Posts Tagged ‘humantrafficking’

I’ve read several things recently that have me contemplating the roles of agency and force in migration and sex work.

Agency and force are important topics in thinking about migration and sex work because many anti-human trafficking definitions take these into account. For example, the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children defines trafficking in persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

Author Rutvica Andrijasevic discusses the problem with definitions like this in Migration, Agency and Citizenship in Sex Trafficking, particularly regarding the deception facet: “It is obvious that those women who were promised jobs as waitresses or domestic workers and were then inserted in the sex industry had not been informed about the terms of their sex-work contract. However, neither have they negotiated the terms of the contract for work in a restaurant or a private home. This situation is not that much different    to the one in which women agreed to sex work but knew very little about the concrete working conditions…If, according to the UN Protocol, a case of ‘trafficking’ takes place when, by means of deception, a person has been recruited and transported by a third-party into exploitative working conditions so as to profit from her labour, then the ambiguity lies with the notion of deception itself. The fact that the definition of trafficking presupposes an interrelation between deception and subsequent exploitation of migrants on the part of ‘traffickers’ conflates the range of interests third parties might have in supplying vague information concerning the working contract. Third parties might profit from migrants’ recruitment or travel rather than from their labor. The vagueness of the notion of deception, together with force, coercion and exploitation as distinctive components of trafficking then establish an oversimplified and ultimately erroneous demarcation between voluntary and involuntary processes of migration.This is particularly important since violence, coercion, deception and exploitation may also occur in voluntary and legally regulated systems of migration and employment.” (2011. p. 36-38).

A separate topic but one related to agency and sex trafficking comes from the 2002-2003 Report on Trafficking in Women and Children by the Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). As part of the report, researchers interviewed 412 brothel owners about how they run their businesses. When asked about their motivations for choosing their line of work, more than half of respondents reported that they had no other income options. About 30% attributed their motivations to a desire to earn easy money, and presumably had other income options. What I found interesting was that a considerable 7.5% reported being forced by others into managing the brothel. How can one be forced into managing a brothel? The logistics are hard to fathom, but if people are being forced into sex work as well as brothel management, these could be indicators of a larger organized crime regime.

This is what I have been considering as I continue to carry out my own research.


The UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UNGIFT) recently posted this article about criminal groups organizing human trafficking conferences “in order to gain sensitive information and money from participants.” UNGIFT specifically cites the World Congress on human trafficking and forced labour 2011 as one of the specious events.

After just doing a cursory Google search it seems obvious that this particular event is a scam. Searching for the World Congress on human trafficking and forced labour 2011 brings up several websites such as which is a forum for people to discuss current internet scams, in the first couple of results. To me this is no big deal; we all know that there are internet scams in action every minute of every day.

This particular kind of scam is more disturbing than the run-of-the mill internet scams. UNGIFTs claims that this conference was organized in order to gain sensitive information from anti-trafficking activists and that it is composed of 2 phases, 1 each in New York and Senegal, to “maximize its pool of victims.” If these claims are accurate then this is evidence of a new level of sophistication and gall among human trafficking organizations, targeting the intellectual community which is constructing their demise.  However, I have many, many questions about exactly who is organizing these bogus conferences and what their motivations are. UNGIFT says that the original scam was uncovered by UNODC’s Trafficking in Persons Unit, but I could not discover any more information about it from the UN, or any other source for that matter. I would be very interested in learning more about this, if for no other reason than to avoid falling into one of these traps myself…

At this point I am just about done with my research precis and have done a good bit of research on the business and economics of sex trafficking. One observation at this point is that some of the most helpful and informative resources have done a good job of categorizing the different players in the sex trafficking industry. Victims are known in some business analyses as labor, and in others as products. Traffickers are the distribution arm, and those who exploit victims regularly (such as brothel owners) are the retailers. Of course end users are the sex slave consumer, but it is interesting to look at the factors that inhibit demand, such as a spike in prices. Several sources have helped me with the classification of these supply chain nodes:

  1. Kara, Siddharth. “Supply & Demand: Human Trafficking in the Global Economy.” Harvard International Review 33, no. 2 (2011): 66-71.
  2. Kara, Siddharth. 2009. Sex trafficking: inside the business of modern slavery. Columbia: Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition
  3. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 2010. “Analysing The Business Model Of Trafficking In Human Beings To Better Prevent The Crime.” Aronowitz, Alexis, Theuermann, Gerda and Elena Tyurykanova. Vienna: OSCE Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. Print.
  4. Wheaton, Elizabeth, Edward Schauer, and Thomas Galli. “Economics of Human Trafficking.” International Migration 48, no. 4 (2010): 114-141.

I’ve learned that any research on the topic of human trafficking will eventually lead to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIPS) report, since it is widely used as a resource for recent human trafficking information. At some point I plan on actually reading the report, but in the meantime I am relying on citations and interpretations by other sources.

This article by Bloomberg News about the 2011 TIPS report claims that the human trafficking situation is worsening in 11 countries. “The number of countries failing to comply with international standards to prevent human trafficking almost doubled to 23,” says Bloomberg. Presumably this means that the number has doubled over the 2010 report, but Bloomberg doesn’t specify. They also note that due to recent political uprisings in the Middle East, human trafficking figures from this region have been difficult to calculate. Examples given are Yemen and Libya, neither of which reported numbers for the 2010-2011 period. This goes to show how difficult it can be to collect accurate human trafficking numbers. There will always be political unrest somewhere in the world, and this will make collecting accurate data difficult. But areas in a state of political unrest need better reporting than other places, because civil strife is a breeding ground for human trafficking. So if a large percentage of human trafficking activity takes place in politically unstable areas, and numbers from these areas are inaccurate or unreported, then we may not be getting an accurate picture of the true global human trafficking situation.

Bloomberg also notes a statement that Secretary of State Clinton released with the report in June 2011, in which she reportedly said that there are 27 million slaves in the world today. This was actually the same number that Bales gave in Disposable People (p. 9), which was published in 1999. Kara in Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, estimated 28.4 million slaves globally (Appendix 1), based on a 2005 International Labour Organization study. For more than a decade it appears that experts have agreed on the number of slaves in the world. Though I don’t know the methodology behind the calculation of these  numbers, I find myself wondering why the number has gone unchanged for so long. We are always hearing about the growth of the human trafficking industry, so shouldn’t the overall number of slaves in the world have increased over a 10-year period? On the other hand, shouldn’t anti-trafficking efforts have reduced the number of slaves? Did each of these factors cancel each other out?

If abolition and other efforts have held the number of slaves in check since at least 1999, I would consider that a small victory in and of itself, since it would actually be falling relative to the size of the growing human population. But without accurate data from conflict zones, it will be difficult to ever gain an accurate estimate.