Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery

From the IMPACT Archives September 2014
By Ciara Stein

In classrooms around the world we learn about the slavery of centuries past ­– its roots, its practices, its abolition. We analyze sources and try to fathom the unfathomable. At the same, an estimated 30 million people are enslaved in a modern trade of human trafficking. This $32-billion-a-year business infiltrates nearly every industry’s supply chain, from food to fashion to daily appliances. According to Kevin Bales, a leading abolitionist, author and researcher, the average price of a slave has decreased during the past 200 years. In 1809, the average price of a slave was $40,000 when adjusted to today’s money. In 2009, the average price was $90.

According to the CNN Freedom Project, the definition of trafficking consists of three core elements:

1)   The action of trafficking, which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer harboring or receipt of persons

2)   The means of trafficking which includes the threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability

3)   The purpose of trafficking which is always exploitation.

While studying abroad in Hanoi, Vietnam, I visited Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, an Australian charity working in Vietnam for more than ten years with children in crisis. The charity assists street children and youths trafficked into both the labor and the sex trade. While street children are not officially recognized by the government, the organization is still permitted to work, so there is definitely a tolerance on the part of the government, as suggests Michael Brosowski, the foundation’s director.

Michael informed me that, under ‘Project X,’ Blue Dragon works with Vietnamese authorities to rescue girls who have been trafficked to Chinese brothels. The girls’ ages range from 13 years old to the early 20s. Many victims are from rural areas or are street children, and ‘employers’ or ‘boyfriends’ trick them into slavery. According to a UN report, the recruiter in 54% of human trafficking cases was a stranger to the victim. Meanwhile, in 46% of the cases, the victim knew the recruiter. Michael informed me of one case where two 11-year-old children tricked a schoolmate into being sold to a trafficker in a nearby village who sold her to another trafficker who then transported her to China. In most cases, the victims are able to make first contact with their families who then involve Blue Dragon. Using undercover tactics and careful planning, a lawyer from Blue Dragon is able to track the girl and rescue her. The process is tricky and extremely risky. There are stories of fake rescues where the ‘rescuer’ is actually another trafficker or where the scenario is a trap to identify the rescuer. As such, trust is often hard to establish. What is more, the relationship between the lawyer and the Chinese border police is difficult to facilitate. The first time they went to rescue girls, they were detained.

The organization also runs ‘Safe and Sound,’ which is a program aimed at assisting the child trafficked for child labor. The children targeted for this form of slavery are younger than those entering the sex trade. Blue Dragon finds and rescues children directly from garment and other factories in Ho Chi Minh City. Moreover, they work with families and local authorities to raise awareness about the issue. The conditions they find the children in are appalling, with many living and working in the same rooms with poorly maintained and dangerous machines. They work for up to 18 hours a day in poor lighting and with little food. It is estimated that on average, a rescue operation costs $400 per child. Unfortunately, approximately 30% of rescued children return to the streets after receiving help.

Human trafficking is also a pressing issue in the United States. In 2005, the U.S. State Department reported that between 14,500-17,500 human beings are trafficked into the U.S. annually. What is more, according to a report published by Polaris Project in 2012, Pennsylvania’s anti-trafficking measures are lacking. In a map that splits the U.S. into four tiers, with the first tier being the best based on anti-trafficking measures, PA is in the third tier along with 8 other states. Wyoming, Arkansas, Montana, and South Dakota were included in the bottom tier and labeled ‘the Faltering Four’ by the report. Mary Ellsion, Polaris Project’s Director of Policy stated, “Passing strong state laws is a critical step to increasing prosecutions of traffickers and providing local support for survivors.” As President Obama declared to the Clinton Global Initiative:

“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.”