Under the label of ‘human trafficking’, modern day slavery is easy to sanitise. Whilst now not endorsed by governments, the practice of human trafficking continues to spread rapidly on a global scale, operating effectively under the streets, under immigration controls and under communities, affecting countries of deportation, transit and destination. But modern day slavery isn’t based on attitudes towards gender or race. It exists and grows for the same reasons that any other business exists: supply and demand. Where there continues to be a demand for cheap labour, sex slaves and domestic workers, and a large supply of vulnerable individuals, there will be those who seek to benefit from the gap in the market.
Human trafficking is the largest growing illicit business and, according to ILO (International Labour Organistation) estimates, the second largest source of illegal income worldwide, exceeded only by drugs trafficking.
Amnesty International defines human trafficking as “the possession of people by improper means, such as force, threat or deception, for the purpose of exploiting them”, improper means defined by UN Protocol as anything from “violent coercion… abduction… fraud… [or] deception”. Human trafficking covers many forms of exploitation, from sex work (including prostitution of minors) to enforced/domestic labour, and even the non-consensual removal of human organs.
There are many instances where victims are forcibly trafficked, abducted, or else threatened by torture or violence against their family; indeed, 23% of rescued victims last year were children. However, the far greyer area of human trafficking occurs when consent is engineered. According to an Amnesty report (‘False Promises’), there is an epidemic of what they call “trafficking for forced labour”: poverty-stricken workers, under the illusion of a better life for their families in the ‘promised land’ states of the Gulf or Malaysia, end up working 21 hour days under the threat of sexual abuse, little food and an even smaller salary. Their passports are confiscated, and their loans taken out to buy the one-way ticket to paradise act as metaphysical shackles, effectively enchaining them to a lifetime of labour, misery and anonymity. Equally, women promised careers as dancers or even university education become sex workers in the red light district of Amsterdam or prostitutes in British brothels.
There an estimated 27 million adults and 13 million children around the world today (the total population of Argentina) who are victims of human trafficking. And these are only cases we are aware of – human trafficking will continue to increase in scale as drugs traffickers turn to human trafficking as a higher profit, lower risk enterprise. After all – 15 terrified sex workers are less easy to detect than 15lbs of cocaine.
Yet despite its scale, the crime remains quiet within the media. We are all content to believe that such cases only occur within less-privileged, more densely populated areas of the UK. But slavery isn’t an outdated problem – only last year, a cross-county raid uncovered ring-leaders of a sextrafficking gang operating on the streets of Cambridge, rescuing numerous women taken from south-east Asia.
Amnesty International aims to halt the abuse of human rights caused by human trafficking by putting pressure on governments to prevent the ‘promised land’ illusion, and by aiding groups such as the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, which measures the UK’s involvement within the issue. To support their efforts, the Cambridge Amnesty group meets every Sunday at 5pm at the Gatehouse, Clare College.