I haven’t made it very far through Kara’s “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery” yet, but he begins by providing a ton of valuable information and sources that I can use as a basis for starting my research on the business of human trafficking.

In class, we’ve been talking a lot about the role of demand in the human trafficking equation. Understanding and addressing demand is key if human trafficking is to be held in check. As has been demonstrated by the “war on drugs”, lopsided prevention strategies that focus on supply alone don’t actually solve the problem.  While recognizing this fact, I am personally interested in the supply side of the equation in human trafficking, especially from a management and finance perspective.

In my last post I discussed how human trafficking will be extremely difficult to address or prevent without targeting and eliminating the profitable functions. For example, Kara claims (without citation) that “the global weighted average net profit margin” of 70% makes holding sexual slaves “one of the most profitable enterprises in the world.” (p. 21).  He also notes that the costs of entering the human trafficking trade are relatively low compared to the cost of starting a business in other industries, making it an attractive alternative. On page 24 Kara claims that a sex slave can be bought in Asia for between $200 and $1,000 and in Western Europe for between $2,000 and $10,000. I thought it would be helpful to conduct a mental exercise with these numbers. So if a brothel owner buys a slave for $400 in Thailand, forces her to service 10 clients a day for $10 each, each day, every day, the brothel owner will have made his money back in four days. You with me so far?

Say this goes on for 18 months. The brothel owner’s revenue from this single victim now adds up to $54,000. Now he sells the victim to someone in Western Europe for $6,000. Even taking into account overhead costs such as minimal housing and food, transport, guards, bribes and incidental expenses, the brothel owner has still made some serious profit from this single slave. He likely owns more slaves, too.

Countries and families that are sources of trafficking victims are economically devastated,  socially immobile, and they often have corrupt governments and other ills, so it makes perfect sense from an economic perspective that there are willing and able facilitators of human trafficking in these places. However I think that given alternative prospects, many facilitators (and victims) would not be in this business. It’s ironic in a tragic kind of way that the same economic and social underpinnings drive both captive and captor towards each other.

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