Policy Approaches to Trafficking in Persons

Trafficking in Persons Report
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
June 12, 2007

Focusing on Forced Labor and Sex Trafficking

Every year we add to our knowledge of the trafficking phenomenon. The 2007 Report sheds new light on the alarming trafficking of people for purposes of forced labor, often in their own countries. Conventional approaches to dealing with forced or bonded labor usually focus on compliance, in line with international conventions (i.e., ILO Conventions 29, 39, 105 and 182). These approaches seek to have exploitative industries comply with the law simply by releasing victims or offering financial compensation.

Approaches to combating forced labor that rely solely on compliance with labor standards can be weak because these approaches fail to punish those responsible for trafficking. While administrative sanctions are effective for deterring some labor violations, forced labor must be punished as a crime, through vigorous prosecutions. While most countries in the world have criminalized forced labor, they do little to prosecute offenders, in part due to the lack of awareness of forced labor issues among law enforcement officials.

The Department of State, as directed by Congress through the TVPA, continues to increase its attention on forced labor and bonded labor, while maintaining its campaign against sex trafficking. As with the last two Reports, this Report places several countries on Tier 3 primarily as a result of their failure to address trafficking for forced labor among foreign migrant workers.

The Policy of Victim Rescue

While some victims of human trafficking are able to escape from involuntary servitude, many more are not able to break free on their own. They need help.

Help often comes in the form of a raid by law enforcement on the place where victims are held against their will. Victims of involuntary servitude in a labor situation are rescued, for example, through raids on sweatshops or searches of homes exploiting domestic servants. Victims of sex trafficking are rescued through raids on brothels and other places where commercial sexual exploitation occurs, such as massage parlors, Karaoke bars, and strip clubs.

The U.S. Government views rescues as an integral part of the law enforcement response to trafficking in persons. Rescues identify, gain access to, and protect victims while uncovering evidence for the prosecution of traffickers and their accomplices.

The Myth of Movement

A person may decide to travel on his or her own accord to another location for a job, within his or her own country or abroad, and still subsequently fall victim to trafficking. Some governments and law enforcement agencies mistakenly focus on the voluntary nature of a person's transnational movement and fail to identify the more important element of compulsion or forced labor that can occur after someone moves for employment. Movement to the new location is incidental. The force, fraud, or coercion exercised on that person to perform or remain in service to another is the defining element of human trafficking in the modern usage. The person who is trapped in compelled service after initially migrating voluntarily or taking a job willingly is considered a trafficking victim. Neither the international definition of trafficking in persons, as defined in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, nor the U.S. definition of severe forms of trafficking in persons, as defined in federal law, requires the movement of a victim. Movement is not necessary, as any person who is recruited, harbored, provided, or obtained through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, forced labor, or commercial sex qualifies as a trafficking victim. To define trafficking in persons on the basis of movement is to create an artificial and unfounded distinction between victims who are exploited without being moved and those who are moved prior to and during their exploitation.

The Egyptian boy forced to beg on the streets of Cairo or New York is as much a victim of trafficking in persons as the Central American worker brought to the United States on a legal seasonal farm work visa and then forced to work in conditions not described in the original contract, with the threat of being deported without pay if he fails to comply with the "new rules." The Estonian woman who is lured to London through the fraudulent offer of a modeling job and then prostituted is as much a victim of trafficking in persons as the teenage Kenyan girl who is pushed into prostitution in a seaside resort town by her family. The forms of involuntary servitude and faces of those victimized are myriad.

West African Child Trafficking Victims and the Cocoa Industry

Following international media reports in 2000 and 2001 of widespread child labor abuses in West African cocoa farms, which produce 70 percent of the world's cocoa, the international human rights community investigated the problem. A 2002 joint study published by the ILO and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture found that an estimated 284,000 children on cocoa farms in West Africa were "either involved in hazardous work, unprotected or unfree, or have been trafficked." Most of the children were on cocoa farms in Cote d'Ivoire, the world's largest cocoa producer. The remaining children labored on farms in Ghana, the world's second-largest producer, and in Cameroon and Nigeria.

In response to consumer pressure and calls by members of the U.S. Congress for a ban on chocolate imports linked to forced child labor, two of the cocoa industry's largest groups-the World Cocoa Foundation and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association-forged a voluntary plan of action, the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The Protocol obliged the industry to undertake specific activities to combat labor exploitation in West Africa. The centerpiece of the agreement was the industry's pledge to develop a system for certifying cocoa products as child-and forced-labor free by July 2005. The ILO and NGOs, such as Free the Slaves and the Child Labor Coalition, supported the Protocol and signed it as witnesses.

To develop the certification system, the cocoa industry attempted to identify specific farms using child and forced labor. With an estimated two million cocoa farms in West Africa, most of them family-owned and averaging less than five acres, this task proved daunting and time intensive. In addition, a rebel uprising in 2002 in Cote d'Ivoire divided the country into a rebel-controlled North and government-led South and unleashed widespread violence, hindering access by outside researchers. In July 2005, the industry had not successfully met its obligation to develop a certification system. Industry leaders met again with Senator Harkin and Congressman Engel to set a new deadline-July 2008-for a certification system that would cover 50 percent of all cocoa farms in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana. In 2008, the world's attention will be on the cocoa industry, with expectations of progress.

Health Impacts of Trafficking in Persons

Trafficking in persons has serious public health implications in addition to being a human rights and national security issue. By definition, human trafficking entails "force, fraud, or coercion" which typically includes confinement and, often, physical and psychological abuse.

Research demonstrates that violence and abuse are at the core of trafficking for prostitution. A 2006 study of women trafficked for prostitution into the European Union found that 95 percent of victims had been violently assaulted or coerced into a sexual act, and over 60 percent of victims reported fatigue, neurological symptoms, gastrointestinal problems, back pain, and/or gynecological infections. Additional psychological consequences common among prostituted women include dissociative and personality disorders, anxiety, and depression. A 2001 study revealed that 86 percent of women trafficked within their countries and 85 percent of women trafficked across international borders suffer from depression.

As with sex trafficking, those who are trafficked for labor suffer physical and mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder due to physical assaults and beatings, and depression that elevates the risk of suicide. Victims of forced labor have limited ability to determine the conditions in which they work or to leave the workplace, which may increase their risk of physical and mental health damage.

HIV/AIDS and Trafficking in Persons

Approximately 42 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS and sex trafficking plays a major role in spreading the epidemic. The 2005 UNAIDS report states that "across Asia, the [HIV] epidemics are propelled by combinations of injecting drug use and commercial sex." Thus, both prostitution and sex trafficking contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Globally, women in prostitution and those who have been trafficked for prostitution have a high incidence of HIV. For example, HIV prevalence among women prostituted in Nepal is 20 percent. In South Africa, the number reaches 70.4 percent. Furthermore, according to the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, between "50 and 90 percent of children rescued from brothels in Southeast Asia are infected with HIV."

The U.S. Government has strong policies to combat HIV/AIDS and human trafficking. In 2006, the President's Interagency Task Force To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons reaffirmed the Administration's commitment to fighting both. The U.S. Government promotes the rescue and care of victims and seeks to ameliorate the harm suffered by men, women, and children used in prostitution.

U.S. law encourages appropriate treatment and care for those trafficked into prostitution as well as those who escape servitude. The U.S. Government is the largest funder in the world of vital HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

The Many Causes of Trafficking: Supply and Demand

The causes of human trafficking are complex and often reinforce each other.

The supply of victims is encouraged by many factors, including poverty, the attraction of perceived higher standards of living elsewhere, lack of employment opportunities, public and private corruption, organized crime, violence against women and children, discrimination against women, political instability, and armed conflict. In some societies a tradition of fostering allows a younger child to be sent to live and work in an urban center with a member of the extended family, in exchange for a promise of education and instruction in a trade. Taking advantage of this tradition, traffickers often position themselves as employment agents, inducing parents to part with a child, but then traffic the child into prostitution, domestic servitude, or a commercial enterprise. In the end, the family receives few if any wage remittances, the child remains unschooled and untrained and separated from his or her family, and the hoped-for educational and economic opportunities never materialize.

Demand for cheap labor and for prostituted women, girls, and boys is the primary "pull" factor. Customers for the products of forced labor are often completely ignorant of their involvement with slavery. Sex buyers are far more complicit in the victimization of sex trafficking victims, and thus are logical targets for education on the link between prostitution and human trafficking. Sex tourism and child pornography have become worldwide industries, facilitated by technologies such as the Internet, which vastly expand the choices available to pedophiles and permit instant and nearly undetectable transactions. [See Child Sex Tourism: Technology and Pornography] Trafficking is also driven by the global demand for cheap, vulnerable, and illegal labor. For example, there is great demand in some prosperous countries of Asia and the Middle East for domestic servants who sometimes fall victim to exploitation or involuntary servitude.

The Greatest Challenge: Victim Protection

The TVPA gives us a victim-centered approach to address trafficking, combining anti-crime and human rights objectives. Without adequate protection for victims, efforts to address trafficking crimes are unlikely to be effective. The TVPA's criteria for evaluating a government's efforts to combat trafficking in persons include an explicit criterion on victim protection: "Whether the government of the country protects victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons and encourages their assistance in the investigation and prosecution of such trafficking, including provisions for legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they would face retribution or hardship, and ensures that victims are not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts as a direct result of being trafficked."
Best practices in implementing this TVPA criterion include:

  • Governments should proactively identify victims of trafficking. Without victim identification, adequate protection is impossible. Government agencies should establish formal victim identification procedures to screen at-risk populations such as persons apprehended for violations of immigration laws, prostitution laws, and begging or labor laws. Victims of trafficking should not be expected to identify themselves; proactive investigative techniques-such as interviews in safe and non-threatening environments with trained counselors and appropriate language services-should be used to identify possible trafficking victims.
  • Once identified, a suspected victim of trafficking should be afforded temporary care as a victim of a serious crime. This could include shelter and counseling that allows a potential victim to recount his or her experience to trained social counselors and law enforcement personnel at a pace with minimal pressure.
  • Confirmed trafficking victims should not be punished for crimes that are a direct result of being trafficked-such as not holding proper immigration documents or violation of prostitution, labor, or begging statutes. Trafficking victims should not be detained in criminal detention facilities, except in extreme circumstances. They should be treated as victims.
  • Confirmed trafficking victims should be encouraged to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in the investigation of the crime committed against them. Furthermore, they should be encouraged to assist in the prosecution, if possible, of the persons that trafficked or exploited them.
  • Trafficking victims who are unwilling or unable to cooperate in a trafficking prosecution can be returned to their community of origin provided that this return is accomplished in a responsible manner, with preparations made in advance for the victim's safe return and reintegration. However, a victim should be offered legal alternatives if going home would entail hardship or retribution.

The Victim-Centered Approach

Two main objectives govern the approach the international community takes toward trafficking in persons: the need for the state to punish this serious crime and the need for society to care for the victims of a serious human rights abuse that strikes at their most basic freedoms. The UN TIP Protocol, which supplements the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, clearly supports both.

At the core of the U.S. Government's anti-trafficking efforts is the human rights principle that victims of trafficking and slave-like practices must be protected from further trauma. A government should provide efficient access to justice for these victims, if they so chose, and access to shelter, medical care, legal aid, psycho-social counseling, and assistance in integrating back into their original community or into a new community so that they can rebuild their lives. Such an approach strikes a careful balance between the security needs of the state and society's need for the restoration of human rights to the victim.

By placing the needs of victims front and center, victims of this heinous crime are assured of the protection they so desperately need. Once given those assurances, many victims step forward voluntarily and without pressure to become powerful and confident witnesses, telling their stories in court and achieving justice not only for the state that wants to eradicate these slave-like practices, but on a personal level as well. Cooperation of victims cannot be bought or forced, but through the consistent provision of assistance that is not tied to performance in court, victims assured of their rights regain the confidence to speak out for themselves. When this balance is struck effectively, everyone wins-the state, the victim, and society-as a victim finds his or her voice and an exploiter is rendered speechless as justice is handed down.