Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery

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Are slavery and bondage still extant in the world today?  Difficult to imagine but sadly, true.  Millions of people around the world still suffer in silence in slave-like situations of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation from which they cannot free themselves. Trafficking in persons is one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time1.

It appears that both abject poverty and the dearth of economic opportunity are separate but related forces that drive people to uproot themselves from the familiar comfort of home and to make themselves vulnerable by trusting others as they take a chance on the possibility of finding something better elsewhere.  Regrettably, this trust is sometimes betrayed.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it well when she described Human Trafficking for the  2009 U. S. Trafficking in Persons Report.

Around the world, millions of people are living in bondage. They labor in fields and factories under brutal employers who threaten them with violence if they try to escape. They work in homes for families that keep them virtually imprisoned. They are forced to work as prostitutes or to beg in the streets, fearful of the consequences if they fail to earn their daily quota. They are women, men, and children of all ages, and they are often held far from home with no money, no connections, and no way to ask for help.

This is modern slavery, a crime that spans the globe, providing ruthless employers with an endless supply of people to abuse for financial gain. Human trafficking is a crime with many victims: not only those who are trafficked, but also the families they leave behind, some of whom never see their loved ones again.

Trafficking has a broad global impact as well. It weakens legitimate economies, fuels violence, threatens public health and safety, shatters families, and shreds the social fabric that is necessary for progress. And it is an affront to our basic values and our fundamental belief that all people everywhere deserve to live and work in safety and dignity.

A year later, on October 14, 2010, Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said in a speech at the University of Luxembourg. 2

Sadly, we know that this evil persists in the world today. We see people bought and sold in prostitution; held in involuntary servitude in factories, farms, fishing vessels, and homes; and captured to serve as child soldiers. This crime persists because it is a fluid phenomenon that responds to market demand and operates in zones of impunity that are created by vulnerabilities in laws, natural disasters, and economic instability. It is a crime that impairs human rights, degrades public health, corrupts government officials, and weakens rule of law. And it seems that each generation needs to fight back against this ancient scourge.

When Joseph from Benin was 13 years old, a stranger arranged with his parents for him to go to neighboring Togo to make a better life, but of course it didn’t turn out that way.  He was made to work from 5 A.M. to 11 P.M. every day as a domestic servant and he was regularly beaten.  After saving money for three years, he was able to afford to phone home.  This ultimately brought about his rescue by an uncle.3

It is a common practice to persuade a young woman to leave home and to move to a wealthier neighboring country where she can work in domestic service, child or adult care, or as a waitress in a restaurant or a bar, or perhaps as a dancer.  Upon arrival, her passport, visa, and return tickets are taken from her and, effectively, she is imprisoned, either physically or financially or mentally.  She is made to work as a domestic slave or as an agricultural or factory worker, under slave-like conditions, or in a brothel.  She sees virtually none of the money that she earns, and eventually she will be sold.4,5

PBS reported6 that Thonglim Kampiranon, a 43-year-old mother of two from rural Thailand, was one of three Thai women trafficked to Los Angeles to work in a suburban home and in a restaurant located in a shopping mall.  The three were promised decent treatment and $240 a month wages.  But instead, Khampiranon says that she and the other women received six years of exploitation and abuse, working as slaves.  Khampiranon often worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week.  And in the six months prior to her escape, she received no pay.  She had to wake up at about 6 or 7 A.M. and start cleaning the house.  Around 10A.M., she would be taken to the restaurant where she would work until about midnight.  When she got back home, she could only have a few hours sleep and then had to wake up and start cleaning the house again the next morning  Khampiranon says they controlled her and the other Thai women by confiscating their passports, censoring their mail and restricting contact with the outside world.  To maintain obedience, Khampiranon says that they threatened family members in Thailand.

Slavery can be a trap that never lets go.  Exploited workers, subjected to slave-like labor conditions, may be held by restrictions on their freedom of movement, by induced indebtedness, confiscation of papers, late payment or non-payment of wages, and by the threat of denunciation to the authorities with the implication that this would be followed by deportation.  A young woman may initially agree to be transported in order to enter the sex trade, but later find herself trapped by threats of violence, physical restriction or debt-bondage.  Modern “sex slavery” is an unfortunate reality.

Here are ten criteria that you can apply to help evaluate whether or not a worker is a trafficking victim.

1.      Was the worker (or care-giver) deceived and brought here under false pretenses?

2.      Is the worker allowed to exit the premises, unaccompanied?

3.      Is the worker free to quit and leave at any time?

4.      Is the worker in possession of his/her documents (e.g. visa, passport, etc.)?

5.      Is the worker restrained from use of a telephone?

6.      Is the worker punished if expectations are not fulfilled?

7.      How many hours constitute the usual workweek?

8.      Is the worker receiving adequate nutrition under respectable living conditions?

9.      Is the worker being paid at regular intervals?

10.  Is the worker's compensation commensurate with that received by local workers, doing the same job?

Human Rights Watch estimates that every year, 800,000 to 900,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders into forced labor or slavery-like conditions.  Trafficking includes all acts related to the recruitment, transport, transfer, sale, or purchase of human beings by force, fraud, deceit, or other coercive tactics for the purpose of placing them into conditions of forced labor or practices similar to slavery, in which labor is extracted through physical or non-physical means of coercion, including blackmail, fraud, deceit, isolation, threat or use of physical force, or psychological pressure.7  The UN International Labor Office (ILO) reports that Asia has three-quarters of the 12.3 million people believed to be in forced labor worldwide.8

It is important to clarify the difference between trafficking and smuggling.  Trafficking differs from smuggling in that there is the intent to exploit the individuals who are trafficked.  The key elements of a trafficking relationship are the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception or abuse of power, while smuggling generally implies a degree of consent between the transporting agent and the smuggled individual.  Trafficking implies an absence of such consent, during at least some stage of the trafficking cycle.  In the case of trafficked children, the issue of consent is irrelevant.  Article 3 of the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking states that the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons”, whether or not force, coercion and deception are involved.

A second distinguishing feature of trafficking is evidenced by the living and working conditions of the victim after arrival in the destination country.  Through corrupt government officials, unscrupulous labor agents, and poor enforcement of the law, economic migrants may be deceived or coerced into situations that amount to forced labor and slavery-like practices.  If the work is exploitative, involving illegal forced labor or debt bondage, or is below national and international labor standards, this too is trafficking

And so, what can be done about it?  Nothing will ever be more effective than raising awareness in the fight to prevent Human Trafficking.  Motivated by greed, unscrupulous people, both men and women, take advantage of trust and betray it.  It is for this reason that I propose that we do more to educate children to make them less trusting.  It has to be worked into the grade school curricula by sensitive educators so that children become aware of what can happen in various scenarios and are trained in how to escape when they sense that they are being entrapped.  They should learn to recognize signs of danger, and know what to do.  It means educating today's teens about how they may be enticed to run away to a better life or perhaps just to stay away from returning home tonight.  And it has to be done everywhere – in small farming villages and in large cities.  Raising awareness is the single best thing that can be done to protect youth and young adults.  Awareness will lead to caution, thereby decreasing the likelihood that a targeted victim will be deceived and enslaved.

Prof. Patt

October 15, 2010


1.        U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2003, []

2.        Luis CdeBaca, The Global Fight Against Human Trafficking: Ten Years After Palermo, University of Luxembourg, October 14, 2010,

3.        BBC News, Scale of African slavery revealed,

4.        Eugen Tomiuc, World: Interpol Official Discusses Human Trafficking, Internet Pornography, 2003, []

5.        International Labour Organisation, Forced Lobour, Child Labour And Human Trafficking In Europe: An ILO Perspective, 2002

6.        Jim Lehrer, PBS, Slavery in America,

7.        Human Rights Watch, - _Toc76201455

8.        NGUOI Viet Online, U.N. agency urges Asian nations to end forced labor,