According to a United Nations report, human trafficking generates over $30 billion in annual profits, and there are at least “2.4 million persons who are the victims of trafficking at any one time”.
This network of trafficking extends around the world, with victims from 127 countries travelling between 137 recipient countries, according to the same report. At best these numbers are estimates; what is not in doubt is that this is a global issue that directly threatens too many of the most vulnerable in society. Victims are often lured by traffickers into slavery through promises of financial rewards, work, assistance crossing a border, or marriage, but instead are coerced into sexual slavery, indentured servitude, or even organ removal.
These are transnational issues that need a multilateral and multi-sectoral response. During my time at the Organization of American States, we have been working with member states on various security issues by trying to develop integrated approaches to address all aspects of insecurity in our society. As the chair of the World Economic Forum’s Meta Council on the Illicit Economy, I have also been working across business sectors to create awareness, dialogue and action.
This is a complex task, as there are no simple one-size fits all solutions. I use what I call a “preventative governance” equation that helps identify the systemic components of these problems, as well as the multipliers: a combination of social vulnerabilities, state/institutional fragilities, and accelerators like gangs, guns and drugs.
A global response
Our goal as policy-makers and citizens must be to craft policies to improve security at each level of this equation for human trafficking. This means that we need policies that can:
- respond to social weaknesses that make victims of human trafficking vulnerable to exploitation, such as gender inequalities, underemployment, family conflicts
- work with governments, the private sector and civil society to advocate for victims and effectively respond to human trafficking
- take into account accelerators of crime, such as the illicit economy, sex tourism and gangs
All multilateral organizations – the UN, the OECD, ASEAN, the AU and the OAS,to name a few – are committed to combating these crimes by developing global and regional strategies to degrade and disrupt transnational trafficking networks.
At the recent OAS Meeting of National Authorities on Trafficking in Persons in Brasilia, delegates discussed methods to combat human trafficking and crafted a comprehensive regional policy response to these atrocious crimes through the Declaration Brasilia and the Second Work Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons in the Western Hemisphere 2015-2018.
The work plan will implement benchmarks to measure the efficacy of member states’ counter-trafficking policies, while the Brasilia Declaration pledges all member states to redouble their efforts to combat human trafficking, the combination of which can help strengthen state institutions and combat institutional fragility to significantly disrupt human trafficking.
Elsewhere, in 2013 a task force was co-founded by Christina Bain and Louise Shelley, both former members of the Global Agenda Council on Illicit Trade and Organized Crime, the objectives of which are:
- To create a solidified network of experts to foster collaboration in combating human trafficking, especially from those Global Agenda Councils where labour and sex trafficking may not necessarily be a clear overlap.
- To collect and analyse existing codes of conduct and strategies for businesses to combat or prevent human trafficking from international corporations and additional external stakeholders working with the business community. Analyse these codes/ strategies in terms of their broader or sector suitability.
- To compile a toolkit based on these promising practices coupled with a follow-up workshop to engage businesses, government, academia, and NGOs further in the discussion.
A multilateral effort is required to ensure there is a safe space for these difficult conversations, and to help coordinate an effective response.