Glenny’s McMafia has made me think about the intersection of human trafficking and corruption in the world of organized crime,. In particular, Glenny’s walkthrough of the rise of Russian organized crime in Israel in the post-Soviet era and the associated increase in trafficking of women from post-Soviet states was very interesting. How is it possible that human beings could be involuntarily trafficked through the hands of so many criminals of diverse ethnicities in several countries with relative ease on a regular basis? At the beginning of McMafia Glenny talks about how organized criminal groups all over the world work with each other despite, in many cases, deep political, economic, and/or ethnic tensions that often cripple cooperation among groups as diverse as these. For our purposes, much of the international human trafficking that we study would be impossible without this cooperation.
Some of the other authors that we have read have made a scholarly attempts to attribute this cooperation to globalization; my first instinct is to reject this claim. As Glenny mentions, some groups have been smuggling good across borders for generations, and in some cases, such as that of the Bedouins, thousands of years. And while globalization in the post-Soviet era has made smuggling easier in some cases, in other cases, such as in India and Iran in the 1970’s and 80’s, and the Balkan conflicts of the 1990’s, tight border controls and prohibition of goods can provide new markets for smugglers, which says to me that even if globalization were a trend that could somehow be toned back, the trafficking of prohibited goods, including humans, may not be slowed. This is because the incentive for international criminal groups to cooperate in smuggling operations is always present. It seems that complicity of government officials, whether through legal means (such as a free-trade regime) or though corruption, is a “nice-to-have”, but unnecessary asset to smugglers in almost all cases. Many human smugglers, such as those operating between Burma, Laos, and Thailand, just walk across the border with their “cargo” without even encountering government officials.
Which makes me wonder about something else: one way to deal with human trafficking is related to fighting government corruption. But in some cases government officials aren’t necessarily corrupt; they aren’t even present or look the other way for no personal incentive. Often, but not always, this can be attributed to a lack of resources (which is a related, but separate problem). Apathy in the context of human trafficking is hard for us to imagine, but it happens. Can anything be done about it?