I suppose the logical starting point for my series of posts on human trafficking is a coherent definition of what trafficking is. And also what trafficking is not. The definition of ‘trafficking in persons’ published in the UN’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons states:

"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 is the key to this definition. It’s an easily-overlooked but hugely important distinction between human trafficking and illegal immigration. Smuggling–which fits the more traditional concept of illegal immigration–involves the same means (covert transport, etc) as trafficking. However, smuggling is a service (albeit an illegal one) provided for a fee. A person who is smuggled pays their smuggler(s) in exchange for assistance to illegally cross a border. The smuggled person is free to go once he reaches his final destination. A person who is trafficked, on the other hand, is exploited (enslaved) in the new location. "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" (UN Protocol). 

The US Department of State replaces the word ‘exploitation’ with ‘servitude’. However, the concept is exactly the same:

"The means by which people are subjected to servitude–their recruitment and the deception and coercion that may cause movement–are important factors but factors that are secondary to their compelled service…The movement of that  person to the new location is not what constitues trafficking; the force, fraud or coercion exercised on that person by another to perform or remain in service to the master is the defining element of trafficking in the modern usage. The person who is trapped in compelled service after initially voluntarily migrating or taking a job willingly is still considered a trafficking victim. The child sold by his parents to the owner of a brick kiln on the outskirts of his rural Indian village is a trafficking victim. And, so is the Mexican man who legally or illegally migrates to the United States, only to be threatened and beaten by his agricultural crew leader to keep him from leaving his job."

Those working to combat human trafficking have strived to create a distinction between human trafficking and smuggling in the eyes of policymakers and media professionals. Until recently, very few politicians would associate themselves with the trafficking issue because it’s so closely linked to illegal immigration–a political hot button in all developed countries. That seems to be changing though, especially as human trafficking appears more in national and international news outlets. Additionally, the UN has just launched its Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking which will include a wide array of events and campaigns to raise awareness. The success of all these efforts hinges on getting a clear understanding of what trafficking is–and what it is not–into mainstream public discourse.

The next post in this series will look at human trafficking as a market. It will examine supply (why victims fall prey to trafficking) and demand (who is buying people and for what purpose).