Tackling Human Trafficking

Line of Defence Magazine - Spring 2019

human trafficking
Women and girls make up 71 percent of the total of those trafficked. Image: supplied.

Don Lord, Executive Director Hagar NZ, spoke on the issue of human trafficking at the Asia Pacific Security and Innovation Summit in Rotorua earlier this year. It’s a crime from which New Zealand is far from immune.

I work with Hagar, a frontline organisation that is working to see communities free and healed from the trauma of trafficking, slavery and abuse. Over the last 25 years I have seen the growing threat and devastating impacts of human trafficking; a crime which has now become a global issue that takes up headline space in newspapers and news reports around the world. 

It shocks many that modern-day slavery still exists in today’s world and in such numbers that would make William Wilberforce turn in his grave, having spent most of his life seeking to abolish the practice of slavery in England. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, trafficking is now the second largest criminal trade in the world, second only to drugs, having replaced the illegal arms trade for second spot. 

The most active area for human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the world, with about 63 percent of the numbers, is the South East Asia and Pacific region, which is literally on New Zealand’s doorstep. 

In a recent example from Vanuatu, one hundred men paid between US$14,000 and US$25,000 to get to Vanuatu from Bangladesh, often scrounging and mortgaging their homes in order to raise the funds. Once in Vanuatu, however, they were crowded into small properties, forced to work long hours and locked up at night under guard. They suffered torture, scant food and squalid conditions. 

Trafficking occurs all over the world, including in New Zealand. In New Zealand several people have already been charged with human trafficking and other offences, and several have been jailed as a result. It is considered one of the most serious crimes in New Zealand and, like murder, can attract a 20-year prison sentence and fines of up to $500,000. 

The numbers are staggering:

  • Trafficking earns about $150 billion per year with almost $100b sourced through sexual exploitation. Sex traffickers can earn US$36k per victim.
  • 40.3 million people are estimated to have been trafficked or in slavery today.
  • Females – women and girls – make up 71 percent of the total of those trafficked and enslaved.
  • Children account for 25 percent of those trafficked. 
  • The price of a slave today is just US$90.
  • The Asia Pacific region is the world’s most lucrative for forced labour and where about 63 percent of trafficking victims are found.
  • 24.9m victims are in forced labour – one individual can earn about US$8k for the trafficker.
  • 15.4m victims are in forced marriages.

There is no doubt that human trafficking has serious impacts on victims and survivors, some of whom are innocent children and even babies. Child trafficking is being fueled by the alarming increase in online child pornography, which includes live streaming of sexual abuse of children.

Human Traffickers use devious, cynical methods and destroy trust. In 2016, for example, traffickers set up a rugby training session in Northern India to ensnare and deceive the families of 25 teenage boys to pay about NZ$6,000 to send their boys to France on a ‘rugby tour.’ Interpol is still trying to find out where 22 of the boys are, and there are fears they have been sold and shipped out of France.

Human trafficking is one of the most tragic human rights issues of our time. It splinters families, distorts global markets, undermines the rule of law, and spurs other transnational criminal activity. It threatens public safety and national security. But worst of all, the crime robs human beings of their freedom and their dignity. That’s why we must pursue an end to the scourge of human trafficking.

– Former US Secretary of State Tillerson.

Why is trafficking escalating?

We only have to think about the law of supply and demand. Sex trafficking delivers huge profits with minimal risk. Net profit margins can be over 70 percent, making sex trafficking one of the most profitable activities in the world. It is becoming increasingly easy and inexpensive to procure, move and exploit vulnerable girls. 

The demand for cheap labour in order to accrue high profits keeps this economic machine running. Paired with little risk of criminal prosecution, human trafficking is a lucrative business to enter.

In addition to the demand and supply issue, poverty, globalisation, increased migration, child pornography, internal conflict and war have been major contributors. It affects millions and exists in almost every country of the world. 

It is a symptom of a greater problem: the breakdown of community. Broken and abusive homes, fragmented communities, and dysfunctional systems all help create the conditions for exploitation to thrive. If we want to comprehensively address slavery, then we need to acknowledge the compounding issues of poverty, racism, homelessness, abuse, inequality, addiction, gangs, and war, to name a few.

Katie Bergman, 07 February 2019.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labour or sexual exploitation.

Counter trafficking – the good news

Much is being done to counter this lucrative and criminal trade:

  • Strengthened and more effective government legislation.
  • Regional initiatives – e.g. Great Mekong Region – consisting of Cambodia, China, Laos PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Improved sharing of information between governments.
  • Harnessing of improved technology, such as blockchain.
  • More accurate data – US Department of State, UN, ILO, Global Slavery Index and University research.
  • More effective partnerships between NGOs.
  • Introduction of modern day slavery legislation in the UK and Australia and parts of the U.S.
  • Focus on improving global supply chains.
  • Innovative businesses supporting the ending of modern day slavery, such as 27 Seconds Wine https://27seconds.co.nz/
  • Ethical shopping guides
  • Younger people advocating for change 

Focusing on the survivors of trafficking

In general, there are limited holistic support services available to trafficking survivors, leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking and further exploitation. Current efforts focus on the prosecution of perpetrators, however justice for survivors requires holistic recovery, not just successful prosecutions.

Without appropriate recovery services, a survivor remains vulnerable to further exploitation and experiences challenges to repatriation due to:

  • Lack of professional and practical skills.
  • Psychological problems, including depression and emotional trauma.
  • Health repercussions, including sexually transmitted infections or physical injuries. 
  • Social stigmatisation leading to preventing safe reintegration and employment.
  • Ongoing debt, either remaining from prior experience or paying for return flights. 

Additionally, holistic recovery has broader benefits to societies, including:

  • Avoidance of ongoing healthcare costs and increased national welfare.
  • Increased productive labour force and decreased costs of illegal immigration.
  • Increased contribution of education and skills enhancement.
  • Avoidance of additional law enforcement costs imposed by trafficking.

It is clear from Hagar’s experience in case management work that breaking the cycle of exploitation and trafficking through recovery programs has delivered multiple benefits to the individual, family and wider community. 

Our consumer driven societies’ demand for goods results in millions being trapped in modern day slavery and exploitative forced labour. “There is slavery present in what we wear, what we eat and the vast array of electronic equipment we unthinkingly use every day,” stated Andrew Wallis, Director of Unseen UK. If we own a smart phone, eat chocolate and wear clothes, it is likely that we have used around 23 slaves to do so. 

Modern day slavery and trafficking is a burgeoning criminal trade in the misery and exploitation of vulnerable individuals. It is present in almost every country and some countries are failing to protect the most vulnerable through lax legislation, corruption and apathy.

In order to prevail in this fight there needs to be collaborative action from all actors, including governments, NGOs, civil society, business and others. It is a war we must win – anything else is unthinkable.