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Human Trafficking: Modern Trends of the Slavery Enterprise and the Missing Links

Submitted by on 07 Sep 2015 – 09:07

Human trafficking, one of the world’s most shameful ills has found its well-deserved place in United Nation’s post-2015 development agenda. Emily Daglish, Head of Content at International Centre for Parliamentary Studies and Head of Policy at Human Security Centre argues that there is an urgent need to re-evaluate current infrastructure designed to tackle the slavery enterprise, both in terms of preventative, proactive and retrospective policy

Unbound Stop Modern Slavery Walk 2013

Media and political rhetoric in recent months have focussed on the arrival of thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict and oppression to Europe. Mismanagement has diverted attention from the reality that human trafficking has exploited the vulnerable and critically contributed to the consequential humanitarian crises by facilitating life threatening transit. There is an urgent need to re-evaluate current infrastructure designed to tackle human trafficking, both in terms of preventative, proactive and retrospective policy.

Human trafficking claims, at a conservative estimate, 2.5 million victims at any one time, generating around $150 billion for vast criminal enterprises in illegal annual profits – approximately $99 billion of which from commercial sexual exploitation. Human trafficking has flourished under vast criminal networks exploiting poor governance structures, often seeing the enterprise as a less risky alternative to other crime. Current infrastructure however is neither comprehensive nor well-resourced enough to incite real change at the pace needed.
The UN dominates the anti-trafficking arena, its two primary Protocols adopted in 2000 and 2003/4, followed by its enforcement agency, United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UNGIFT) in 2007. Currently 166 nations have ratified the UN’s primary protocol. Preceding and complementing these measures lies the International Labour Organisation (ILO), enshrining principles and providing technical assistance to states.

A number of regional and national mechanisms have followed, a positive example being the EU Directive 2011/36/EU. However, many of these contain exclusive aspects that reduce their potential effectiveness.

The Missing Links
There are numerous instances where political indifference, misunderstanding or lack of knowledge amongst officials in charge, have made even sound policy ineffective. Additionally, there are several global misperceptions, that human trafficking predominantly relate to women and children whereas in reality, forced labour affects a larger number of men. These complexities are often missed.

Lack of resources, training and updated toolkits for public sector officials often result in ineffective controls, misinterpretation of victims, rising dangers for those at risk. A critical issue resulting from this is failures in victim support: lack of language skills and trauma awareness, resulting in traumatic interviews for victims that fail to produce prosecutions and often lands victims either in jail or back in the hands of traffickers. This demonstrates a failure to adopt the necessary holistic approach, compounding policy towards law enforcement without tackling the underlying structural issues that allow traffickers to operate so freely.

Although 90 percent of the world’s countries have now criminalised human trafficking, according to the UN ‘fifteen countries had no cases adjudicated in the period from 2010 to 2013, while 25 countries had only one to ten cases adjudicated during the same period.’ This compounds the perception that human trafficking is a low risk crime compared to other criminal activities, such as money laundering which is being clamped down more successfully.

Despite this, the growing trend of automatic securitization is a potential threat, states failing to recognise the importance of more holistic measures, given that securitised efforts often garner more attention for governments. Law and order is certainly an important aspect, be it border security, intelligence work or prosecution. However, this approach cannot sufficiently cater to the underlying causes of trafficking and the vulnerabilities of traumatised victims.

The global misinterpretation that human trafficking is a problem that arises purely from conflict and that it has not developed into an issue of its own right further adds to the lack of effectiveness. On the national level, police forces and social services have only recently begun to view and deal with the issue as a domestic problem, as well as a global one. There is a need both nationally and internationally to understand that human trafficking arises from a number of phenomenons, such as lack of law enforcement, civil unrest, large-scale poverty, or illiteracy.
What can be done? There is a lack of accurate data to inform critical policy decisions – agencies must pull national governments together to create comprehensive, detailed and accurate mechanisms that can monitor human trafficking more effectively. Without more universal mechanisms, policymakers will fail to create effective policies that can deal with the reality on the ground.

Human trafficking is not an isolated issue
It perpetuates other crime such as arms proliferation, as well as conflict and social tension. More holistic approaches will contribute to strengthened legal measures and prosecutions, better protection for those at risk and, in the longer term, closing the space open to human trafficking. By closing this space, policy makers can also make inroads into other criminal activities, as the interlinked nature means they cannot be tackled in isolation. Part of this initiative must involve the private sector through increasing awareness of the link between trafficking for labour purposes and the demand for very low cost workers, as well as increasing detection and prosecution of businesses ignoring the laws.

Sustained international focus on human trafficking is critical and cannot be foregone. However, international co-operation and campaigns must be supplemented by local initiatives. Human trafficking takes varying forms and to use a blanket mechanism for all would be foolish. Instead, policymakers must be aware of their specific local and regional vulnerabilities, rather than make assumptions based on global norms, ensuring local officials are equipped with specific toolkits needed to tackle the situation preventatively on a daily basis. To complement this, there is considerable need for community driven, bottom up programmes to help victims escape traffickers and rebuild their lives. By educating local communities in vulnerable areas on the dangers, signs and consequences of human trafficking, more comprehensive and locally owned directives could help prevent further escalation.

Above all, the international community must learn from its mistakes. The current humanitarian crisis faced by migrants and refugees across Europe must force action not only for those undergoing unimaginable suffering, but a recognition that instability generates exploitative opportunities for trafficking networks. Europe and the international community must work together to produce preventative solutions, rather than reactive, in a holistic manner that does not over securitize the issue as has been the mistake in so many other arenas. Policymakers must first ask why, then how and finally how can we sustainably prevent this – rather than demanding crisis containment.

The article was previously published at Human Security Centre.