Contraband networks dealing in drugs, guns and other illicit goods have begun trading a new ‘commodity’: people. This modern day form of slavery, known as human trafficking, is estimated to affect between 2.4 to 12 million victims around the world. Corruption is the grease that illicitly enables their movement within and across countries. Corruption is a constant companion to human trafficking and the suffering that it brings.
The web of trafficking
Trafficking victims are exploited in many ways: prostitution, debt bondage, forced or bonded labour and contractual servitude. Deception is used to target victims who often know the person recruiting them. Many times family members of victims serve as the recruiters, abusing trust in order to personally profit from the trafficking. Research shows that 46 per cent of trafficking victims know their recruiter. Victims that are tricked by recruiters may be searching for a way to flee poverty, unemployment or war. However, none expect the exploitation that is to come, at the hands of the recruiters and those further along the trafficking chain.
No nation is safe from trafficking and being caught up in its tangled networks. For example, a recent news report alleges that trafficked workers are being hired by third party vendors operating concessions (such as fast food restaurants) on US military installations. In the European Union, corruption allegations surround a recent case where reportedly trafficked forestry workers were being used by companies operating under a Czech government contract.
In other cases, the victims are babies and children. The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, estimates that each year 1,000 to 1,500 Guatemalan babies are trafficked to North America and Europe for adoption. In July 2011, a major human trafficking network was broken up in China after Vietnamese gangs were found bringing children from Vietnam, some as young as 10 days old, into the country. In Yemen, organisations have documented the trafficking of Yemeni children into neighbouring Saudi Arabia (for sexual exploitation) and within the country (for forced work).
Corruption: the currency of trafficking
Corruption is present at every stage of the trafficking process, beginning with a victim’s recruitment and transport through to their exploitation. Corruption can facilitate the transportation of victims within countries and across borders without detection or requests for paperwork. Once the victims reach their destination and the exploitation begins, traffickers rely on corruption to maintain their silence and avoid arrest. US government findings suggest that globally less than one in 10 traffickers are ever prosecuted.
Weak institutions offer weak protection. Pay-offs to police, courts and other public sector officials result in state institutions being willing to turn a blind eye to trafficking gangs or even to participate in them. Studies show that victims tend to come from countries where the public sector is perceived to be highly corrupt, as measured by our Corruption Perceptions Index.
The relatively low risk of getting caught is matched by the lure of large profits from selling the victims into prostitution, forced labour and other forms of abuse. The International Labour Organization estimates that about US $32 billion in profits are made each year from the sexual or physical exploitation of trafficked victims, affecting men and boys as often as it does women and girls.
The mix of profit and impunity through easily “bought” protection from law enforcers and politicians has created a “high reward/low risk” scenario for human traffickers and their accomplices. Trafficking networks often overlap with organised crime networks. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking brings organised crime groups their third largest source of profits, after drugs and arms.
Many criminal groups dealing in drugs and guns have added trafficked persons to their portfolio of illegal deals, according to the Financial Action Task Force. In Europe, human trafficking is tied to Albanian and Russian gangs as well as the Italian mafia. Drug gangs have been documented using victims of trafficking, many of them children, as forced labour in illegal cannabis factories across the UK and Ireland. In Asia, Chinese criminal networks and the Japanese mafia are considered the main perpetrators.
Breaking the chain
Recognising how corruption facilitates trafficking is a critical and simple step. Government anti-trafficking programmes must include anti-corruption components as well as raise awareness about the broader development and poverty concerns that make victims vulnerable to recruiters.
International frameworks exist that can help to better link these different issues together. For example, the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNCTOC) and the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) have provisions to deal with corruption, trafficking and criminal networks. The UNCTOC and its three protocols aim to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking, while the UNCAC includes articles that criminalise and prosecute active and passive bribery, the obstruction of justice and money laundering.
To begin bringing together work on anti-corruption and anti-trafficking, Transparency International recommends taking concrete steps, which include:
- establishing an effective review mechanism for the UNCTOC and its protocols – or at least for the Protocol on Trafficking
- forming an international working group composed of representatives from the main source and destination countries of trafficked people, including both anti-trafficking and anti-corruption experts to develop proposals to enhance cooperation
- creating national-level joint task forces combining anti-trafficking and anti-corruption experts.
In the end, solutions will only be effective when governments show political will and leadership to end trafficking. They must develop measures that break the corruption that holds together the networks involved, from recruiters and middlemen, to police and high-level officials.
our working paper
Our blog on unfair recruitment procedures in Angola
A spotlight on modern-day slavery: The CNN Freedom Project
Hope Now , an organisation that offers therapeutic work with trafficked and foreign women in prostitution]
Not for Sale Campaign ,a campaign which equips activists to re-abolish slavery
The Polaris Project, an organisation combatting human trafficking in the USA
La Strada ,a European network against human trafficking
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