Meeting the Global Challenge: Effective Strategies To Prevent Human Trafficking

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

The global anti-trafficking movement, now well into its second decade, has successfully used the 3P paradigm of prosecution, protection, and prevention to strengthen how the world combats trafficking in persons. Governments committed to enhancing prosecution of traffickers have enacted laws that criminalize all forms of human trafficking and prescribe sufficiently stringent sentences. Protection efforts have empowered individuals to move beyond their victimization and rebuild their lives with dignity, security, and respect. Prevention measures have provided communities around the world with valuable information about the risks of human trafficking, elevating public consciousness about this crime.

Yet so much work remains. Despite sustained anti-trafficking efforts, millions of individuals are bound by mental, physical, and financial coercion and manipulation by traffickers who exploit their vulnerabilities for profit. Whether they are victims of sex or labor trafficking, the suffering of these individuals is unconscionable. Meanwhile, the broader effects of human trafficking on society must also be addressed—from the splintering of families and communities and the distortion of global markets, to the weakening of the rule of law and strengthening of transnational organized criminal networks.

While continued efforts in protection and prosecution are essential, human trafficking prevention strategies deserve commensurate attention and resources. Governments must work in partnership with NGOs, survivors, community and religious leaders, and the private sector to study vulnerable populations and develop targeted strategies to prevent and address the factors that drive modern slavery in their communities. Without prevention, governments are left to respond to the consequences of human trafficking without coming any nearer to seeing its end.

Effective prevention efforts address the tactics of human traffickers head on. With the dissemination of accurate and targeted information, communities will be better prepared to respond to the threat of human trafficking. Strategic intervention programs can reach at-risk populations before they are faced with deceitful recruitment practices of those bent on exploiting them for labor or commercial sex. Meaningful partnerships between public and private sectors and civil society can expand awareness, leverage expertise, and facilitate creative solutions.

Over time, new prevention measures and methods will emerge and evolve as governments and anti-trafficking stakeholders apply experience and share lessons learned. Although often the hardest to measure, prevention efforts can become more sophisticated, scalable, and effective if supported by sufficient resources and political will.

This year’s Trafficking in Persons Report focuses on the positive developments and continued challenges of preventing trafficking, and it considers how governments and the broader anti-trafficking community can effectively ensure that those who are vulnerable to human trafficking have the tools and opportunities to avert the risks of exploitation.

Vulnerability and Human Trafficking

Although human trafficking affects every demographic, a common factor across all forms of modern slavery is the victims’ vulnerability to exploitation. Systemic social, cultural, and economic policies or practices may marginalize or discriminate against individuals and groups because they are poor, are intellectually or physically disabled, or because of their gender or ethnicity. People may lack access to health and legal services due to their status or language barriers; and some, such as communities in situations of crisis and children, may not be capable of protecting themselves.

Traffickers exploit these disadvantages. They prey on those who lack security and opportunity, coerce or deceive them to gain control, and then profit from their compelled service. To prevent this, governments, with assistance from first responders, NGOs, and local communities, should consider their own populations, cultures, and policies to identify those individuals who may be uniquely vulnerable within their borders. On this basis, communities can develop effective strategies to increase awareness and prevent human trafficking.

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Protocol) recognizes the connection between vulnerability and human trafficking, and encourages state parties to take or strengthen measures to alleviate those factors that make people vulnerable to human trafficking, including poverty, underdevelopment, and lack of equal opportunity. Understanding the root causes will help governments shape strategic prevention efforts and also integrate anti-trafficking elements into other programming for vulnerable populations.

This introductory section of the Report focuses on five elements of effective prevention strategies: enhancing understanding through research; raising awareness to prevent recruitment and reduce demand; implementing policies and programs that decrease risks and empower vulnerable groups; capitalizing on the knowledge of experts across the globe by increasing collaboration between and within countries; and facilitating partnerships between governments, civil society, and other anti-trafficking actors.

The pages that follow will also highlight a selection of populations traditionally considered at high risk of human trafficking; however, the list is not exhaustive. Generally, when inequality exists and where certain people lack access to social protection and justice, human traffickers are able to thrive.

Research, Data Collection, and Program Evaluation

Given the complex nature of human trafficking, it is difficult to amass reliable data to document local, regional, and global prevalence. Over the years, the advocacy of survivors has expanded understanding of the crime, and together with research and program evaluations, has shed light on best practices in victim protection and law enforcement. However, significant gaps in knowledge of how to prevent human trafficking remain. Additional efforts and resources for research, data collection, and evaluation are needed to identify those actions most effective to prevent victimization.

Reliable baseline information, data, and research that illuminates the causes, prevalence, characteristics, trends, and consequences of all forms of human trafficking in various countries and cultures is crucial for developing anti-trafficking prevention strategies and measuring their impact. To target prevention measures more precisely, governments and civil society should encourage and fund research that identifies populations vulnerable to human trafficking, including a more comprehensive understanding of root causes that are specific to states, communities, and cultural contexts. Understanding unique vulnerabilities along with trends in how people cope with these challenges can help in the development of targeted prevention strategies.

When studying migration, for example, research should be designed to study human trafficking in source and destination countries, as well as along migration routes, as prevention measures will vary depending on the target population and objective. This will require cross-national research, information sharing, and bilateral, regional, and international cooperation to provide insight into the various points where individuals come in contact with potential traffickers.

Accurate baseline data is critical not only in the development of prevention measures but also for accurate assessment of the impact of policies and assistance programs, including unintended negative consequences. Fully understanding the impact of a prevention strategy is necessary to scale or modify it based on outcome. Prevention programming should devote both consideration and resources to evaluation.

New research and information should be freely shared among stakeholders to enhance the collective ability to respond to human trafficking. Research projects should include recommendations for various stakeholders as well as a dissemination plan to ensure the results are widely circulated.

Reliable research is the backbone of any evidence-based policy or program and anti-trafficking stakeholders have a responsibility to ensure that sufficient attention and funding are dedicated to it.


  • In 2015, IOM released a report, Addressing Human Trafficking and Exploitation in Times of Crisis: Evidence and Recommendations for Further Action to Protect Vulnerable and Mobile Populations, which looks at armed conflicts, natural disasters, and protracted crises based on research conducted in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Haiti, Nepal, the Philippines, eastern and northern Africa, Yemen, and tsunami-affected areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The report discusses the risks of trafficking in crisis situations and includes evidence-based recommendations for the humanitarian community on preventing and improving of responses to human trafficking before, during, and after a crisis.
  • In 2016, Harvard University released a study, When We Raise Our Voice: The Challenge of Eradicating Labor Exploitation, focused on the work of an Indian NGO that developed a community empowerment model to assist vulnerable groups in identifying their priorities and preventing modern slavery. The study reports a decline in human trafficking over a four-year period in the area studied.
  • To help states combat transnational crime, including human trafficking, INTERPOL provides its 190 member countries with resources, including a secure communications network relevant to criminal investigations and humanitarian efforts. At the request of its member countries, INTERPOL publishes “green notices” on persons who present a danger to the public based on their prior criminal history, such as convicted sex offenders and members of violent gangs.

Raising Awareness

Increasing public awareness about the risks and signs of human trafficking is an important piece of any anti-trafficking prevention strategy, and to date has been the primary prevention measure used by governments and other stakeholders. Typically, public awareness campaigns target either those considered to be most at risk, such as migrant workers; those who may be contributing wittingly or unwittingly to the demand, such as public and private employers; or purchasers of commercial sex; or the general public, who may be able to spot the indicators of human trafficking and report suspicions to law enforcement.

Like other programs, anti-trafficking awareness campaigns must include an evaluation component to assess their impact and improve future campaigns. Often, general public awareness campaigns are limited due to the restrictions inherent in one-dimensional campaign materials such as posters, billboards, or print media advertisements, which often reduce the complexity of human trafficking into images and brief text. While this may help to raise general awareness about the existence of trafficking, it can also misrepresent the victims and confuse the issue. For example, images of physical restraint such as handcuffs or cages may influence what the public believes constitutes human trafficking; yet movement and physical restraint are not required for a crime to be considered human trafficking. Designers of these campaigns should fully understand the scope and scale of the problem in the target community and accurately depict the nature of the crime, its victims, and the perpetrators.

In contrast to broad or national efforts, awareness campaigns can also be designed to target particular individuals, for example by notifying travelers of the illegality of child sex tourism, informing workers of their rights and risks as they migrate for a job, or adopting corporate codes of conduct. Effective targeting should also include awareness-raising among: immigration authorities and law enforcement; diplomatic personnel; medical specialists; educational and social service personnel; and other professionals likely to come into contact with vulnerable individuals, so they are both prompted and equipped to recognize the signs of human trafficking and respond appropriately.

Together, governments, civil society organizations, and companies must collaborate to develop awareness campaigns that have clear objectives and measurable outcomes, that train and educate employees as well as relevant partners, and that promote sound anti-trafficking policies and secure reporting mechanisms.


  • The Government of Slovakia developed and financed the creation of a website that allows Slovak citizens traveling abroad for employment to register their contact information with friends and family. The registered user’s contacts are alerted should the user cease usual online activity or fail to communicate with the contacts on pre-established schedules. If this happens, each contact receives information of the user’s last known Internet connection access point location—information that could be relayed to Slovak law enforcement authorities.
  • In recent years, there has been growing international media attention on forced labor aboard fishing vessels in Southeast Asia, including investigative reports by the New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, South China Morning Post, and the Associated Press (AP), which won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The quality and frequency of reporting by international media has helped raise awareness of forced labor in the fishing industry among governments, businesses, and consumers.
  • In 2015, an NGO in India engaged with journalists to raise awareness of human trafficking within minority and marginalized communities. The organization trained journalists on how to better report cases of human trafficking, including bonded labor, for their audiences. These efforts aimed to better inform people in remote communities who may only get news in their local language, and may not often see reporting on human trafficking. Reporters uncovered human trafficking cases within their own communities and increased attention on the role of state government and police in prevention efforts.
  • In 2015, a Peruvian NGO conducted a campaign to raise awareness among tourists, mass media, tourism operators, and the general public about the criminal penalties for those who sexually exploit children in Loreto, a region known for human trafficking activity. The NGO takes a moving display of a jail, with a sign reading “here we punish child sexual exploitation,” to places where such cases have been reported.
  • In France, the Ministry of Education provides anti-trafficking awareness courses to students seeking a degree in hospitality and tourism. Specialized lessons alert students to the indicators of child sex tourism and their professional responsibility to take action when they recognize this crime.

Policies and programs to reduce risk and empower vulnerable individuals

Public awareness campaigns are only one piece of an effective prevention strategy. Knowledge of the risks of trafficking is important to empower vulnerable populations and foster a vigilant general public, but governments and stakeholders must also develop measures that keep at-risk individuals safe from human trafficking. As a part of this, governments need to implement policies that can prevent trafficking and provide the necessary oversight and balance to avoid restricting freedoms.

For example, governments can measure and establish the identity of local populations by registering births, administering citizenship and nationality, and issuing identity documents—a lack of which renders individuals vulnerable to exploitation. Legal registration reduces vulnerabilities to human trafficking by enabling residents and their families to take advantage of programs and activities that require legal status, such as health coverage, education, access to social welfare, and employment in the formal economy. When governments allow workers to form and join trade unions, it also makes them less vulnerable to exploitation.

In addition, governments and the private sector can work together to identify and stop fraudulent recruitment. Governments should actively monitor labor recruitment agencies, train labor inspectors to identify signs of fraudulent recruitment, and adopt and enforce policies that regulate foreign labor recruiters and hold them civilly and criminally liable for fraudulent recruitment. The private sector can help by ensuring its companies advertise to prospective applicants with legal, formalized recruitment procedures and hire workers through such procedures, or directly, and not through unscrupulous middlemen.

Governments and NGOs should integrate anti-trafficking elements into broader programs, including those that focus on health, economic development, crisis management, and rule of law to leverage resources and maximize exposure to the issue. These policies should be designed with input from experts, trafficking survivors, and local communities. By examining existing programs that are directed toward vulnerable populations and integrating anti-trafficking components, stakeholders can institutionalize the issue and capitalize on established structures.

While preventing trafficking on the supply side—by raising awareness and reducing the supply of exploited laborers—is imperative, it is also necessary that governments work with civil society to reduce the demand for forced labor and commercial sex. By driving down demand, the business of human trafficking becomes less profitable and traffickers will have less incentive to exploit victims.


  • In Vietnam, an NGO helped legally register with the state more than 2,000 ethnic minority residents in areas at high risk for human trafficking. In many places, individuals in remote locations do not receive clear information on the benefits of state services or the ways to access them, or they lack the financial means to travel to government offices for registration. Individuals without legal registration often do not have access to education, health care, or employment in the formal economy and are highly vulnerable to human trafficking.
  • OSCE is one of the first inter-governmental organizations to address explicitly government procurement as well as its own procurement of goods and services. Following on commitments of the December 2013 Addendum to the OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, OSCE is reviewing relevant rules and regulations in regard to personnel and the procurement of goods and services to ensure that no OSCE activities contribute to any form of human trafficking.
  • In Burkina Faso, an NGO is combating forced child labor in the cotton and gold industries using a model of training locally-based “Social Protection Community Facilitators (SPCFs)” who serve as leaders in their local area on child protection issues. The SPCFs implement their own awareness-raising activities in addition to monitoring child labor in their areas.
  • The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency facilitates public seminars and community forums for prospective migrant workers on indicators of illegal labor recruitment and human trafficking, and the Bureau of Immigration issues institutional guidelines on departure formalities for international-bound persons, setting clearly defined rules on inspections to prevent trafficking and other related offenses without deterring other travelers.

Multilateral Collaboration

Human trafficking occurs in virtually every country in the world and often crosses borders when victims move between source, transit, and destination countries. Multilateral engagement is a key component of many governments’ effective anti-trafficking efforts.

The international response to modern slavery began with the adoption of the Palermo Protocol in 2000 and has continued to grow. Multilateral organizations are ramping up efforts to combat trafficking by incorporating anti-trafficking policies into discussions of other pressing topics. What was once a stand-alone issue is now being integrated into work on other topics, including national security, human rights, violence against women and children, migration management and refugee protection, business responsibility and supply chain accountability, and economic development. In addition to leveraging their member states’ expertise and resources, multilateral organizations generate momentum to develop global, regional, and even domestic strategies to help dismantle trafficking networks and empower vulnerable populations.

Further, multilateral and regional organizations work to foster consensus among their member states on common goals, commitments, and norms; and they can help standardize research and data collection methods at the regional and sub-regional levels. Multilateral forums also provide a venue for member states, civil society, academia, the private sector, and survivors to exchange information on experiences and challenges, including identifying new and emerging issues related to human trafficking. With the support of member states, multilateral organizations provide anti-trafficking training and technical assistance to countries, including to law enforcement, judges, media, first responders, and care providers.

To ensure they are not contributing to the problem of human trafficking, multilateral organizations and member states must institute and enforce policies to ensure that their personnel, including diplomats and peacekeepers, do not engage in trafficking in persons. In addition, international organizations can begin to monitor their supply chains and enforce policies that protect workers and reduce risks in the public procurement of goods and services.

Governments must be committed to engaging at the multilateral level and to adhering to and enforcing international obligations related to human trafficking, in particular the Palermo Protocol.


  • The OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Ambassador Madina Jarbussynova, conducted training in 2015 for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine to raise awareness and improve capacity to identify human trafficking. This mission is deployed to Ukraine to monitor the implementation of the Minsk agreement, including ceasefire and heavy weapon withdrawal. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, reported that there were more than 1.8 million internally displaced persons and refugees abroad as a result of the crisis in and around Ukraine, and this population is especially vulnerable to exploitation.
  • At the opening of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in September 2015, world leaders adopted a bold “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” to guide the global community’s efforts to eradicate poverty, promote peace and equality, and protect the environment over the coming years. This Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets centered on economic, social, and environmental development. The UN integrated anti-trafficking elements into three of the goals.
  • In July 2015, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime provided a training manual to Panamanian Public Ministry personnel on conducting psychological interviews that protect trafficking victims during their participation in legal investigations against their traffickers. Panamanian officials have already begun to put the procedures into practice.

Enhancing Partnerships

Acknowledging that no single response can end human trafficking, governments around the world are engaging with other stakeholders to increase their ability to prevent modern slavery. Survivors, NGOs, donors, academics, and businesses have complementary skills and perspectives that, when combined, drive innovation and bring about sustained progress. In this regard, governments play a vital role in convening various stakeholders to harness innovative ideas and create partnerships.

Three Examples are:

  • The Santa Marta Group is a partnership between international police chiefs and Catholic bishops from around the world, working together with civil society to end modern slavery through a process endorsed by Pope Francis. The objective of the Santa Marta Group is to combine the resources of the Church with those of law enforcement agencies to prevent trafficking and provide care to victims.
  • The Uruguayan Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an MOU with IOM to draft a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, and IOM began working with the government’s interagency anti-trafficking committee to develop a law that will meet international standards on trafficking, taking into account prosecution, protection, and prevention for both sex trafficking and forced labor.
  • In Guatemala, a leading coffee company and a U.S. labor rights organization have teamed up, with support from the government, to promote transparency and accountability in Guatemala’s coffee supply chain. Throughout the sector, stakeholders are gaining a better understanding of the risks of recruitment abuses, including those that lead to forced labor. The partners are strengthening communication between workers and key corporate and government actors, and building the capacity of all stakeholders, including civil society, to report and monitor recruitment practices in the coffee sector.

A Joint effort

Preventing human trafficking is an enormous challenge, requiring the sustained efforts of many. Collaboration between government and nongovernmental stakeholders is critical to strengthening efforts to prevent modern slavery.

At its core, the global struggle to combat human trafficking is about political and public will. If ignored, traffickers will continue to reap enormous profits while communities suffer the many toxic effects. But if trafficking is confronted head on, vulnerable populations will be empowered to control more fully their lives and protect themselves from the harms of human trafficking.

Anti-trafficking stakeholders must continue efforts that have proven successful, but also commit to the development of new and creative approaches to the prevention of human trafficking. Trafficking prevention is a field largely underexplored and underfunded. There is a great deal of space for innovation and collaboration.

Witnessing the end of human trafficking will require leadership and political will at all levels of government and throughout the anti-trafficking community. It will require the allocation and responsible use of resources appropriate to the scale of the problem. And it will require individuals all over the world to be attuned to the signs of human trafficking, put aside differences, and take their responsibility seriously to prevent and address this crime.

Should the day ever come when human trafficking ceases to exist, it will not be because traffickers have stopped trying to take advantage of vulnerable individuals. Instead, it will be the culmination of efforts from a global community that refuses to allow it to continue.