Crosstown traffic

by Helen G // 13 June 2008, 13:47

The US Department of State has published its 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, which reviews the efforts of the governments of 170 countries to combat people trafficking. (The full report is available for download from the US Department of State’s website, link here).

It’s often said that, to many people, trafficking is about the forced relocation and coercion of women into sex work, so it’s interesting to note that there are actually more cases of trafficking into forced labour. (Link here). The report adds that a common denominator in labour trafficking and sex trafficking is that, for many victims, their "ordeal started with a migration in search of economic alternatives". It’s also worth remembering that forced labour can, and does, happen without necessarily requiring the victims to be relocated. Exploitation and control of people comes about through force, fraud or coercion, and the movement of people is not always required for this to happen.

However, on the basis of the contents of the report, it seems fair to say that sex trafficking does comprise a significant proportion of people trafficking overall, and makes up the majority of transnational modern-day slavery. It is a fact that sex trafficking would not exist without the demand for commercial sex, which seems to be flourishing globally.

The section of the report called Topics of Special Interest is certainly likely to challenge some preconceptions. For example, it is often overlooked that "[f]emale trafficking victims in Europe and Central and South Asia are frequently recruited and trafficked into prostitution by other women, sometimes women who were themselves previously trafficking victims" - and who are then coerced a second time. The report says this is sometimes termed ‘Happy Trafficking’, with the word ‘happy’ referring to the "victims-turned-traffickers’ practice of claiming to have had an ideal experience in legitimate jobs in the West or elsewhere", even though the reality is likely to be the complete opposite.

The trafficking of migrant workers is of particular concern, especially when one considers the collusion of so many different agencies as well as the failure of governments to enforce initiatives (such as Memoranda of Understanding) and the abuse of legal systems by employers to coerce migrant workers into employment on terms to which they did not originally consent. Indeed, the situation of migrant workers is particularly shameful when one considers a 2007 UN study which estimated that "approximately 150 million migrant workers from developing countries around the world produce over $300 billion in annual remittances to their countries of origin".

The question remains how the insidious and increasingly pervasive activity of people trafficking can be stopped; it is clearly a huge transnational business which keeps millions of people in various forms of servitude, and which has at its root, imbalances of power and wealth (to mention but two factors), not to mention abuses of human rights. It seems that the primary motivation of many traffickers is financial greed, whilst many victims are seeking to escape extreme poverty and hardship. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems clear that to stop all these contemporary forms of slavery, an intensively focused and long-term effort by all governments is required.

(Cross-posted at bird of paradox)

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