Human trafficking is the trade of humans, most often for forced labor or sexual exploitation and slavery. Trafficking generates both tremendous suffering and profits. By some estimates, human trafficking within and between countries generates up to $9.5 billion annually. The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that 46 million people are subject to some form of modern slavery with India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan accounting for 58% of them. Seven out of ten victims are trafficked through the private sector – making the food we eat, the things we buy, the clothes we wear, etc. Click here to determine how many slaves provide the items that are in your household. Spoiler alert: It’s more than you think.
A quick word on terminology. While human trafficking and human smuggling are both illegal, they are different. Human smuggling involves a person voluntarily requesting/hiring others for cover transport across borders. The most common forms of human trafficking are bonded labor, forced labor, and sexual slavery. Bonded labor (also called debt bondage/slavery) is when a person’s pledge of labor is used to repay an obligation. The duration of the labor is often undefined and can be passed on from parents to children in order to pay off the debt. Forced labor is when people are made to work against their will, often for fear of harm to themselves or their families. It can include household labor, agricultural labor, sweatshops, or even begging on the street. Sexual slavery is also a form of forced labor and can include everything from single-owner sexual slavery to prostitution.
Who is responsible for preventing human trafficking? Governments have the ultimate responsibility although officials will be reluctant to take action if they are directly profiting from it or feel that they are making their country look bad in doing so. If a government has the political will to address human trafficking there are multilateral organizations like the International Organization for Migration, the UN Children’s Fund, and the United Nations Development Program that may help. There are also international and national non-governmental organizations that may be well-placed to help. For example, the Mekong Club is devoted to mobilizing the private sector to halt human trafficking in the Mekong region. You can learn more by watching excellent presentations on preventing and responding to human trafficking by Mekong Club funder Mat Friedman and other leaders.
Human trafficking thrives when it is considered acceptable. Lasting change happens when an active and engaged civil society both demands it and works with governments and businesses to bring it about. This is where Rotary comes in. Human trafficking is perpetuated by criminal networks around the world intent on maximizing profits at the expense of other people. Rotary is also a global network but one dedicated to service and humanity. If the private sector is indeed responsible for 70% of forced labor in the world today, then it must also be part of the solution. Many Rotarians work in the private sector and could be change agents. Others of us are activists, advocates, and educators with a lot to offer.
Admittedly in Rotary, we sometimes gravitate toward problems with solutions that are, or at least seem, straight forward – vaccinating children to eradicate polio, building wells in villages that lack access to water, etc. Human trafficking is complicated. Yet, if every Rotary Club around the world were to do something to address human trafficking, we could make a tremendous difference. Human trafficking need not be the signature project of every club – but clubs can raise the profile of this issue in their communities and countries, engage policy makers and the private sector, support services to people who have been trafficked, and encourage other individuals and organizations to speak out.
One of the reasons we become Rotarians is that we can accomplish much more by working together than we could alone. Consider joining the Rotarian Action Group Against Slavery which has members around the world and useful resources including this list of ten steps you can take to fight human trafficking. There is a Rotarian Action Group Against Slavery Facebook Page and others like it such as the Rotary End Human Trafficking Facebook Page. Rotary International also works with many partners to address human trafficking. For example, Rotarians and the Carter Center convened a summit of advocates, NGOs, and senior government officials in 2015 to coordinate action against the sexual exploitation of women and children. Another important partner is the International Justice Mission which was excellent materials to support your advocacy and fund-raising efforts.
You don’t have to be a Rotarian to get involved, though! Help get the word out in your own communities and volunteer with organizations that partner with Rotary. Raise funds for organizations preventing and responding to human trafficking locally, nationally, regionally, and globally. Several have been included in this blog but there are certainly others. We all have a part to play in ending modern day slavery. Your ideas are welcome at @bryan_schaaf.