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By AIDemocracy Regional Coordinator Kristen Tebow.
Yesterday, the International Justice Mission (IJM) completed a National Call-in Day for the Child Protection Compact Act (CPCA). Thanks to voices raised around the country, the CPCA was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (S. 3184) yesterday afternoon! This urgently needed legislation would help eradicate child trafficking in target countries around the world.

Students from Kansas State University and the University of Kansas with AIDemocracy RC Kristen Tebow came together, calling Senators and writing letters, urging them to take action. Senator Brownback, Senator Boxer, and Senator Cardin all supported the legislation and it was passed in the Committee!

Your voice is important! The CPCA will now move to the Senate floor for a full vote and I’d urge you to take three minutes and call your Senators to ask them to vote YES on this important piece of legislation.

IJM Institute has even made the process simple with a link to find out who your senators are (Type in your state in the upper right corner and then look for the “contact” section on your senators’ websites.) and a sample script to make the call.

There are a lot of things you could do in three minutes. Will all of them have a global impact?

From “The Child Protection Compact Act, which was introduced in the House on June 5 by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), will provide assistance to select “focus countries” through the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP). These focus countries will receive support in building public justice systems that effectively investigate crimes against children and prosecute perpetrators in numbers sufficient to deter and eventually eliminate the crime. The legislation also authorizes increased assistance for care of survivors of trafficking.

On March 25, 2010, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sam Brown back (R-KS) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced a similar bill in the Senate, called the Child Protection Compact Act (S.3184), legislation designed to increase U.S. support to eradicate child trafficking in countries that have the will to end the crime but lack resources.”

To learn more about the CPCA please visit

So I was going to tell you all about my visit to the Victoria Memorial and the Kali Temple (Kalighat), and how a visitor to the former approached me and shared his views about the existence of poverty in America (blaming it on minorities), the tremendous pollution of New York or San Francisco compared to Kolkata (so not true, you can actually breath fresh air in NY or SF!), and how 80 percent of marriages in India are still arranged and he cannot marry a non-Brahmin (out of his caste) – but I’m not.
What I experienced today trumps all of that.

Today TEN’s Center opened. Five girls from a shelter and three from a community center are been given the opportunity to work outside of their communities for the first time; that is, to hold a job outside of the neighborhoods where they have been victimized, rescued, or are vulnerable to traffickers or slave handlers. You don’t need to understand Bengali, Hindi or Urdu (and I didn’t) to know that they were happy. As we sat on a mat and rugs in the room that will become the office, and Becky and the leader of the shelter explained to the girls how they will be paid and based on what, there were giggly, full, and shy smiles all around. As they introduced themselves they spoke their names and some of the things they liked, including famous Bollywood actors (e,g, Sharuk Khan and Shahid Kapoor) just like we have Brad Pitt or George Clooney in Hollywood.

Because the aim of the Center and the program is to empower them and enable the girls to be economically independent, the girls were the ones who decided where their Singer sewing machines would be placed, who preferred to do what job (e.g. embroidering versus cutting the fabric), and once the fabric was spread, how to cut it using the patterns. It doesn’t do them any good just to tell them what to do without encouraging them to use their own initiative and become independent in their tasks.
Becky asked me to take pictures of the girls so that they can be placed on top of their working stations.

They went crazy, with one of them becoming the substitute photographer when some of the girls wanted me or Becky in the picture; she was actually very good too. On this aspect they also made their own decisions. Several pictures were taken and they decided which one they wanted, either of the head, the torso or a full body shot. For the girls’ own protection, though, I cannot show any of the pictures.
The fact that I’m tall (5’10) did not go unnoticed. One of the girls kept measuring herself next to me and pointing to how tall I am. Indeed, unknown to them I often bump my head in the cab’s ceilings (and airplane luggage compartments too) over here because there is so little space or sometimes I just slouch in my seat because I don’t quite fit. I’ll try explaining through Becky next time; they’ll get a kick out of it.

The people are very friendly and helpful. If you speak to them in English they will do their best to communicate with you, and if they can’t they’ll find someone who can. Many ask you where you are from and are very curious about America.

Unfortunately there are also those who try to cheat you: buyer beware of some taxi drivers. On my first day around the city a cab driver almost cheated me out of 150 Rupees. When you read the meter you have to multiply the quantity there by 2 and add 2 more. For instance, if the odometer says 17, then you must pay 36 Rupees. A bystander next to the taxi noticed what was going on and started arguing with the driver, and translating for me. The latter actually told him that I had agreed to the price when I got into the cab! And when I said no way, the guy just drove a couple of several meters away from the bystander to see if he could continue to cheat me. The other man actually followed us and made sure that I was not cheated. Furthermore, he took a rickshaw with me, gave me instructions on what to do (I was trying to go to Kalighat), and what each person would charge me for it. Another man seating in the rickshaw volunteered to show me where the other rickshaw stand was and made sure they understood where I wanted to go.

All of this, from a conflict analysis perspective, is fascinating. In the US, for instance, if a third party would have intervened you would have probably asked him/her to mind his/her own business. But in India intervention by third parties is the norm, not the exception. I was advised, for example, when taking a bus or in any situation in which a guy gropes me (I’m absolutely avoiding buses at any cost) or behaves in a demeaning way to reprimand him and ask other people for help; most likely they will also chastise and argue with him. The process is similar to how Dr. Mark Davidheiser and fellow African students at NSU have described the intervention of third parties in The Gambia and other places in Africa.

The sound of Kolkata: honking. The traffic system is unruly over here. Per se there are no lines in the street the way they are divided in the US or other nations. Plus, the sidewalks are in such bad conditions sometimes and so filthy that it is better to walk in the middle of the street. Ergo, cars, rickshaws, cyclists and buses are constantly honking at one another and at people walking.

The smells of Kolkata: polluted air and sometimes garbage. People urinating in the streets, feces (human or animal) and dirt are not as bad as the overall pollution of the city. That is what is really getting to me. Try pulling your boogers out and instead of the green slimy little ball what you get is a black paste.


My name is Aniuska Luna.  I am one of the student members of Americans for Informed Democracy.  I’ve been raising awareness about modern day slavery and human trafficking for the past couple of years.  This summer, between semesters, I am volunteering in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, with The Emancipation Network.  I asked AID to allow me to blog about my experience here and hopefully show the need for other fellow students or people to participate and volunteer either overseas, in the United States, or any other region you are in with organizations that help in the rehabilitation and rescue of either victims or vulnerable populations. The posts will encompass not only observations and experiences related to the volunteering experience but also my encounter and familiarization with the context (including the traditional tourist visits).  Autumn is allowing me temporarily to post under her name until I am provided with a password of my own.

Brief background on modern day slavery:  There are approximately 27 million individuals held under slavery today.  According to the Department of State, about 600,000-800,000 of them are trafficked worldwide and 14,000-17,500 into the U.S. 

Anyone is vulnerable, slavery is no longer rationalized or legitimized on the basis of creed, race or gender because it is now illegal everywhere.  What is important to the slave handler is that you are vulnerable (e.g. you have a low self-esteem and can be easily seduced and then forced into prostitution; you are poor; come from a broken family… you name it). 

If you want to know more about the facts of modern day slavery let me know and I’ll post a couple of useful links.

With that said, here’s the first entry:


15-17 July 2008

15 Miami-London (7-8 hrs flight), 16-17


New Delhi

(8-10 hrs flight), 17 New Delhi-Kolkata (2 ½ hrs flight)

I was late to check in my bags at MIA so instead of flying Miami-Boston-London-New Delhi-Kolkata, and staying one night at a hotel in Boston between flights now the American Airlines staff arranged for my traveling directly to London, staying there for about 12 ½ hrs between flights (no sleep) and then following the trip on its original itinerary, with another 6-7 hours between flights in New Delhi. By the time I got to my first stop in


and into the plane for Kolkata I was so tired that I – who never sleep in airplanes but for very small intervals of time – could barely keep myself awake until the flight began. Then my neck went on a 45 degree angle to my left without my ordering it and before I knew it I was asleep, with my head against the window. The flight attendant broke my mojo time when she woke me up and explained that because I was sitting on an emergency exit I would have to stay awake until the airplane was in the air, plus I had to agree to follow the emergency exit instructions and take on the responsibility of pulling the leveler. Yeah, yeah, yeah, as long as I get to sleep, sure, sure, sure – no problem I told her. At that moment I thought of the film ‘Mr. Bean goes on Holiday."

Thought about his going to Cannes, driving with the French actress and the director’s son, and how he had slapped and burnt himself with a cigarette burner (that was out of the question for me, I already stood out as a foreigner last thing I needed was someone calling me a mad woman or restraining me); I wished I would have had the sticks to tape to my eyes and hold my eyelids from closing. I managed temporarily and as soon as it was possible me went to sleep till we arrived in Kolkata. It was sweet and smooth.   

Although the trip was a long one, I actually appreciated the transition it allowed me to go through. From a multi-cultural city such as Miami, with a predominant Hispanic community and an increasing number of non-Spanish speakers and people from other parts of the world (e.g. India and Brazil), staying for nearly 12 hrs at Heathrow allowed me to become familiar with other sorts of diversity. It was there that I saw a lot of airport personnel wearing head turbans, several Orthodox Jews with their traditional clothes and hairstyles, the men dressed in black from head to toe and the long curly bangs hanging in front of their ears; there were Indians there too with many women dressed traditionally and other Asians; and people from all over speaking in different languages you don’t often hear in Miami.

Then I get to New Delhi and the transition continues. Here are some things that you notice that indicate that the place you are has a different context and needs from the one you are coming from:

  • Colors:  The airport guards and policemen don’t wear a definite olive green, or navy, or beige uniform – I can’t quite define it. Theirs is more like a mixture of beige and a light, yellowish green (?).
  • People:  Guards have rifles or pistols inside the main terminal, and there are posts with them every so many meters around the perimeter of the airport. In the States I think I only saw such a situation during the year after 9/11 but nothing like this. Becky (from TEN) explained that it is over concerns of terrorism given the situation with


    and additional regions in and out of



  • Situations: I noticed in

    New Delhi

    that a lot of the passengers were men, and there weren’t that many women. To my surprise when the time came to go through the security check I was told to go through the women’s section; that is, an enclosed rectangular box (like an over extended door frame) with curtains at the entrance and exit where one woman checks you.

    • The next day when I took the metro another ‘separate gender’ situation occurred. The train cars that had gone by had the women seated in the center and the men at either side. I figured it must be something traditional, but it is actually more like a law. Once I sat down in the section, across from me and below the window there was a sign that read “Ladies.” It was explained to me that it is done for females’ protection so that they are not groped or abused by the men. Apparently Indian feminists support such measures precisely because it deters their abuse. I wonder though if it should be a measure of deterrence by separating the sexes or of punishment for violators and reeducation of the public while aiming for the integration of both genders. Doesn’t perpetuating separatism also perpetuate misogynism and inequality? – seems like a ‘what comes first the chicken or the egg’ kind of question.

§ Paper work and bureaucracy (which is extraordinarily cumbersome over here) also reflect the gender difference in status. For instance, while getting a cell phone I had to include my father’s information along with passport and visa copies.  To sign up for Bengali or Hindi classes I must find a male sponsor to include in the application.

§ Women and men cannot be roommates if you are renting a flat unless they are relatives.

§ When the shuttle was taking us from one terminal to another in

New Delhi

I saw cows walking among cars in a parking lot.

§ Realized at some point, as I was waiting for the flight to Kolkata, that I was looking for friendly Western faces, people who seemed to come from “The West” and the world I left behind. In other words, some one with whom I could identify. It seemed too early to start doing that even if unconsciously. 


Newspaper reports revealing a labor trafficking practice in China have surfaced. The investigation resulted after hundred of parents pleaded for the return of their missing children in an online article. As of yet, hundreds have been forced into making bricks in Shanxi, a northeastern province of china, many of them teenagers, the New York Times reported.

Similar to most trafficking rings, the process of locating the victims in nearly impossible. Some factories, not all of which are legal, are owned by a single individual – it is said that the workers are moved from one place to another and no records are kept on the location of the workers. And in many cases, the local authorities have proved to be just as corrupt as the factory owners. Parents have been forced to bribe local officials in order to tour the brick factories to search for their missing children. And in some cases, it is believed that the authorities are reselling the found children back into the ring.

According to a recent article in the China Daily, five suspects have been arrested and have confessed to their involvemnt. The search continues for three others. Many of the victims were lured by the prospect of a profitable job and some were captured during travel. All were forced to make brick under very severe conditions, including little water, meager rations of food, and physically dangerous working conditions.

It is believed that most of the victims were trafficked from the Shaanxi and Henan Provinces to Shanxi, where many of these factories are located.

To read the New York Times article, click here.
To read the China Daily article, click here.

Foreign Policy’s strangely addictive blog Passport featured the following post a few days back.

Slavery’s thriving hot spots

Wed, 06/13/2007 – 12:38pm.


The U.S. State Department released its seventh annual Trafficking in Persons Report Tuesday. Unlike most government documents, this report is designed to shock the conscience: It contains poignant first-hand stories and photo accounts of sex workers, domestic slaves, and child soldiers from all
corners of the world. But the statistics alone are shocking enough: An
estimated 800,000 people were trafficked across national borders in
2006. Eighty percent of those were women; 50 percent were minors.

That’s about where the numbers end, though. It’s great that the State Department is calling attention to this heinous trade, but sadly, the report is very thin on data or trend analysis. Readers are left with almost no idea whether human trafficking is getting better or worse. Instead, we get repeated anecdotes illustrating why “modern-day slavery” is bad—as if anyone interested enough in this topic to download the report would need persuasion. As the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime explained in March, good data is hard to come by on this underground phenomenon. Still, if you’re trying to get a basic handle on trends, the UNODC’s Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns report does a reasonable job.

The State Department does attempt, at least, to assess how governments are attacking the problem. The report groups countries into one of four categories based on to what extent they serve as a country of origin, transit, or destination for trafficking, as well as the efforts made by their governments to address these problems. Here the trend is negative. Seven countries—Algeria, Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, and Qatar—dropped to Tier 3, the worst category, bringing to 16 the total number of countries deemed negligent in this year’s report.

Persian Gulf states occupy a disturbingly large number of the worst spots. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar all rely heavily on foreign workers, particularly in their domestic and service sectors,
but provide little or no legal protection for the exploited and no prosecution for their abusers. (Robot camel jockeys aren’t going to solve this a problem of this scale.)

The State Department threatens sanctions for Tier 3 countries who do not take serious anti-slavery action in the next 90 days, including a cutoff of U.S. aid and support for World Bank and IMF loans. Passport
readers are invited to rate the chances of any penalties for a staunch U.S. ally such as Saudi Arabia, which has languished in Tier 3 for three years in a row and, according to the report, “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.”

Here in Bosnia (where I currently live and work), human trafficking is a big problem. It’s not even underground or shrouded in secrecy. One literally stumbles across it on a daily basis. For example, a large number of children (as well as disabled and elderly persons) beg on the streets of Sarajevo. The majority of the children are from poor and minority families in the local area, but there are also quite a few trafficked here from other parts of Bosnia, and even abroad. The latter are easy to pick out, because they are in worse physical condition than the local children who beg. Once, while walking down Ferhadija (the main pedestrian street), I saw a scrawny little beggar girl, no older than seven, violently punched by a man who, as I later learned from a Bosnian friend, was most likely the person forcing her to beg on the street late into the night. When I saw the man punch the little girl, I froze. I was just so shocked by what I had seen. By the time I snapped out of it, the man had disappeared into the crowd. It’s probably a good thing, too. I felt like…well, you can probably imagine the kinds of thoughts that ran through my head.

Bosnia is a country of transit, origin, and destination for human trafficking. Women and girls trafficked from other parts of Eastern and Southeastern Europe are often forced into prostitution, and made to work out of nightclubs. During my induction training at work, my “class” of inductees was given a stern warning about staying away from shady clubs, and it was suggested that we stay away from nightclubs altogether if we wanted to play it safe. After all, it is extremely important that people working for the international community set good examples while they work in BiH, and live up to their stated principles.

Human trafficking is a global phenomenon asn in order to effectively fight against it, we must first have an accurate picture of where and how the transport and exploitation actually take place. Geography–both physical and political–plays a significant role in the modern day slave trade. Factors frome terrain characteristics to border patrols help determine trafficking routes by either facilitating or impeding the rapid, clandestine movement of people. Additionally, political, social and economic factors within a society or region can either ‘push’ or ‘pull’ victims into a situation of trafficking. The scale and complexities of human trafficking on a global level are too enormous to adequately address here. However, I’ll try to paint a general picture of current geographical trends. And for those who want more information, most of my research for this post came from the UN’s ‘Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns’ report (published April 2006).

IMPORTANT TO NOTE when reading this information:
Due to its clandestine nature, statistics on human trafficking at any level are shaky at best. They tend to be either a)actual number of victims rescued or repatriated (always much lower than the total number of victims) or b) estimates of the total number of trafficked victims based on other factors (educated guesses).

As a recent UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) publication reports, "No country is immune, whether as a source, a distination or a transit point for victims of human trafficking." Under the UN’s system of trafficking research, all countries in the world are rated–‘very low’, ‘low’, ‘medium’, ‘high’, or ‘very high’–in three categories: ‘origin’, ‘transit point’ and ‘destination’. While each case of human trafficking has its own unique characteristics, nearly all follow the same geographic pattern. People are abducted or recreited in the country of origin, transferred through thransit regions and then exploited in the destination country. The UNODC database that records actual instances of trafficking lists 127 countries of origin and 137 countries where exploitation actually has taken place.

The countries which rank the highest in each of the three categories are as follows:

Countries of Origin: Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Lithuania, Nigeria, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russia, Thailand and Ukraine.

Countries of Transit: Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Thailand

Countries of Destination: Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey and the United States.

A quick glance at these lists shows one glaring trend: human trafficking nearly always flows from poor countries to rich countries with transit points falling somewhere in the areas in-between. These poor-to-rich flows occur in similar patterns at the regional level as well, with the poorest regions acting as suppliers to satisfy demand in richer regions, facilitated by the transit regions in the middle.

Regional Breakdown

Africa is overwhelmingly a region of origin with most victims ending up in Western Europe. However, there are also some networks operating solely within Africa, transporting victims from one part of the continent to another. Western Africa is the most documented destination for victims from other parts of Africa. Demand is highest in Benin, Ghana and Morocco. Most reported  African victims originate in Nigeria.

Asia‘s figures seem somewhat misleading at first glance because the origin percentages are almost exactly equal to the destination percentages. The reason behind this trend is that most trafficking in Asia occurs within the region. The main countries of origin are China and Thailand (ranked ‘very high’), followed by Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philipines and Viet Nam (all ranked ‘high’). However, a smaller number of victims also come from the former Soviet Union. The main destination countries in the region are Thailand, Japan, Israel and Turkey (the latter two are both included in the UN’s subregion of ‘Western Asia and Turkey’). Southeast Asia is seen as a key transit point both in and out of the region.

Central and Southeastern Europe is reported as predominantly an origin region. Victims trafficked out of this region mainly end up in Western Europe. However, trafficking within the region is a serious  (and harder-to-trace) problem as well. Central and Southeastern Europe is also reported, although to a lesser extent, as a destination country, with most victims originating in the former Soviet Union. The region as a whole serves as one of the main transit points in the nearly all patterns of trafficking. At a country level, Albania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Romania are ranked ‘very high’ as origin countries, followed by the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia (‘high’).

Western Europe is mainly a destination region. Most victims come from Central and Southeastern Europe; others come from the former Soviet Union, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. The main destination countries in this region are Belgium, Greece, Germany, Italy the Netherlands ( all ‘very high’).

The Former Soviet Union (or Commonwealth of Independent States) is almost entirely a region of origin with most victims ending up in Western Europe or North America. Belarus, Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine rank highest according to the UN’s figures.

Latin American and the Caribbean is primarily an origin region as well. Most victims are taken to Western Europe and North America. In terms of specific countries, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico all rank ‘very high’ as places of origin. Complex (yet inadequately-researched) intra-regional networks exist in Latin America as well, such as the one in and around the ‘Triple Frontera’ (‘Triple Border’) region where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. A great article by freelance journalist, Oliver Balch, is available here.

North America is reported almost exclusively as a destination with victims reported to come from all main regions of origin.

Oceania is mainly a destination region. Victims mainly originate in Southeast Asia.

So that’s a short summary of how the UN classifies human trafficking geographically. The US State Department has its own system for ranking countries in terms of trafficking risk and publishes an annual report entitled the ‘Trafficking in Persons (TIP)’ report. Countries are placed into one of three tiers based on the "three P’s"–prevention, protection and prosecution (the 1st tier being the best, 3rd the worst). The most current version is available here. These reports can help provide insight into where and how trafficking is actually taking place. However, as with any government report, the reader must ask himself how that individual publication fits into the government’s larger political agenda. Some critics of the US TIP report have suggested that recent fluctuations in particular countries’ standings may be less a measure of their actual anti-trafficking efforts and more a representation of their current diplomatic status with the US government. I personally find the section entitled "Trafficking and Emerging Muslim Leadership" particularly revealing.

Placing politics aside though, I chose to focus on the UN’s figures because if we really stand a chance to combat human trafficking, it will require global cooperation of the kind the UN was created to foster.

NEXT POST IN THIS SERIES: What actions are currently being taken to combat human trafficking? Who are the main players? What strategies have enjoyed success/ fallen short thus far?

While I’m not completely comfortable referring to human trafficking and its victims in economic terms, the truth is this crime would not exist without a market that offers great financial rewards to those involved. One of the most disturbing characteristics of human trafficking lies in its most basic definition: the sale of human beings. Trafficking turns a life into a mere commodity, which can be bought and sold like any other good. Because trafficking is driven by economic motivations, it must be analyzed in economic terms–regardless of the discomfort such an analysis may cause.

As any introductory economics course teaches, in a market price is a function of supply and demand. With human trafficking, the supply side refers to the economic and social factors that create a pool of potential victims for traffickers to target. The demand side includes who is buying these people and for what purposes.

On the supply side, poverty, lack of education and social inequality are often cited as the main contributing (or ‘push’) factors. Wars, natural disasters and civil unrest can create a large number of displaced people which facilitates trafficking. The 2004 tsunami caused mass devastation and increased trafficking from Southeast Asia. Other recent examples include the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon conflict and the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rapid industrialization can also inflate the supply side of trafficking. In many developing countries, there is a wide socioeconomic divide between the urban centers and the rural areas. Poor, uneducated, rural populations become prime targets for traffickers who lure young people into the city with the promise of a good job and a luxurious lifestyle. Girls with many siblings seem to be the most vulnerable in this case. Also, cultural factors often play a role. Traffickers can exploit certain cultural norms such as the value placed on virginity, the responsibility of an older child to contribute to the family income, the common practice of taking out a ‘loan’ from an employer which is then repaid through work, etc. On a macro scale, insufficient birth registry and identification systems, the ready supply of fraudulent travel documents, corruption, and ineffective migration policies affect the supply side of human trafficking.

In terms of demand, I split the factors into two categories: direct and indirect. Direct factors which influence demand are obviously what and how much people are willing to pay a trafficker for particular services. The most common image of direct demand is a man paying for sex from an enslaved prostitute. However, other types include forced labor, bonded labor, illegal adoptions (‘baby selling’), begging rings and the sale of vital organs. What I call indirect demand comes from consumers’ constant quest for ever-cheaper goods and services. The nature of the capitalist system is to minimize production costs. Labor is normally one of the most expensive factors of production and as such it becomes an obvious place to try and cut corners. In fact, after being busted for trafficking many factory owners defend their actions on the grounds that they couldn’t compete in the industry (carpets, clothing, bricks, whatever) without slaves because ‘everyone else’ is using them too. This brings us to a much larger issue of sub-contracting, global supply chains, etc. which would be too long and complex for this particular piece. However, the important thing to remember is that the demand for human trafficking is not only driven by those who actually pay for the victim’s services; on the contrary, we all contribute to to trafficking demand–indirectly–even if we’re not aware of it.

As a function of supply and demand, prices fluctuate from one region and/or country to the next. Price is influenced by all the factors mentioned above as well as the distances travelled and the mode of transport employed. As Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves ( notes, price also influences the treatment modern day slaves receive. FTS reports that hundreds of years ago slaves cost as much as the equivalent of $80,000 apiece. Now that figure has fallen to about $100.  David Batstone echoes this point in his book Not For Sale:

"During the era of the American plantation economy, the slaveholder considered slave ownership an investment. The supply of new recruits was limited. Though the slave owner usually treated the slave like a beast, it would be equal to the treatment of a prized bull. The slave owner aimed to extract the value of his investment over the course of the slave’s lifetime." However, in the modern-day slave trade, "the glut of slaves and the capacity to move them great distances in a relatively short period of time drastically alters the economics of slave ownership. As relative costs plummet, slaves cease to be a long-term investment. The owner need not be too concerned about maintaining the health of the slave…just like used batteries, once the slave exhausts his or her usefulness, another can be procured at no great expense"

In terms of the ‘business model’ of trafficking operations, size and
strategy can range from individual entrepreneurs to small ‘mom and pop’
operations to sophisticated, mafia-style rings. "In some cases, traffickers have emerged specifically to meet the migration demand, and in other cases, there are established international criminal syndicates who have incorporated trading of humans into their existing spheres of criminal activity" (IOM report, June 1996). In many cases, law enforcement’s cooperation and/or willingness to look the other way plays a key role in traffickers’ success.

So that’s the basics of human trafficking economics. As I’ve mentioned previously, modern day slavery is a booming business; it’s the third most profitable black market activity behind drugs and arms. The current estimate of human trafficking’s total market value is $32 million, $10 million of which comes from the initial ‘sale’ of people and the rest from the profits and goods they produce.

The next post in this series will explore geographic trends in human trafficking. It will address questions such as: How are individual countries and regions categorized into places of origin, points of transit and destinations? Which specific types of trafficking are linked to each region? What are the similarities and differences in these geographic trends?

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). 

I meant to post this a few weeks ago but my computer crashed and I couldn’t access anything. The timing could be better but anyway, here goes…

A few weeks ago (on March 25th to be precise), the United Kingdom commemorated its 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. In 1807 the UK became the first country in the world to outlaw the sale of human beings. Other countries soon followed suit and by the end of the 19th Century slavery had been abolished in nearly every country in the world.

So the UK’s abolition anniversary should be cause for celebration, right? Well…yes and no. The Abolition Act clearly marked a turning point in societal relations and human rights. However, the story of slavery doesn’t end there. Although most people think of slavery as a thing of the past, nearly all experts agree that there are more enslaved people today than at any other point in history. Conservative estimates place the number of slaves at 12 million worldwide; however, a more widely-accepted estimate is 27 million ( The Internatioal Labor Organization ( says that human trafficking–the modern-day transport of people for profit–is the third most lucrative form of trafficking worldwide, behind only drugs and arms. The buying and selling of human beings generates at least $31.6 billion annually.

What does modern-day slavery look like? The most common forms include sexual exploitation (through prostitution and pornography), forced labor and bonded labor. Women and children (especially from poor regions and/or broken homes) are the groups most often affected. However, in a global economy that demands ever-lower costs and consumers who agree to turn a blind eye to the supply chain that creates these low costs, slavery continues to be a profitable activity. 

I began researching the human trafficking issue a few months ago and have also attended some recent conferences and events, including the UN’s launch of their new Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (for more info, see in preparation for AID’s upcoming Bringing the World Home conference in London (April 27-29), my next few posts will focus on different issues of trafficking: some of the causes, geographic trends, case studies, what actions governments and international organizations are taking to combat it and what we as normal citizens can contribute to these efforts. For those of you coming to the London conference, I hope these help prepare you for some of the issues we’ll be addressing then. For those of you who can’t make it to London, maybe they’ll help direct you to some resources about the scope and severity of modern day slavery.


August 2020

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