South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Shenali Waduge

Human trafficking is said to be a $32billion international business. The International Labor Organization estimates that 27million people are victims of forced labor. Approximately 900,000 people are trafficked across national borders annually. Alongside the narcotics & illegal arms industry, human trafficking is a thriving business yet scant attention is paid towards its elimination. Human trafficking is a global problem and no country, developed or developing, rich or poor is immune from the problem. A global problem like this requires a global response.

1.2million children are trafficked every year. People are reported to be trafficked from 127 countries & exploited in 137 countries. The victims are between 18 & 24 years. 95% of all victims of trafficking are physically & sexually violated. 43% of all victims are forced into commercial sexual exploitation while 32% are forced into economic exploitation.

According to the Protocol (UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children) Human trafficking defines as “illegal trade of human beings, through abduction, the use or threat of force, deception, fraud, or ‘sale’ for the purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor”.

In so far as human trafficking is illegal, it exists due to the “demand & supply” because industries profit by its existence. People can be bought cheap & laws against traffickers are minimal. More often than not it is the victims of traffickers that are treated like criminals.  The sectors most frequently documented for exploiting people are agriculture or horticulture, construction, garments and textiles under sweatshop conditions, catering and restaurants, domestic work, entertainment and the sex industry. Human trafficking also affects other quite mainstream economic sectors, including food processing, health care and contract cleaning, mainly in private but also in public sector employment, such as the provision of healthcare services.

The difference

So what is the difference in people smuggling & human trafficking. People smuggling is the activity that bypasses immigration controls where a paid agent will make an x amount per head & arranges would-be immigrants boarding a flight with fraudulent documents & with carefully coached refugee claims upon landing to a western country. More often than not these victims fall into debt in order to make a life in a country they believe is far greater than the one they are departing. After landing & claiming refugee status they are free to go on their own.

Human trafficking on the other hand is when smuggled people have no freedom & their fate will be decided by those that traffic them. These people are often made to work as prostitutes & are nothing but illegal aliens. It is estimated that close to 900,000 people are subject to this fate annually.

Nevertheless both people smuggling & human trafficking deals with the creation or alteration of travel documents as they are used to transit other countries en route to the country that these smugglers decide. These people usually have a “minder” though people do travel on their own. Though they are boarding a flight for the first time they are well coached to get rid of their passports & travel documents no sooner they board the flight. They will then declare themselves as refugees at Customs or Immigration.

Why does it exist?

The important question is why does human trafficking exist? It does so because slavery & labor exploitation is tolerated & they exist because it benefits some. While some companies through their social responsibility & fair labor practices help combat slavery there are others that use slavery to their advantage. The chocolate industry is guilty of child & forced labor. The shrimp industry of Southeast Asia joins that list where children are utilized & cannot escape for fear of their lives. While Thailand is the world’s largest seafood exporter the US is its largest buyer so who is more guilty?

Fifty thousand women & children are trafficked into the US from over 49 countries every year. It is believed that close to 750,000 women & children have been trafficked into the US over the last decade.

Many of these women end up working against their will, marrying men against their will, put into prostitution or working as slaves. Some even end up having their organs taken. Now children are being kidnapped & included into this trade.

Human trafficking has reached appalling numbers. Clearly there is money to be made exploiting the vulnerable & those that are guilty do not encompass the traffickers alone. Into this category of exploiting the vulnerable courts, politicians, doctors, therapists need to be also included. Victims often put under state care end up victims once more & statistics of what goes on in foster homes is a good example. Today even the elderly are vulnerable to human trafficking done through “guardianship” schemes where guardian owns legally the assets & these elders soon become addicted to medication & the drug regime. The US records over USD1billion in stolen assets by guardians from these aging “assets”. American prison system is no different & stocks are sold in the prison system. Prisoners are also subject to forced drugging & pharmaceutical experimentation.

Canada- transit point

Canada has become a popular destination for trafficked people from South & South East Asia, China, Eastern Europe, Russia & Central America. Canada is the transit point before they are sent to the US. Terrorist involvement using people smuggling is a factor that these countries need to look into. Many organized crime groups are involved in people smuggling & countries need to look into their “refugee” screening systems. Student visas are another area where abuse often takes place. Many terrorists operating in US & Europe entered these countries guised as “students”. Canada has been extremely generous in its refugee influx & Canada’s relaxed guidelines were soon misused. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of an Indian militant facing threat of deportation that he had full legal rights as a Canadian citizen since he was in Canada meant that every case had to be heard & refugees could use public funding to meet their legal costs, this cost the taxpayer at least $1billion a year.

Another point to note is that while 2.2million immigrants & refugees arrived in Canada between 1990 & 1998 only 1m had become Canadian citizens. In the case of Tamil people smuggled into Canada it is believed that it costs between $10,000 to $40,000 for a Sri Lankan Tamil to be brought into Canada illegally. Most of these smugglers are known to the clients since they come from the same community & they have been operating with the knowledge of the LTTE as “exit visa” from LTTE controlled areas in Sri Lanka is a must first. In 1994 & again in 1996 the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP) after a fiver year investigation managed to crackdown on a Tamil ring that used forced documents / Canadian passports. The first case of passport forgery was in 1990 & guilty party a Tamil operating from Toronto having produced over 1000 doctored travel documents. All those caught had links to the LTTE & World Tamil Movement. Arriving by ship is another mode & again Sri Lankan Tamils top the list of arrivals into Canada.

Thriving business

Thus, the world’s underground economies are thriving & despite the overheads it is a thriving business. Most terrorist groups enjoy using prostitution as a form of fundraising & LTTE is no exception. In times of recession in the bomb-making supplies, financial gaps are catered through the business of narcotics & human beings. Al Qaeda, LTTE are masters of both these business models.

The UN has its own examples of guilt where peacekeepers have been caught in soliciting sex for money from underaged girls. In 2001, soldiers working as UN Peace Keepers in Eritrea were purchasing girls as young as 10 years for sexual pleasure. In 1991, UN troops in Cambodia were also involved. Cambodia’s illegal sex trade is said to generate $500M a year & involves 55,000 women & children.

Domestic servants in some countries of the Middle East are forced to work 12 to 16 hours a day with little or no pay, and subject to sexual abuse such as rape, forced abortions, and physical abuse that has resulted in death. In Africa, girls are involved in voodoo rituals where they are raped, beaten & made to owe money to the traffickers.

We must all be in agreement that human trafficking is a global problem. It is a crime to transport men, women & children for the purpose of slavery, prostitution, forced labor & servitude. Other ills include forced marriage, recruitment of child soldiers, beggars & even international adoption. Those trafficking humans are large criminal organizations that are linked to international networks.

Challenges for governments

Governments have before them several challenges to overcome. Top on the list is the need to reduce demand whether it is for cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops or for underpriced commodities by bonded people. Governments need to also begin targeting criminals who make profit from the vulnerability of people – people who try to escape from poverty, unemployment, hunger but who are engulfed into far more dangers as a result of human trafficking. Governments also need to protect victims & ensure there are mechanisms to address the women, children & even men & bring them back into society with confidence.

There is difference of opinion as to the legalizing of prostitution. Making it legal would enable medical care to prostitutes etc but it would also mean legalizing a product that treats women as subjects & exploits them. Punishment must first come not upon the prostitutes but those who organize the business & those who “recruit” them as well as the “clients” that enable the supply in view of their “demand” & each type of category depending on the severity should have severe fines & penalties.

The violators

Who would have thought Walmart would exploit child labor & it has been caught multiple times for child labor violations since 2000 & bad publicity that accrued after the release of the New York Times report made Walmart stop buying cottons from Uzbekistan where children were being exploited.

Similarly covering the apparel & textile trade, the International Labor Rights Forum released the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame Report in 2009 revealing a list of apparel companies using inhumane & exploitative labor practices. To this list were included Abercrombie & Fitch, Gymboree, Hanes, Ikea, Kohl, LL Bean, Pier 1 Imports, Propper International & Walmart. Gap, Kathie Lee Gifford & Toyota have also been accused for exploitation of labor. Some of these companies ironically had struck partnerships with UNICEF to help fight child labor yet they were purchasing line from foreign factories that were employing workers in unsafe working conditions. If the case of Nike is recalled consumer pressure & negative publicity when the threat of boycotting Nike in the nineties prevailed, Nike admitted its mistake & took steps to improve conditions. Therefore public opinion does go a long way & can count though a lot of companies remain guilty of links to slave labor.

Campaigning against human trafficking

There are also companies that are doing a lot to combat human trafficking. MTV devoted a campaign titled “Exit Campaign” by creating documentaries, short films & videos on combating human trafficking. LexisNexis has created an online legal resource center giving laws & policies on anti-trafficking laws around the world & even provide financial support for organizations against human trafficking. Bill & Melinda Gates awarded $5million to International Justice Mission to create a replicable model of combating sex trafficking & Microsoft is also working with NGOs to prevent Microsoft products from being used to exploit children sexually. The Carlson Companies have also made worldwide commitments in their hotels, restaurants & tour companies. Similarly, Manpower Inc, calls upon leading corporations to join the fight to end human trafficking.

It is easy to see how human trafficking has evolved. People today are commodities – they are meant to be sold, traded & used in the global market & so long as global demand exists the industry is likely to thrive & malpractices are likely to continue unless a determined & united stand to combat it is taken. Human beings are nothing but commodities & we are referred to as either human capital or human expenditure. Has the world lost its morals & ethics? Making money is one thing but treating people with dignity & respect while earning is what is needed today. No amount of profit can take away the manner in which that money is made if it treats fellow beings as humans.

Source: Daily Mirror – 04.08.2011