Human trafficking: The hidden victims of supply and demand

Human trafficking is a crime which effects virtually every country around the world, not just developing countries. While efforts to protect victims and prosecute traffickers are improving internationally, millions of people continue to live in slavery and progress to protect victims and prosecute offenders has been relatively slow.

What is human trafficking?

human trafficking

Human trafficking is broad term which encompasses the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or obtaining persons, through the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, for the purpose of exploitation. In short, it is modern day slavery.

The most documented and well-known type of human trafficking is the trafficking of women and children for work in the sex industry. However, the definition of trafficking is much broader than that and also includes forced labour (such as domestic servitude, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing), child soldiers, and even organ trafficking.

Currently, the International Labour Organisation estimates that there are 21 million people who are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. This remains an estimate, however, as the hidden nature of human trafficking means that we will never truly know the extent of this crime.

Human trafficking in Supply Chains

In late July 2015, the US Government released the latest edition of the Trafficking in Persons Report, which focuses on human trafficking in the global marketplace. Forced labour in the private economy generates approximately USD 150 billion in illegal profits each year.

Through business supply chains, consumers are more connected to human trafficking than we may think. The bedsheets you just bought might be made from cotton that was harvested with forced labour. The fish you are eating may have been caught by a Burmese slave, forced to work 20 hours a day. The video above shows an investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation into human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry.

The response to human labour trafficking needs to occur at every level. The report calls for governments to enforce labour laws, root out corruption and regulate private labour recruitment.

The British Government has enacted landmark legislation which includes a provision to encourage businesses to take action to ensure their end-to-end supply chains are free from human trafficking. This is the first legislation of its kind and includes strict penalties for perpetrators – life imprisonment. The United Kingdom has also appointed an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to drive the legal response to human trafficking.

Human labour trafficking is also an area where private industry needs to step up and take the lead and reduce the likelihood of human trafficking in their supply chains. This includes the implementation of strong anti-trafficking policies, the training of staff to identify human trafficking, as well as an enforcement mechanism. But most of all, there needs to be a shift away from pressure to cut costs, and instead a move towards the protection of the rights of workers.

What can we do?

Photo source: Huffington Post

Photo source: Huffington Post


We too can play a role. Through education and awareness initiatives, we can ensure that we fully understand what we are buying and we can encourage change through the way that we shop. Ask your local supermarket, retailer, or restaurant if they know where their products are from and whether their supply chains are slave-free.

You can also research large counter-trafficking charities, such as Anti-Slavery International, who regularly run online campaigns to petition governments and businesses to change their practices. These organisations can also help you to organise fundraising activities within your local community to increase awareness and raise fund for counter-trafficking initiatives.

If you would like to take a more hands-on approach, there are plenty of volunteering opportunities available. Anti-Slavery International has offices around the world, many of which require volunteers to help them run their initiatives.

There are also plenty of international volunteering opportunities available, such as Urban Light in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Urban Light is a grassroots organisation which aims to improve the lives of boys at risk of trafficking and exploitation and they run a Youth Centre where volunteers can help with education programs for at-risk boys.

Casa Alianza also manages a number of initiatives in Central America which are aimed at protecting child victims of human trafficking. In Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala they advocate for harsher anti-trafficking penalties and run shelters in specialist centres for victims where volunteers are able to use their skills to improve the lives of children at the shelters.

There are lots of ways that you are able to help in the fight against human trafficking, even if it might seem like a small step.

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Thanks for sharing this Laura. Awareness is so important.

I find it too hard to track what we consume and more transparency about products available in the shops would be a real positive shift to fight many issues… For that, I’d be ready to have less choice in what I can buy. But I know some people prefer to keep their comfort and ignore it unfortunately πŸ™

Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Eloise, hopefully with increased awareness there will be more transparency demanded from these companies that in turn would make it easier for people to make ethical choices when they shop.


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