Human-trafficking is a global crime, and the world must join the fight to end it

Matthew Friedman says the US State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons report underlines how the world is failing to have an impact on this transnational crime against humanity, and says a collective, cross-border front is the answer

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 1:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 1:37pm

The US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report was recently released in Washington. For 17 years, this report has offered an important summary of country-by-country responses to the trafficking issue globally. One of the notable outcomes of this year’s report was the emphasis that China had dropped from the “tier two watch list” to ”tier three”, the lowest ranking.

There are clearly human-trafficking issues that exist within China that need to be dealt with, but the same can be said of nearly every country in the world. The problem goes beyond the borders of any one country and no country is immune. It is truly a global issue.

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According to the report, out of the 21 million trafficked people, the number of victims assisted in 2016 was 66,520, down from 77,823 the year before.

The report represents one of the most important sources of data for those working in the field. And yet, the data suggests that, even with all of the government, NGO, UN and private-sector efforts combined, the world helped less than 0.5 per cent of the victims last year. This figure has remained largely unchanged for the past five years.

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Of positive note is that global convictions were up, from 6,615 in 2015 to 9,071 last year, and yet this still represents only about 0.8 per cent of the criminals estimated to be profiting from human-trafficking, the proceeds of which exceed US$150 billion.

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The bottom line is this: the world is failing to have an impact on addressing this global transnational crime against humanity. It isn’t about any one country not doing its part, it is the entire world that needs to accept responsibility for this situation. Clearly something needs to change.

The major reasons often cited for the low numbers of people helped include a lack of general awareness, poor data, weak legal systems, limited legislation, insufficient resources and limited collaboration in the counter-trafficking community.

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Having worked on this issue for over 28 years, I can confirm that all of these factors do exist. But the one thing that I feel is most lacking is a collective, united, cross-border front to address the problem.

Human-trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. We have more slaves today than any other time in history. For this issue to be addressed, every country has to do their part. Take the positive steps that have been made in other development sectors like HIV/AIDS, poverty alleviation and child survival – major breakthroughs occur when countries come together and there is a unified response.

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Yet, despite the vast number of victims of human-trafficking from across every country, there is no “master plan” to address the problem. As a result, many groups don’t know how or where they fit into a collective response.

Because of the cross-border nature of human-trafficking, collaboration among countries is essential

Likewise, governments alone cannot solve this problem. Because of the cross-border nature of human-trafficking, collaboration among countries is essential. In addition to the governments, NGOs, and multinational bodies such as the UN, we need the private sector, faith-based groups, schools and the general public to step up and play a role. Having a master plan would help identify the role for each of these constituents.

As part of the Mekong Club’s efforts in Asia, our organisation works closely with corporations to help them understand the business risks related to trafficking. Working in partnership with a network of businesses, we have been able to develop tools and techniques to identify and address the problem as a community. We have learned from this experience that organisations are willing to step up and provide help if they are treated as partners, not adversaries. This same approach can be applied to working with major governments around the world.

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Every government struggles with this problem. With so few victims being identified, we need to revisit the way we are doing things. There needs to be a joint effort that brings the international community together. Only by presenting a united front will we be able to address this issue at a global as well as local level. The strengths and weaknesses of approaches to addressing the issue, as profiled in the Trafficking in Persons report, can be used to identify combined solutions.

This could make the difference between 0.5 per cent of the victims being helped now, and 10, 20, or even 50 per cent being helped in the future, as better solutions are sought.

Matthew Friedman is CEO of the Mekong Club