A New Look at Human Trafficking: Book Reviews
Kara, Siddharth. 2009. Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. New York: Columbia University Press
Shelley, Louise. 2010. Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press
Kara and Shelley both emphasize the need to approach and understand human trafficking as a business if truly effective countermeasures are going to be designed. Both authors focus primarily on the sex trafficking aspect of the phenomena, but Shelley does expand into the other modes of exploitation human traffickers rely on, such as forced labor or begging. If we look at human trafficking as a business, the authors argue that in order to combat it we must change the calculus of the rational actors involved whose primary motivation is profit. Costs must be increased on perpetrators and potential profits reduced to make trafficking in people less lucrative.
Kara argues that globalization has made it easier to find and transport victims for traffickers. As the world becomes more interconnected, traffickers can find potential targets across the globe, and once ensnared can move victims hidden within the legitimate migration flows. Globalization has also brought poverty to many regions of the world, where local businesses are pushed out by global competition. This increases the ‘supply’ of victims, boosting profits, as people unable to find work at home fall for tempting false offers put out by traffickers. Moreover, a greater supply also has the effect of lowering prices, which in turn increases the number of customers. This situation allows traffickers to exploit large numbers of people to meet this high demand, and when coupled with the low risk of being caught, makes the business highly lucrative.
Shelley puts forth a similar model that focuses on the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors within human trafficking. Push factors in source countries primarily stem from a lack of opportunity, as desperate locals look abroad for any opportunity and unwittingly become trapped by a trafficking ring. Additional push factors include both weak law enforcement and trafficking laws in source and destination countries, and corrupt officials and business owners that assist traffickers in return for a portion of the profits, all of which make the trade possible on a global scale. Facilitators are across society, from border guards, police officers, immigration officials, night-club owners, taxi drivers, bankers, lawyers, real-estate agents, all play a critical role in the capture, transportation, and exploitation of victims. Pull factors center on rising demand, mostly in developed countries, that make the trade so profitable. Individuals who compose demand come from an even broader swathe of society.
The authors both recommend targeting the cost-benefit economic basis of the trafficking industry to have a significant effect on the industry. Engaging in trafficking must be made exceptionally costly to discourage potential traffickers from becoming involved. This would not only reduce the number of traffickers, but would also push up the cost for customers as supply decreases, which should decrease demand. Both authors also emphasize the need to target the financial resources of traffickers. Large amounts of money must be exchanged and laundered internationally, and by targeting these flows, costs would increase and profits would decrease for traffickers, making it harder to conduct business. This should be combined with stricter punishments for traffickers and the individuals and businesses who help them.
Recognizing the limited resources available to anti-trafficking efforts in many parts of the globe, Kara argues for the creation of an international task force that would specialize in countering slavery. Such a task force should be composed of professionals from a broad array of fields, enabling a more comprehensive and effective effort. Local monitoring should also be supported, ‘neighborhood watches’, to watch for suspicious activity and enable more efficient law enforcement operations. On the enforcement side, raids on suspected establishments should increase, and a more efficient judicial process that hands out punishments quicker is needed. Finally, salaries should be increased for officials involved in anti-trafficking efforts to discourage bribery, and victim protection programs must be set up to protect them and their families. However, while such measures would certainly be welcome and likely highly effective, where the resources would come from, and how effective such an international effort would be when dealing with states highly protective of their sovereignty, is not entirely clear.
Shelley provides less specific measures, but addresses a key weakness in Kara’s anti-trafficking argument. She specifies that any anti-trafficking program must be contextually designed for the region of the world it is targeting. Shelly’s five case studies show significant differences in how human trafficking is conducted across regions. There is no clear cut model that can be applied to trafficking globally. For example, many source countries are also destination countries, therefore any anti-trafficking effort in such an area must be prepared to comprehensively address the economic conditions that fuel the supply of victims, the traffickers themselves and the corrupt facilitators who bring victims in and out of the country, the customers who ultimately provide the profits, and the victims themselves, who are practically destroyed mentally and physically.
While approaching human trafficking as a business does help us better understand the motivations of the actors involved, it is crucial to not limit the anti-trafficking response to strictly institutionalist measures that focuses primarily on increasing costs to participants. Such approaches have been used to target drug trafficking across the globe with varying results. In fact, such crackdowns can have a converse effect by making the commodity scarcer, pushing up prices, and thus increasing the possible profits exponentially. As long as large amounts of money are to be made in any form of trafficking, there will be willing perpetrators. Understandably, it is difficult to target the benefits side of the rational calculus with law enforcement and legislation, which cannot exert control over a freely traded good. However, both authors remind us that there are enablers in legitimate positions who are crucial to both human and drug trafficking. Perhaps more needs to be done to increase the costs on corrupt government officials who facilitate the trade. A key aspect that both authors also touch on is the societal acceptance of victim blaming, particularly of women within the sex trade. Female victims are seen as willing participants looking to make easy money by selling their body, which is very rarely the case in reality. By changing societal perspective on this issue, greater pressure and disapprobation would be brought down upon corrupt officials who participate in the trade and on law enforcement, which often ignores or makes minimal efforts to punish traffickers. Finally, the economic source of the problem is also emphasized within the literature. Traffickers are able to lure victims into vulnerable situations where they can be enslaved because the victims are in dire straits in the first place, unable to find work in poorly performing economies. As with so many issues across the globe, economic growth will be key to truly addressing the problem.