Taking care of business

Taking care of business

 Giji Gya

Head of Asylum, Migration and Counter Trafficking Programme, DCAF


July 2015



"The global tide against forced labour is rising and we have seen significant progress in ending this scourge. But the job isn’t done yet, because modern slavery still is, unfortunately, big business and millions are suffering.”
Guy Ryder ILO Director-General

Increasing population and human development have always led to societal shifts in economics and power. Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel, gives an interesting insight into the human race and the fates of the human societies that we create. The main themes of the book – power and technology – can be elaborated to understand human trafficking, if we see power as money and technology as the increasing use of mobile phones, social media and the internet.

By taking the notion that civilization is not so much a product of ingenuity, but of opportunity and necessity, we can see the exploitation of opportunity - created by economic systems – creates “necessity”. Vulnerability is increased because people need money. For money, people need jobs. More jobs are needed because of increasing populations and technology making other jobs obsolete. Opportunities for money are exploited by traffickers.
To fulfill our “needs” and “wants” or demands, providers aim to give us the lowest price but keep the highest profit. To do this requires exploitation.

To understand trafficking in human beings, we need to look at the economic “business” basis.

What is business? “the activity of making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money.”  Money is the key here, as our constructed neo-liberal economy runs on profit. The big business that Ryder mentions, unfortunately still creates human commodity. We are not that advanced from the era of slave trade and colonies.

If trafficking is big business, to fight it, are we focusing correctly? Are we targeting the demand and commodification that creates slavery in the first place? If not, why not?

I propose two answers. One, we ourselves are not concerned enough. Two, that the governments that we elect do not place adequate emphasis, nor create strong structures to legally address and penalize demand and commodification of humans and the economic benefits from trafficking.

A quick note on trafficking

Trafficking in persons or human beings (TIP or THB) exceeds the stereotype of young starry-eyed girl hoping to make it in the city and becoming instead sexually exploited. Trafficked people can include fruit and vegetable pickers, drug mules, beggars, adopted children, someone collecting welfare benefits, a street entertainer and people missing a kidney.

The demand for exploited people comes from power, crime, economics and desperation.

Power is used by traffickers to recruit traffickees, either coerced, unwitting or even wittingly. The lure of money, The hope of a job. Power is further used through threat, confiscation of documents or abuse, to keep the victim a victim.

Trafficking is – in most states – clearly a crime. The problem with fighting crime is supply, demand and economics. If there is a demand, criminals will supply. Simple business theory. The vulnerable are super targets for criminals, especially when combined with necessity for jobs as mentioned previously. Clandestine demand for sex, drugs, is still a battle for the security sector when criminals are so well financed through the benefits of their exploitative behaviour. Demand for labour, is something that a states’ structures dealing with the labour, social, health sectors, are grappling with, particular in terms of coordination with the security sector vis-à-vis the crime of trafficking.

Time is also money. Criminals also exploit this. We ask ourselves, is there an easier, quicker – or in the cases of sexual exploitation or illegal activities – a clandestine way, to obtain goods or services? If so, our lives are so stressful, we will take it. Peer pressure to “relax” and socialize. The cheap prostitute. The illegal drug.

Furthermore, the difficulty of finding evidence, investigating, prosecuting and convicting trafficking is very difficult in most legislative structures.

Economics are a main factor supporting THB, as trafficking is highly profitable. If the risk of trafficking was too high - poor profits, severe penalties – the supply would drop.  At 110 billion euro, it is the second largest profitable criminal activity after drug trafficking, and many people get in on the game. Not only criminals, transporters, recruitment agencies, employers, identity forgers - but unfortunately sometimes border guards, police and authorities are corrupted, bribed and involved. There’s the money again.

Economic pressure on everyone means that the first thing you think about when purchasing goods or services, is the bottom line – how much does it cost? There is demand for very, very cheap goods & services – demand for the concept “value for money” in the extreme. But a tshirt for EUR5 is unlikely to be made by someone who is not exploited, it is simply economically impossible. A restaurant with increasing rent, increased cost of produce, taxes, and still wishing a healthy profit, will be likely to turn a blind eye to the person in their kitchen washing dishes for many hours, for little pay (EUR1 an hour, if at all), and possibly coerced or has confiscated identity documents. It is about the demand for an easier economic benefit.

For those with desperation for money, work or hope, a person may even suspect or know they are being trafficked, but think they can escape. For aspects such as desperate parents wanting a child to adopt, or for people desperate for an organ transplant, if they have sufficient money, opportunity or power (usually attached to money) to by-pass waiting lists or bureaucracy, then money talks and can buy a person, silence and ignorance of exploitation.

Messy house? We would rather pay 15 per hour rather than 50 per hour for domestic services. Harried diplomat, rich travelling businessperson? Diplomatic immunity, power and too busy to be bothered, to know about your maid. Vulnerability, escape from your country and the need for a job create situations where a person can end up being trapped and either cannot or will not tell they are a victim.


“I am fed, housed, trapped and exploited.” Part of a 2014-2015 campaign in Geneva, Switzerland to address trafficking.


To succeed in the fight against trafficking, we need to incorporate the triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial) into our thinking. What we spend is determined perhaps by keeping within our budget (the individual, the private sector and the state), but we need to shift our mindset to ascertain if we are creating further problems, or catalyzing social problems of vulnerability and ultimately trafficking as well.

Secondly we need to get up to speed with technology. Traffickers use mobile phones, social media and the internet to quickly move and adapt their modus operandi. We underfinance teams fighting trafficking, hence they have insufficient human resources, technological or equipment capacity to keep up with the traffickers.

We need to think about the power of creating human security and using technology to stop the trafficker, not to have technology allow them get away with the crime.

How do governments not place adequate emphasis, nor create strong structure to legally address and penalize demand?

There are an estimated 880,000 victims of trafficking in the EU.

Our structures and policies fail in tackling this situation. We expose people to vulnerability through our contribution to conflicts, through migration policies, through inappropriate legislation and lack of oversight. Traffickers are rarely prosecuted and prison sentences are weak.

Traffickers use technology. They use the increasing ease of social media platforms to advertise and falsely recruit. They use disposable phones to avoid detection. They use electronic transactions and quickly change the way they use them. They use mobile phones to communicate quicker and better about potential victims than administrative structures or the public do.

There is the blindness. We and the police turn away or do not ask about the beggar or the flower seller. Has that person been forced into a marriage? We do not ask. Or, we do not know how to tell, to act or who to tell.

Here the onus is on us AND the state.

For the state, inadequate resources – both financial and human are put into addressing trafficking and addressing end-user demand. This must be changed.

Following national strategies on counter-trafficking, efforts are increasing. States are beginning to put in place legislation to protect victims, to improve investigation and to increase penalties of traffickers following the Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims.

This project aims to analyse how we are all addressing efforts – through campaigns, the security sector and labour inspectorates - to target demand by end-users of goods and services provided by trafficked people and to inform the EU and states of ways forward.

We all must be more aware and take care to eliminate the wrong side of business.


The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily express the views of the DemandAT project consortium as whole.