Human Trafficking

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” While many people in the United States believe that slavery ended after the American Civil War, the unfortunate truth is that slavery still continues around the world. The most recent estimate by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2012a) is that 21 million people around the world are currently in situations of forced labor. They state this is a “conservative estimate,” and the Walk Free Foundation (2013) estimates 29 million. While ILO’s estimate is substantially higher than the 12.3 million stated in their 2005 report, they note that this does not mean that the numbers themselves have grown, just that they were better able to estimate the number.

A relatively small percentage of those enslaved are kept under conditions similar to those with which we are familiar from the United States. Currently, most slaves are not bought and sold; there are no ownership papers. Today’s slaves typically are not born into slavery and kept enslaved their whole lives, except for certain countries in Western Africa (as discussed later in this chapter). Most of those enslaved will be slaves for only a brief period; the average amount of time spent in a trafficking situation is 18 months (ILO, 2012a). Slavery now occurs more often as a result of desperation resulting from poverty rather than from one’s freedom status at birth. Modern slavery is much more “cost effective” than old-fashioned slavery in that people are enslaved for only as long as they are productive and able to earn money for their “owners.” After their ability to earn a profit has been exhausted, they are discarded, leading Kevin Bales, author of a book on this topic, to title his book Disposable People (2004).

Trafficking is prohibited in a wide variety of other human rights documents as well. Article 6 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) prohibits trafficking and the exploitation of prostitution. Within the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 34 provides the child with the right to be free from sexual exploitation, and Article 35 specifically references the right to be free from child trafficking. The CRC has two Optional Protocols: one on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography and the other on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts. As the use of child soldiers is considered to be a form of labor trafficking (US Department of State, 2011), both Protocols address trafficking. Although the United States has not ratified the Convention itself, it has ratified these Optional Protocols. The International Labour Organization’s Convention Number 182, which defines the worst forms of child labor, also notes the use of children in armed conflicts as a type of labor trafficking:

  • (a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict
  • (b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances

Human trafficking was formally defined in international law for the first time in 2000 when the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime was opened for signature and entered into force. A standard definition was needed in order to help nations coordinate their anti-trafficking efforts, as well as coordinating services to those who had been trafficked (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013). There were three Protocols that supplemented this Convention—the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children being the relevant one. It is sometimes referred to the “Palermo Protocol,” even though there are actually three Protocols.

This Protocol entered into force in 2003 and defines trafficking as follows (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013):

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

According to this definition, trafficking has three central elements: act, means, and purpose. The act is what was done: recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person, while the means is how: threat, force, abduction, fraud, and so on. The purpose is for exploitation. Although this definition was established in 2000, what exactly constitutes human trafficking has continued to evolve. While the first edition of this text noted that trafficking was considered to be a form of forced labor, they are now considered to be largely equivalent terms (ILO, 2012a). Forced labor is defined as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which said person has not offered himself [sic] voluntarily” in the Forced Labour Convention of 1930. The only form of trafficking that is specified in the Protocol that is not covered under the definition of forced labor is trafficking for the purposes of organ transplant. Trafficking for forced marriage and adoption are excluded from both (ILO, 2012a).

Part of the evolution of understanding what is defined as trafficking revolves around the term “transportation” within the act. Due at least in part to the fact that this definition was part of the “transnational” protocol, only those who moved across international borders were initially considered to be trafficked. However, opinion has now coalesced around the idea of the word “or” within the definition and that movement need not occur for trafficking to occur. The ILO (2012a) estimates that fewer than half of those in forced labor are moved (44%); 30% are moved across an international border, primarily those trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Women and girls represent a little more than half (55%) of those affected and three-quarters are adults.

The ILO (2009) notes a set of indicators that a situation may be considered as trafficking. These indicators fall into six categories: deceptive recruitment; coercive recruitment; recruitment by abuse of vulnerability; exploitative conditions of work; coercion at destination; and abuse of vulnerability at destination. They state that for trafficking to be determined as occurring, there should be two strong indicators; one strong and one medium or weak indicator; three medium indicators; or two medium and one weak indicator. These indicators include the following, among others, including additional indicators for children as well:

  • • Debt bondage
  • • Violence, or threats of violence, against the victim
  • • Confiscation of documents
  • • Excessive working days or hours
  • • Deception regarding the nature of the job or location
  • • Isolation or confinement

What makes people vulnerable to exploitation through slavery is some type of difference from others in their society (Bales, 2004). While in US history, that difference was based on skin color, in today’s slavery these differences encompass a range of possibilities. As discussed earlier in this book, poverty, lack of education, and discrimination place people at higher risk of a number of social problems. When people have difficulty providing for themselves and their families, they may be more willing to take chances for a job for the money they require for basic needs. Discrimination within a society can limit their opportunities to obtain a wage through safer methods. This chapter will highlight limited opportunities due to discrimination based on caste, sex, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and citizenship status, which make people vulnerable to being trafficked, whether it is for labor or sexual exploitation.

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