats of harm to trafficked persons and their family members, and threats to tell family members and community that the sex trafficked person is in prostitution, which would bring shame. Traffickers play mind games by suggesting that the compelled service violates criminal and immigration laws, making trafficked persons’ think they are criminals and fear law enforcement, effectively blocking law enforcement as a resource.
  • An individual is more easily compelled to work when savings are depleted, houses are mortgaged and personal debts incurred to pay for recruitment fees; whole families are dependent upon one worker; and excessive fees and costs lead to mounting debt. Economic coercion, primarily through debt bondage, can prevent trafficked persons from seeking alternative employment.
  • Fraud and deception are other frequently used control tactics, including misrepresentations of the type of work, pay, working conditions, immigration requirements, and total fees and debt. Thinking the job is legitimate, trafficked persons may not realize that their identification documents are false, they will be smuggled across multiple borders, that the job they were promised does not exist, and they may need to perform criminal acts. Traffickers can then hold their illegal immigration status and performance of criminal acts against them to ensure they will not seek help from law enforcement.
  • Inhumane treatment, coupled with other factors, can break an individual’s spirit, which reinforces the traffickers’ power over them. Trafficked persons may endure lack of health care, malnutrition, insults and ridicule, hazardous working conditions, inadequate clothing, unsafe living conditions, and long hours.

The Traffickers

  • Traffickers may be contractors and subcontractors in the corporate supply chain, whether at construction sites, at a farm or mine where the raw materials originate or in a factory that manufactures, assembles and packages the goods and products. They may even be contractors providing services to businesses, such as janitorial and moving.
  • Traffickers’ operations may be as large and sophisticated as a transnational organized crime syndicate or as small as business down the street or the couple next door.
  • Traffickers may be members of a trafficked person’s family, have a close personal relationship or come from the same community. The trafficked person is more willing to trust these individuals, not see the deception and continue to disbelieve their friend or family member would use them to make a profit or harm them.
  • They can be brokers or other intermediaries to assist in the recruitment and transportation, when needed. This includes both regulated and unregulated labor recruitment agencies.

The Types of Modern Slavery

  • Forced labor, also referred to as labor trafficking, often involves the use of a scheme, plan, or pattern or creating a climate of fear to make people believe there would be serious consequences if they attempted to leave. Traffickers don’t need to use locks or chains because keeping victims isolated, threatened, demeaned, and dependent effectively imprisons victims without physical restraints.
  • Domestic servitude is the forced labor of domestic workers, performing duties such as cleaning the home, cooking, and caring for children.
  • Sex trafficking is the force, fraud or coercion of an individual into commercial sex. It manifests in street prostitution, brothels, so-called massage parlors and escort services.
  • Debt bondage, debt servitude or bonded labor refers to a person being held in forced labor by a real or alleged debt. In parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, people are enslaved according to ancestral debts. In other cases, traffickers use debt as a coercive scheme to trap their victims – they create the initial debt through inflated recruitment and transportation fees; they add to it by charging unreasonable amounts for room and board and every other need; and they supposedly apply wages directly to this seemingly neverending debt that must be paid before the worker can be released.
  • Child soldiers are often recruited and forced to literally be a soldier for the cause or for the government. Other times, children are forced to work to support armed groups by cooking, carrying supplies and scouting. Still others are forced into sex or marriage.

The Trends

  • Reports suggest that traffickers’ use of legal visas is on the rise. They use proper visas to give the appearance of legitimacy to their operations and legally bring their victims into the country. And they are successful without confirmation and inspection of the claimed workplaces.
  • Farmworkers and domestic workers, historically subjected to the transatlantic slave trade, continue to be exempted from protection under labor laws and enforcement. The inability for these workers to seek legal recourse enables labor exploitation and trafficking.
  • Unscrupulous labor recruiters are taking advantage of an unregulated market for migrant laborers, including those with and without visas. The exploitation consists of excessive recruitment and transportation fees, invalid contracts, nonexistent jobs, or dramatically different jobs, all of which can more easily lead to debt bondage and involuntary servitude.
  • Economic coercion is proving to be just as insidious as physical force and restraint. Labor is easily compelled through threat of increasing debt, losing the family home that was mortgaged for the job opportunity, not being able to send any money home to care for the family, and being blacklisted from obtaining future job opportunities. The same threats ensure the workers won’t seek help.
  • Corporations are taking notice that the social responsibility field once marked by voluntary codes of conduct is now shifting into mandatory legal requirements. This includes disclosure of efforts to monitor the corporate supply chain, which includes the labor practices of contractors and subcontractors.
  • Governments are beginning to recognize that as massive consumers of goods and services, they too are in the position to regulate and inspect contractors and subcontractors, terminate contracts, and prosecute offenders for violations.
  • Consumers are participating in boycotts and protests where forced labor is found, and are increasingly purchasing fair trade products.

The Current Response

  • The modern movement against slavery formally began in the year 2000, when the global community adopted the Palermo Protocol, giving us the first definition of human trafficking and a government response of prevention, prosecution of the traffickers, and protection of the victims.
  • Over the last decade, governments enacted laws that encompass prosecution of traffickers and to a lesser extent the protection of victims and prevention of trafficking.
  • National efforts, even in countries with more robust responses, have not trickled down and permeated all of the government and societal structures.
  • At the grassroots level, social service providers offer victims comprehensive care but they are not always supported by their governments or funded sufficiently to meet the needs of the victims.
  • Community based organizations conduct public awareness among their communities so that they can identify and assist victims.
  • Corporations are slowly beginning to publicly disclose their work to monitor that their supply chains are free of forced labor and incorporate this work into their social responsibility efforts.
  • Educators, health care professionals, journalists and students are all increasingly participating in anti-slavery efforts but in a disparate and isolated manner.

The Future

The modern movement against slavery is young, yet at a critical point of expansion. The Center envisions:
  • Governments enacting and implementing laws that encompass prosecution of traffickers as well as the protection of victims, and prevention of trafficking.
  • Social service providers funded to offer victims comprehensive care that includes shelter, food, clothing, medical assistance, mental health counseling, legal representation, immigration assistance, family reunification, spiritual support, educational and vocational training and placement, translation and interpretation, and safety planning.
  • Corporations publicly disclosing their efforts to monitor their supply chains, signing on to the Luxor Guidelines, implementing codes of conduct for their employees, and creating partnerships with anti-trafficking organizations and campaigns.
  • Educators identifying recruitment schemes in their schools, looking for signs of trafficked students, developing classroom lessons about modern slavery, teaching at the university and advanced degree level, initiating much needed research, and instilling a culture of service to this issue.
  • Health care professionals training emergency response personnel, hospital physicians and nurses, and mental health clinicians to identify and assist trafficked persons.
  • Journalists reporting on the crime and experience of the victim, but also on the connection between trafficking and global migration, trade policies, gender imbalance, immigration policy, and generally how to prevent and eradicate it.
  • Criminal justice professionals mandating training of investigators, prosecutors and judges; employing a victim-centered approach; creating protocols that promote cooperation with social service providers; and proactively investigating industries where trafficking has been found.
  • Students engaging in anti-trafficking awareness and training their peers.
  • Average citizens knowing that slavery is real, present, affects their life and doing something about it.

The Challenge for You

  • Could you recognize trafficking if you came upon it?
  • Would you know who to contact to help a victim and report the trafficker without jeopardizing the victim’s safety or endangering yourself?
  • Do you know whether the food, clothing or other goods you consume was produced by forced labor?
  • Does your employer have a supply chain free of forced labor?
  • What can you do to incorporate anti-slavery into your current professional work?
  • Do you have the training and resources that you need in order to make a difference?