Human trafficking is a form of slavery – it is the exploitation of a person, by force, threat or coercion, for someone else’s benefit. It is a grave violation of human rights and a very serious crime. There are several different forms of human trafficking, but the two most common are sex trafficking and labour trafficking. The estimation of the number of victims varies according to different sources. The Global Slavery Index refers to 45.8 MILLION victims in the world today. The difficulty in having accurate numbers lies in the hidden and complex nature of this crime.

Why does human trafficking happen?

The main driver for human trafficking is DEMAND – demand for cheap products, inexpensive labour, and demand for sexual services. This creates a lucrative market opportunity and makes human trafficking one of the most profitable illicit activities globally.  According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking generates over $150 billion in illegal profits every year.

Lets take a look at the main two forms of trafficking:

Victims of labour trafficking are commonly deceived or forced into jobs where they are paid little to nothing. These victims are often bonded to their traffickers through debt they’ve accrued during the recruitment process. This debt increases over time, with excessive interest rates and wages too low to pay the debt off. This makes it nearly impossible for exploited workers to get out of bondage. Traffickers may also confiscate workers IDs, or threaten to report illegal workers in order to prevent them from leaving. This type of exploitation is common in the manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and tourism industries.  We’ve had many examples of it in the press in recent years, the Thai fishing industry is one of them.

The responsibility of businesses: Suppliers and corporations cut production costs by demanding cheap labour, often exposing workers to poor and dangerous conditions. Forced and child labour are common in many industries.  Due to the complex nature of global supply chains, many companies don’t know the origin of the components and ingredients in their products. This makes it difficult to guard against forced labour in their supply chains and easy for labour exploitation to remain hidden. Also some companies might decide to shift their production lines to countries where the legal minimum wage is below a living wage, this means that those companies are not doing anything against the law per se, but are keeping workers in poverty and therefore contributing to the potential of seeing these workers take the risk to find better jobs elsewhere, risking to be trafficked. The Social Corporate Responsibility should be more than just a paper…

Victims of sex trafficking are forced or manipulated to work in the commercial sex trade. The majority of these victims are women and girls trapped working for the financial gain of a pimp. In many cases this pimp may even be the victim’s boyfriend. Sex trafficking can be very hard to identify. Often, victims may appear to be working of their own will, but are actually being monitored by traffickers who will punish the victims for acts they deem unfavourable. It is very hard to raise awareness about sex trafficking as it is linked, by default, to prostitution and lives hand in hand with it.

This touchy subject has passionate defenders of 2 opposite sides: neo-abolitionists that want to punish clients and see prostitution disappear fight against those who defend the legalisation of prostitution and want to make it “a normal job”. The fact is, whether you are for or against prostitution, sexual exploitation is NOT acceptable in a world where all human beings should enjoy the same rights, no one should have their bodies sold against their will and no one should buy it from them. Clients have a strong responsibility in keeping victims in a state of slavery.

Who are the victims?

Statistics show that women and children living in poverty are most vulnerable to exploitation. Desperate to escape poverty, these individuals are forced to take risks and become vulnerable to false offers of lucrative jobs from traffickers. Armed conflicts and political and religious intolerance can also make minority groups vulnerable to exploitation. And in countries where children’s rights are not protected, children are more vulnerable to exploitation, such as forced marriage and forced begging.

A recent example of sexual exploitation because of armed conflicts is the case of the Yezidi community, victim of the so called islamic state since August 2014: women and girls of the Yezidi community have been enslaved, sold on slave markets for sexual exploitation, forced to be married, forced to convert to another religion, forced to work…These are horrendous crimes, so far left unpunished.

The other forms of human trafficking are: forced marriage, domestic servitude, harvesting and selling of organs, forced begging.

A victim of human trafficking is marked for life. Each one of them pays a very high cost and society as a whole is also paying a high price.

Once rescued from trafficking, survivors go upon a journey of recovery that can be painful and long, each person has it’s own pace. But once they have done their journey to recovery and self-esteem, they continue to be facing the risk of being re-trafficked if they are not offered a decent life with a decent job and a decent salary…

It’s important to remember that human trafficking can happen to anyone outside of these risk groups. All it takes to increase someone’s vulnerability is a change in life circumstances, like losing a job.

What can we do?

There are a few simple, yet important, things you can do in your daily life to help end human trafficking. The first is to raise awareness and respect human rights, all human rights.

The second thing you can do is support organizations working to address human trafficking. You can donate, participate in awareness campaigns, or volunteer your time and professional experience. If you see a potential situation of exploitation, go to the police, alert NGOs active in the field. Clients have often saved lives of girls and women victims of sexual exploitation, a smiling face does not mean that the person is there out of their free will.

As for labour trafficking, you can also use your power as a consumer to reduce demand for inexpensive workers at risk of exploitation.  Support companies making an effort to protect workers. Choose products that have been audited and certified using fair labour standards.

Non-profit organizations, companies and individuals all play important roles in ending human trafficking. Non-profits can support survivors through their recovery process toward empowerment and self-sufficiency. Companies can offer training and employment to survivors, educate consumers and employees on the issue, and protect workers in their supply chains. Individuals can support nonprofits, raise awareness among friends and family, and use their purchasing power to demand responsibly produced goods.

Every human being is part of the human chain that connects all of us to one another, every consumer or client is part of the solution to end modern-day slavery and can make a difference to the lives of millions of people. The best way to fight human trafficking is to join forces and work together, in respect for each human being.

Together we can create a world free of slaves.