Sunday, January 23, 2011

BBC World Debate: Human Trafficking

I just finished watching BBC’s world debate on human trafficking. The panel included Laura Agustin, Author, 'Sex at the Margins'; Sophie Flak, Executive Vice-President, Accor, Rani Hong, Trafficking Survivor; Siddharth Kara, Author, 'Sex Trafficking'; Ronald Noble, Secretary General, Interpol. The diversity in backgrounds of these people is noticeable but the variety and outlooks on trafficking varied widely as well. Ms. Agustin took a completely different viewpoint on human trafficking which was angering to many observers, panel speakers and even me. Let’s start from the beginning of the debate.   ILO states that human trafficking industry is a 32 billion dollar industry with anywhere from 2.5 million to 27 million victims. Prosecution of traffickers last year, as reported by US Sate, was 4,166- a frighteningly low number.  Siddharth Kara, the author of Sex Trafficking- which looks sex trafficking from a business viewpoint ( this book is next on my list to read- I am VERY excited to read his work.), asks the question of why human trafficking concerns is being brought up now. He states that the economic logic of trafficking and slavery has changed (“exploded”) thus bringing awareness of the subject. He notes that in the North Atlanic Slave Trade that slaves were acquired from $10,000-$12,000 dollars and the slaverowners received a 10%-15% return per year on them. Nowadays, slaves can be acquired for hundreds of dollars and the return on them can be anywhere from 200%- 400%.  

Panelists went on to debate the definition of trafficking, in which some pulled the word apart into two different aspects: the acquisition of humans/ victims and the exploitation of them. Kara says that trafficking is the acquisition and movement of people where as slavery is exploitation; however, both of these are intricately linked.  However, Agustin argued that in some situations that people have opted in some way to move and they are not kidnapped into the slave work. She was arguing that sometimes people decide to try to better their lives through migration and take jobs that are risky, and the result of slavery is just a bad choice. I completely disagree and am unclear on her point. I am interested in reading her book “Sex at the Margins” and hopefully through that book, I can understand her viewpoint better. Kara returned her comments by stating that “knowledge and consent don’t negate the possibility of being trafficked or being enslaved.” He also brings up the idea of choice and asks “what is really choice if you are facing lack of education and opportunity, starvation and poverty?”

The debate of the definition goes further into the differences between forced labor and migrant labor. Simple questions that Noble asked were are the workers receiving adequate pay, are their working conditions and hours suitable? Are they there on their own free will? Can they leave without any threats of violence?

Kara brings up the point about how tightly the definition of human trafficking is held and the effects on the statistics of victims. Loosening the definition of coercion and what it means to be trafficking can raise the number of victims in the world.  He also brings up the point about the sex industry being an elastic one- when the demand rises, the price rises. 

The head of UN crime and drugs, a member of the audience, sates that there is a huge “need to decriminalize the victims.” 

After a while debating the definition of the word “trafficking” members of the panel and the audience, such Ashton Kutcher, got fed up with the needless and unproductive conversation. Kutcher says “I don’t believe there is a 13 year old child in the world who would want to be raped for a profit. I think arguing the word ‘trafficking’ – its spending time on something when we can be utilizing this time to educate people on the issues.”  I was EXTREMELY impressed with Kutcher’s comments and his passion and movement in combating sex-trafficking. 

Rani Hong, a trafficking victim herself, speaks about the systems in place that allow for trafficking to occur. She states that when she was sold by her trafficker into the adoption industry that her files were filled to the top with corruption in every aspect; nonprofit, government, medical officials, law enforcers had lied about the condition of her. She says there is a system in place that traffickers use. She also says that the caring for victims of trafficking needs to be a priority; the victim is the key witness to the crime and can only testify if he/she has the strength and the mental ability to persecute the trafficker.

A member from the social venture, Stop Traffik, stated that we don’t need millions of dollars to combat this problem, what we need is intolerance.

Nearing the end of the conversation, panelists were asked what they felt was the right strategy to combat human trafficking was. Hong said that collaboration between organizations needed to take place. Noble said that the persecuting traffickers were the main strategy. I strongly agreed with Kara’s idea about attacked the demand for trafficking and driving the price up steadily to discourage purchasing slavery.

The debate ended with a young boy asking the question of “why is it traffickers that sell humans will get a maximum of 7 years when a person who sells drugs, which are herbs and minerals, will get a lifetime?” This question left panelists and audience members thinking about the implications of the legal system’s injustice and inability to fully criminalize human trafficking. For there to be systematic change, the laws and criminalization polices around human trafficking need to be reevaluated and changed.

 To watch the debate, click here.

1 comment:

  1. This academic article can give you more insight into the complexity of the issue:
    (from )

    Complexity means that approaches to solve the issue must be as nuanced as the issue itself. Yes, we should fight for a world where kids don't get into prostitution!

    But if a minor, for example, constructed a coping mechanism around his or her own agency and moral superiority to stealing, a system that imposes a sense of victimhood can crush that self-esteem and cause worse long-term psychological consequences than the original circumstance.