As long ago as 1904, governments agreed to work together to prevent the “white slave traffic.” More than 100 years later, traffickers continue to find new victims and, in many jurisdictions, operate with impunity. Public awareness of human trafficking – including awareness of warning signs and required responses – is critical and must be ongoing. But public awareness is just one component of prevention. There are systemic contributors within the control of governments that can and must be changed. For example, many governments in the developing world encourage labor migration as a means of fueling foreign exchange remittances, yet they do not adequately control private recruiters who exploit migrants and make them vulnerable to trafficking. Greater efforts to regulate and monitor such recruitment and other contributing practices can shut down traffickers’ access to vulnerable populations as well as drive them out of their illegitimate businesses.
By acknowledging and addressing its own “slavery footprint,” – government procurement of goods made and services provided on the backs of forced laborers – each government can drastically shift the economic policies that perpetuate modern slavery.
Government: Focusing on Demand
The demand for cheap goods, services, labor, and sex opens opportunities for the exploitation of vulnerable populations. And it is on this demand that human trafficking thrives. People are bought and sold as commodities within and across borders to satisfy demand from buyers. Poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunity, social upheaval, and political instability facilitate traffickers’ ability to recruit victims, but they do not in themselves cause trafficking. The economic reality is that human trafficking is driven by profits. If nobody paid for sex, sex trafficking would not exist. If nobody paid for goods produced with any amount of slavery, forced labor in manufacturing would be a thing of the past. Increasingly, anti-trafficking actors are looking to combat modern slavery from the demand side rather than focusing on arrests and prosecutions (the supply side) alone.
Governments have a duty to bring traffickers to justice and help victims, but they are also large consumers, spending hundreds of billions of dollars each year on goods and services ranging from construction and weaponry to office supplies and technology equipment. As such, they can have an immediate impact on demand. Governments should review their procurement supply chains and seek to significantly reduce the exploitation of vulnerable populations.
Governments can go a long way toward tackling demand. They can, for example, require that government contractors and subcontractors ensure that employees are not hired or recruited through fraudulent means or the use of excessive fees. Such policies would increase transparency and make it more difficult for unscrupulous labor brokers to use debt bondage as a means of providing cheap labor for government contracts. This is particularly important for third-country nationals, who are often imported for large construction projects and who are more susceptible to exploitation due to distance and isolation, language barriers, and dependence on the employer for visas or work permits, among other factors. Public-private partnerships that create transparency in supply chains can have a significant impact on demand reduction, helping to make freedom the business of both governments and the private sector.
Governments can attack demand for commercial sex by establishing “zero tolerance” policies for government employees and contractors who participate in trafficking or procure commercial sex acts. Such policies should make clear that contracting and subcontracting companies are responsible for notifying employees of the prohibited behavior, and they should provide penalties for violations as severe as termination of the contract and/or debarment from future government contracting. This gives companies, many of whom stand to lose multimillion dollar contracts if penalized, a major incentive to ensure that their employees and subcontractors are in no way contributing to the demand that contributes to sex trafficking.
Although prohibiting trafficking in all government contracts is an important first step, without appropriate follow up, new policies can be meaningless. Governments must provide resources for training, technical assistance, and auditing to ensure that trafficking is fully eradicated from their supply chains.
Watch What You Eat: Slavery and Food
The dusty images of slaves working on plantations line bookshelves and museum walls, but the demand for cheap goods in a globalized economy sustains slavery today in fields and farms. Transcontinental slavery and the Triangle Trade drove the bygone mercantile empires of Europe and the Americas. But the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates 60 percent of child labor worldwide is in agriculture, and agricultural products comprise the largest category of items on the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor published by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
From the cocoa farms of West Africa to the cotton fields of Uzbekistan to the tomato fields of the United States, this modern form of slavery remains common in the agricultural industry and is marked by techniques that are anything but modern. According to DOL, there may be more forced child laborers in farming than in manufacturing. In some countries, particularly in South Asia, families of farmers continue to inherit the debts of their ancestors that, in many cases, have been passed down for generations. And slavery reportedly extends into the oceans, with forced labor rampant in the commercial fishing industries in some regions.
Businesses and governments both have important roles to play in eradicating slavery in supply chains. In this age of increasingly aware customers, companies will have to be more thorough in tracing their raw materials and monitoring their supply chains. Governments must be more diligent in enforcing existing laws and regulations. With the passage of new laws, raw material traceability is shifting from a voluntary best practice into a legal obligation. Companies in all industries are facing growing pressure to understand the conditions under which their raw materials were attained.
Promulgating Business Standards
In today’s globalized economy, there are often complex intersections between legal business operations and illegal human trafficking. Increasingly, the private sector is acknowledging its role in eradicating human trafficking, both in preventative measures to ensure that corporations are not fueling demand for forced labor and in proactive initiatives to alleviate or ameliorate such abuses. There is also growing public interest to know where and how goods and foods are produced, manufactured, processed, and distributed. Consumers, activists, and investors are urging companies to sign and implement ethical codes of conduct.
Businesses play a crucial role in ensuring that forced labor does not contribute to the products we buy. Given the complexity of today’s supply chains, however, the most effective solutions for ending forced labor will come from collaboration among governments, corporations, civil society, and consumers. Some recent examples of multi-stakeholder approaches to addressing slavery in supply chains have shown great promise.
The Consultative Group (CG) to Eliminate the Use of Child Labor and Forced Labor in Imported Agricultural Products was established by the 2008 Farm Bill to make recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture regarding guidelines to reduce the likelihood that agricultural products coming into the United States contribute to slavery. The CG consists of members of government, industry, civil society, and higher education and research institutions. Their combined expertise helped craft a set of voluntary industry guidelines that outline best practices for independent third-party monitoring and verification, remediation efforts, and transparency. The guidelines can be found at http://www.fas.usda.gov/info/Child_labor/Childlabor.asp.
The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 requires retail sellers and manufacturers in California to publicly disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking throughout their direct supply chains. The legislation applies to retailers and manufacturers with more than $100 million in annual worldwide gross receipts. It affects more than 3,000 companies doing business in California. These companies represent approximately 87 percent of economic activity in the state, which has the eighth largest economy in the world. Beginning in January 2012, companies affected by the act will have to post on their websites what policies they have in place to ensure that their supply chains are free of slavery and human trafficking. These policies can include evaluating and addressing the risk of human trafficking, auditing suppliers, and training employees and management on human trafficking and slavery. The text of the California law can be found at http://go.usa.gov/D8n.
People Are Not Collateral
One of the most common assumptions about “average” trafficking victims is that they come from the poorest, most isolated communities. Studies of populations in countries of origin for transnational and internal trafficking have shown that the incidence of trafficking is highest among those who have become empowered enough to aspire to a better life but have few good options for fulfilling those aspirations. They have attended a girls’ school and now realize they are overeducated for the few options in their villages. They have seen someone return home with money to provide for their families. They have watched a television show that depicts the excitement of city life, or they simply have enough courage to try and make a better life for themselves, if only they knew where to start.
That’s where the traffickers come in. Exploiting the information gap, they offer to make that connection – to a good job, a better life, a transportation option. They prey on their victims’ innate hope and ability to conceive of some opportunity for a better life. They exploit their victims’ trust and confidence in their own ability to succeed. They find people who have nothing and coerce them into using their lives and freedom as collateral to guarantee a better future. While broad-based economic initiatives cannot automatically be construed as anti-trafficking prevention activities, governments must recognize the inequality of access to capital when considering efforts to reduce vulnerability to modern slavery. Migrant workers should not need to incur debt from labor brokers to secure jobs overseas. Instead, governments could provide small-scale loans to cover travel costs and protect workers’ rights while they are abroad. Entire villages should not be trapped in bonded labor because of debts inherited from previous generations. Instead, governments could provide legal alternatives for credit and enforce decades-old laws banning generational debt bondage.
Modern history has proven that microcredit and microfinance can improve the status of women, promote better nutrition, increase access to healthcare and education, and broaden communities’ access to credit. When combined with targeted anti-trafficking programming, microfinance initiatives can act as liberators, providing opportunities without risk and rehabilitation with a money-backed future. And micro-lending is not the only solution – putting traffickers in prison and distributing their ill-gotten gains to their victims is the ultimate debt forgiveness program.
Sending and Receiving: The Challenge of Labor in a Global Society
Migrants are vulnerable to modern slavery. Women travel with dreams of better lives and jobs as waitresses or maids, only to be enslaved in prostitution or domestic servitude. Workers are trapped in debt bondage – in myriad ways, as a result of the costs of migration, such as recruitment fees. And it is not just illegal migration; the 2011 reporting year saw cases around the world where the victims traveled to their destination country through legal means, only to be enslaved after arrival.
According to the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration, the number of international migrants in the world today has increased rapidly over the last few decades: 215 million in 2010, up from 191 million in 2005. In 2010, worldwide remittance flows are estimated to have exceeded $440 billion (compared with $275 billion in 2005), with developing countries receiving $325 billion in remittances (compared with $192 billion in 2005). In 2009, the share of remittances in GDP for some smaller countries was extremely large: Tajikistan recorded a remittance/GDP ratio of 36 percent; Tonga, 28 percent; Lesotho, 25 percent; Moldova, 31 percent; and Nepal, 23 percent.
While migration is an important tool for economic development from the individual level to the national level, there is an urgent need to strengthen international cooperation and standards to manage labor migration. According to the IOM, most countries in the world – and not just in the developing world – lack the capacity to manage effectively the international mobility of people today. The increased flows and the dramatic growth of a profit-minded recruitment industry that operates across borders mean that today’s migrants are vulnerable to a wide range of abuses, including situations of forced labor and sex trafficking.
International migration is relatively unregulated. At best, it is dominated by a handful of bilateral agreements – with varying degrees of implementations – and nonbinding bilateral memoranda of understanding or regional arrangements. At worst, it is controlled by unscrupulous private recruiters whose deceit and surcharges can quickly place migrants in debt bondage.
Even when policies are in place to allow for legal labor migration, governments must act to ensure the protection of migrants throughout the process. Where there are government-to-government agreements (increasingly common between sending and destination countries), they do not diminish the need for worker protections in “sponsorship” or “guestworker” programs. Much needs to be done to prevent migrant laborers from subsequent exploitation under these programs. The high level of documented exploitation of low-skilled workers – particularly domestic workers – throughout the Middle East, for example, is proof of this vulnerability.
As the 2010 TIP Report highlighted, migrant labor flows worldwide have become increasingly feminized, and as women are emigrating to search for jobs that currently exist outside of normal labor protections, such as domestic service. The mass migration of female domestic workers from places such as Indonesia and Nepal to Gulf states and Malaysia is intrinsically perilous, with physical and sexual abuse of domestic workers commonplace and protections for abused maids scarce.
Reflecting, at least in part, these concerns over the abuse of migrants, countries have moved to restrict Asian workers from working in the Middle East and East Asia. These cases do not occur simply because there is an abusive boss on the other side. Many of the problems are structural. International labor migration is increasingly dominated by labor recruiters – both licensed and unlicensed. Rather than fostering competition and efficiencies that are passed onto potential workers or employers, the dramatic expansion of this market has had a predatory effect.
Exorbitant recruitment fees are all too common, as are bait-and-switch scenarios that trick workers into jobs that are substantially different than what was promised or jobs that simply do not exist. In the worst cases, this exploitation can metastasize into a situation of forced labor, with restrictions on workers’ movements, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse, all within the context of a burdensome recruitment fee.
The 2011 reporting period showed a disturbing trend: cases in which domestic servant guestworkers who had suffered sexual abuse in the home were then turned over by their bosses to third parties for prostitution, unable to seek help because of restrictive guestworker laws and the debts that they owed.
These abuses are possible because the normal employer-employee relationship is skewed by the financial pressure of recruiting fees that are out of balance with the services rendered or that represent much of the money the migrants would earn if everything went perfectly. Sometimes, the most effective threats by employers who want to keep foreign employees fearful and working are threats not to allow them to work. Because guestworkers are often restricted from obtaining outside employment, being banned from the workplace does not represent freedom but can be, in itself, the coercion that the Palermo Protocol seeks to preclude. For example, when workers attempt to claim the salary they’ve earned or even just to get enough food to live, employers often threaten to confine them to a dormitory, where they will be unable to seek outside employment and forced to watch their debt mount.
Governments must enforce tighter controls over private recruiters. Associations of private labor recruitment agencies – such as BAIRA in Bangladesh and ACRA in Cambodia – must be held to their assurances that they provide the workers with safe and regulated migration experiences. If the government is the labor broker, safeguards against corruption are necessary, as well as mechanisms to ensure that police or security services back home will not be used to force workers into compliance while they are overseas. National legislation and law enforcement agencies should enforce regulations that balance the interests of the private recruitment agents with the rights of the workers, especially the right to report abuse without having to fear deportation or retaliation. And violations should not be addressed exclusively by remedies that can be absorbed into the cost of doing business, such as just suspension or administrative fines, but with criminal penalties as well.
Two models are often cited by international organizations as best practices. In the Philippines, recruitment agencies cannot legally solicit employees for overseas work without the authorization from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
POEA, which has authority to place agencies on probation, includes trafficking awareness training in its pre-employment orientation seminars and pre-departure counseling programs for overseas employment applicants. In the last year, recruiters have been prosecuted in the Philippines, even when the abuse happened overseas. South Korea uses a labor trafficking prevention model, in which the government itself recruits workers from 13 countries, requires training and awareness-raising, and locates migrant worker resource centers near workplaces. But even with these examples, national and bilateral approaches to labor migration management are at best a patchwork.
Continued identification of trafficking victims among migrant populations underlines the need for a strong international framework to manage labor migration. Migration governance must focus on facilitating humane and orderly migration policies for the benefit of all. This must be done at the national, regional, and international levels, as suggested by the ILO’s Multilateral Framework on Labor Migration. Without an adequate framework, the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers will become increasingly dire as labor migration continues to grow.