HT, Corruption, and International Organized Crime

Posted: October 4, 2011 in GLOA 491
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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?

  1. Paola says:

    I agree with your statement Craig, that, globalization or not, human trafficking would continue. Besides, our world continues to shrink in regards to the processes of globalization–it’s not going anywhere. In tackling the problem of trafficking we have talked about the economic aspects, supply and demand, corruption, poverty, and sociocultural issues. There are so many angles one can approach this from, and as Shelly discussed, it will take more than one solution depending on what region is being confronted. Anyone that can be an active participant in the trading, selling and abuse of humans, would have to be apathetic at the very least. So you pose a difficult question—how in the world can you prevent people from committing these crimes when they are so indifferent to their victims and the harmful consequences of their actions? I would have to say that perhaps the only thing that would work is hurting the criminals themselves—preferably in the pocket (there are other things of course, but we don’t want to digress to their level). Something I still think about a lot, but hasn’t been approached too much, is the supply & demand discussion. That is, utilizing existing resources to tackle the demand side—the people purchasing, acquiring, “demanding” these victims. In almost every book there was something mentioned about the imbalance in the legal systems, not only with the lack of financial and police resources, but with putting too much pressure on the already traumatized victims, either by re-victimizing them through prostitution charges or pressuring them to testify against their aggressors, or repatriating them back to the country where they were first trafficked. Higher fines and imprisonment are one step, but I have also heard the mention of shaming the perpetrators. Again—it depends on where you are. Shaming a man in Thailand probably wouldn’t go over so well, since it is practically a rite of passage there. And costly fines probably wouldn’t even cause a rich American in Costa Rica to blink. But I still believe that we need to tackle the end user, so to speak, before we can tackle their suppliers—or at least tackle them concurrently.

  2. Craig says:

    Thanks for your comment, Paola, and thanks for thinking about my question. You’re right on about the demand side. One thing I’ve learned so far from my research on sex slavery economics is that Kara is actually one of the foremost experts on the economics of human trafficking, especially on the demand side. If you Google “human trafficking economics” or “human trafficking demand”, you will get a bunch of info about Kara.

    My research focuses on the demand, but not on the end user. One of the books we read (can’t remember which one) talks about two dimensions of demand: the retailer (pimp/brothel owner, etc.) and the end-user. So I guess I’ve been thinking about the retailer a lot in these cases, partially because focusing on end-users’ individual motivations for using sex slaves is so complex, and to tell the truth, outside my realm of expertise. But it is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed.

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