April 17, 2014

About the Issue

Human trafficking is the movement of people into forced labor, slavery or servitude in many sites – for example, into farms, factories, brothels, streets and homes. Many migrants are trafficked because it is impossible to get work visas and so they must cross borders illegally. Trafficking also occurs within a country as many people are recruited in one part of the country to work in another area of the country where they end up being held in forced labor.

Migrants traveling north in Mexico (photo © Itzel M. Perez Zagal)

The traffickers are the family next door, the farmers who grows tomatoes, the factory owners across town and the brothel down the road. Its victims can be anyone – college graduates and illiterates, citizens and migrants, men or women and children.

Migrant worker picking fruit in strawberry field (photo ©iStockphoto/Pattie Steib)

In many parts of the world, children are commonly victims who are found in rug factories, rock quarries, homes and mines.

Boy breaking rocks in Liberia (photo ©iStockphoto/MissHibiscus)

Slavery has been abolished around the world (but is tolerated in Mauritania, Mali and Sudan). Few people are trafficked into slavery. On the other hand, although a significant number of people are trafficked into servitude, primarily into forced marriages. Human trafficking is primarily a problem of forced labor.

Forced labor is the end product of the majority of the trafficking episode. The International Labour Organization estimates that 12.3 million people are in forced labor and 2.43 million of those have been trafficked into forced labor. The majority of the victims of trafficking are held in forced labor.

Garment workers in Southeast Asia (photo ©iStockphoto/Jessica Liu )

Consumers of goods and services from trafficked or forced labor

As consumers, we are all essential components as we may purchase the goods and services produced by forced or trafficked labor. The food we eat may have been picked by a migrant held in forced labor in the farms in our own countries or in countries that export crops. The clothes we wear could have been made by forced or trafficked labor. The brothels in our communities could hold trafficked adults or minors and the restaurants may serve meals cooked by forced laborers. The metals in our mobile phone may be produced with metals dug out from deep underground by  children forced to labor. In other words, the problem is all around us – it surrounds everyone everywhere.