Five Things to Know About Human Trafficking

Nov 12, 2014 | International, Justice


Tonight, American University’s SPA Policy Forum will host Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca for a discussion on human trafficking, an increasingly important international human rights issue in a globalized world. Here are five things you might not know about this issue to warm up for tonight’s discussion.

1. There are nearly twice as many slaves today as were brought across the Atlantic Ocean during the era of the African slave trade.

According to the U.S. State Department, more than 20 million men, women, and children around the world are victims of modern slavery.  This compares to about 11,863,000 Africans that were brought across the Atlantic Ocean to the Western Hemisphere. These 20 million people are subjected to forced labor, sex trafficking, involuntary domestic servitude, debt bondage, and forced military service.

The United Nations estimates that in 2006, 66% of trafficking victims were women and 13% were girls. 79% of all victims were forced into sexual exploitation. They also note challenges in understanding the full extent of trafficking crime, as sexual exploitation of women is likely over-represented in reporting while forced labor and crimes targeting men are likely under-represented in reporting data.

2. Human trafficking produces $150 billion in illegal profits each year.

There are important economic components to human trafficking, including the profits produced for those who engage in the modern-day slave trade. According to an estimate from the International Labour Office, profits in tracking exceeded $150 billion in 2012 and were concentrated primarily in forced labor. Profits were greatest in Asia and developing economies. This estimate is an increase of nearly five times over previous estimates, which pegged international slave trade profits at about $32 billion in 2005.

annual profits from human trafficking
3. The Super Bowl is not the most important battleground in the war against human trafficking.

Human trafficking’s place in the media takes particular prominence when major sporting events like the Super Bowl and the World Cup are going on. In the lead-up to last year’s Super Bowl in New Jersey, Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) cited statistics from the 2010 Super Bowl that 10,000 women and children were victimized Super Bowl weekend. Texas Governor-Elect Greg Abbot issued a similar statement in 2011 when he said the Super Bowl was “commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”

Anti-trafficking advocates have contested these claims about large sporting events. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children called Smith’s comments inaccurate and added, “No one knows with certainty the exact number of children exploited through sex trafficking in the United States or during events like the Super Bowl.” Abbot’s claim also met pushback from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. They said his claim was unfounded and referenced their report entitled What’s The Cost of a Rumor which deconstructs the evidence of a connection between major sporting events and human trafficking.

Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca testified on sporting events and human trafficking before a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee in January. He noted that there are increased concerns about forced labor and human trafficking as it relates to the construction of large sports venues and corresponding infrastructure for events like the World Cup. But he also closed his remarks by noting that modern slavery occurs year-round and requires a full-time response.

4. Exploitation of children for use as soldiers is a form of human trafficking.

In their 2014 Trafficking in Persons report, the U.S. State Department identifies child soldiers as an important form of human trafficking. A 2008 law requires that the State Department publish an annual list of countries that use or support groups that engage in forceful conscription of children. In 2014, the State Department identified Burma, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen as countries supporting or using child soldiers.

U.S. law requires international sanctions on these nations identified each year including a prohibition on licenses for the sale of military equipment to these governments. The international community also relies on the Special Court for Sierra Leone which holds trials for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other violations of international law. These cases include the recruitment and use of child soldiers.  In 2013, former Liberian President Charles Taylor became the first former head of state to be convicted by the court for, among other charges, his use of child soldiers during Sierra Leone’s civil war.

5. Understanding human trafficking is an important part of being an informed consumer in a globalized economy.

Vox recently reported on typical consumer products that play a role in human rights abuses like palm oil used to produce fried foods at major American fast-food chains including Burger King, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell. The U.S. Department of Labor publishes a list of source countries and products that are believed to have been produced through either child labor or forced labor. There are 342 products currently listed including common items like diamonds, footwear, and fireworks.

You can visit Slavery Footprint to learn more about your place in the global economy as it relates to child labor and forced labor.

Don’t forget to grab your tickets for tonight’s discussion with Ambassador CdeBaca. If you aren’t on campus, you can watch a livestream of the event here.  Follow The Public Purpose on Twitter and search #PolicyForum to join the conversation.