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So You Want to Stop Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking, Unemployment, Gender Discrimination, Accountability, and the Green Development Agenda

NOTE: This guest post was written by Dana Terry. Dana is a 2014 M.A. graduate of the Seton Hall University School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Her specializations include International Organizations, Conflict Negotiation/Management, and Post-Conflict Statebuilding. She has previously published pieces on the development agenda (MDGs: How Far We’ve Gotten, The 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference in the Eyes of a Blogger), Bosnia & Herzegovina (Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Political Economy and Possibilities for Reform and Why Bosnia and Herzegovina Should Not Be Ignored) and is currently researching  the relation between politicized ethnicity and income inequality. She has also been selected as a 2014 Social Good Summit UNA-USA Blogging Fellow. Follow her on twitter @DanaTerry


Type ‘human trafficking’ into your Google search, and you’re bound to find a slew of writing on what human trafficking is, who’s at risk, why it occurs, and how to stop it. Human trafficking is a complex issue perpetuated not by one, but a range of factors including socioeconomic status, unemployment, access to education, a violent environment, gender discrimination, and cultural norms. Human trafficking perpetuates modern slavery, forces boys and girls into becoming sex workers, and degrades the value placed on an individual’s life. Migrant workers and illegal immigrants are also amongst the most vulnerable to human trafficking as unscrupulous employers may lure in migrant workers based on false promises of economic opportunity. In order to effectively combat human trafficking, the specific, and sometimes obscure, root causes of each region must be addressed. However, according to the OSCE, the main root causes that must be addressed are: deficient economic opportunity, minimal access to education, unemployment, a lack of awareness, and social accountability. Furthermore, to ensure sustainability, the green agenda should be integrated with solutions for economic opportunity along with human security for growth and development.

Human Trafficking Affects Us All

Migrant workers and illegal immigrants are also amongst the most vulnerable to human trafficking. People from socio-economically vulnerable communities with high unemployment rates and corrupt governments will turn to underground or illegal means of finding work through either migrating or illegally immigrating to another country for work through the sponsorship of an employer. Once the illegal immigrant or migrant worker is in custody, the employer may exploit the worker by manipulating the worker into free forced slave labor. These workers leave their homes under false promises of finding economic opportunity. They then often find themselves in a situation where they are forced to work long hours in subpar working conditions for little to no pay and with no way to escape as their employers have either confiscated their passports or threatened deportation. The most common example can be seen in the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar and Southeast Asia as well as the treatment of illegal immigrants in the US and Europe.

Perpetuating human trafficking and the view that the lives of individuals are not worthy of respect is detrimental to society, especially of those most vulnerable. We as consumers can educate ourselves on how human trafficking touches our daily lives so we can make more informed choices. A great resource is the innovative website by the name Slavery Footprint which urges visitors to “See how many slaves work for you” by taking a five minute survey that shows how many people were enslaved to make a consumer product. By equipping ourselves with knowledge of how human trafficking affects us and choosing to remove ourselves from an unscrupulous market, we can send a message to the perpetuators of human trafficking that the human beings they enslave are worth more to us than the products they make.

Think Globally, Act Locally

Many Americans may not realize that human trafficking occurs in the US with both US citizens and illegal immigrants. While human trafficking is a global issue that predominantly prays on the most economically vulnerable, it also affects local communities that may be closer to home than one would think. Florida, my home state, has the third most human trafficking cases in the United States. An initiative to combat human trafficking, spearheaded by our Attorney General Pam Bondi, has recently been established in my own Florida community. This initiative follows the precedence of other successful initiatives, such as the Polaris Project and UNICEF’s End Trafficking project, aimed at saving the victims and apprehending perpetrators by training medical practitioners, law enforcement, and the general public to recognize and report the signs of human trafficking. However, I would suggest that this initiative be expanded to include a social program aimed solely at rehabilitating victims of human trafficking, training them in a skill, and coordinating their placement with pre-approved organizations and companies for employment. For those who are here illegally, a program to help victims with the T-1 non-immigrant visa process and possibly green card process later on would also be beneficial for victims of trafficking and their families. To be effective, these programs must be partnered with organizations focused on providing health services and counseling to formerly trafficked individuals to place these individuals in safe-working environments or training programs where they can develop skills that will allow them to enter into the workforce and begin rebuilding their lives. If successful, this program will ensure that the victims eventually feel self-sufficient and economically empowered. It is also important for initiatives everywhere to incorporate a campaign for educating society’s most vulnerable on how to recognize and avoid situations that could lead to human trafficking.

Holding Ourselves and the Media Accountable

The main focus should be placed on promoting awareness and economic opportunity for the most socioeconomically vulnerable, but the role society plays in this atrocity should also be addressed. A statement by Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking of Persons, linked the portrayal of women in media and society as sex objects as a contributing factor to the demand for sex trafficking. Gender-based discrimination, seen in many patriarchal societies across the world, likely helps to perpetuate the sex trafficking pandemic as it creates a culture that trivializes women as commodities rather than fellow human beings. An example closer to home can be seen in our own western media. Sex trafficked women are made into objects which are reinforced by western media’s frequent portrayal of women as objects of sexual desire to be won or gained. We, as consumers, can help combat this portrayal by taking a stand against material that objectifies women and undermines gender equality. It is imperative that we take more steps to ensure equality and mutual respect for both genders. We must hold our media and ourselves accountable for behaviors that perpetuate the idea of women as objects. It is important that equality and mutual respect become so engrained in our society that even considering oppressing or taking advantage of another human being would be viewed as atrocious. In no way should half the population be disregarded, particularly when enhancing women’s rights has been proven to enhance development.

Promoting Economic Prosperity for All and the Green Development Agenda

To effectively combat human trafficking, the global society must pursue solutions that both follow the green agenda and promote the economic prosperity of the most vulnerable. While micro-financing is great for fostering entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment, it has proven to be less effective at promoting the financial empowerment of many women and widespread economic opportunity. The main issue in many places stem from a socially ingrained patriarchic system of control which often denies female microcredit clients control over the income from their microenterprise even if they control the microenterprise themselves. Also, the growth of microenterprises for both men and women is hindered by a lack of infrastructural development which includes access to water and electricity as well as a market that is oversaturated by entry-level trades. A solution would be to train and employ local workers to manufacture and build sustainable roads using green building practices such as permeable pavements, green paving materials, and parking lot bioswales which filters pollutants and allows water run-off to drain into the earth. Social entrepreneurship programs such as Solar Sisters help rural women to build a sustainable living through selling clean energy products. For large-scale economic growth and job-creation, regulated large-scale enterprises are needed. Though recent research has shown that large enterprises may create more stable and long-term employment opportunities, microenterprises still have an important role to play. Microenterprises can still be potential sources of innovation, provide income to some women, and empowers most women by making them business owners. Women’s empowerment, even if non-economic, is still an important step towards gender equality.


It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive examination of the factors affecting human trafficking as corruption, governance, rule of law, a conflict environment, and other variables are also important in many instances. Human trafficking is a far-reaching global issue which ensnares both genders, occurs in both the developed and developing world, and affects all members of society in one way or another. The practice undermines the values of respecting human life, provides money to corrupt employers, and perpetuates modern day slavery. This phenomenon often prays on the world’s most socioeconomically vulnerable so a solution should address the poor economy and lack of development which pushed victims into situations that led to human trafficking. Issues of poor infrastructure should be met with green innovative development solutions which employ the greater community. Issues concerning cultural norms which undermine equality should be met with social strategies for taking a stand on gender equality and safeguarding the value of human life. Human trafficking is a complicated issue, and thus deserves a multifaceted approach tailored to the needs of the individuals and communities it plagues.

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