Is Globalization the Cause for Increases in Human Trafficking?

black Image of scales on white background with the words, "calibrate the scales" overlaid. As with any set of scales, the scales of justice must, from time to time, be recalibrated. Total balance is never achieved, but all in the criminal justice and legal systems must strive for it as much as possible.

Slavery, banned by the global community and imagined eradicated by most, is again thriving worldwide. Human trafficking continues to increase despite the best efforts to stop it. Is globalization the cause?

Even though efforts to educate vulnerable populations about ways to avoid becoming victims of slavery rings, the practice of trafficking in human flesh continues virtually unabated. Why and is globalization to blame?’

What IS Human Trafficking?

The Google dictionary defines Human Trafficking as,

“the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation.”

Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010
Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hence, human trafficking results in a modernized form of slavery. In many cases, those who become enslaved by human traffickers do so of their own volition. However, this does not mean they are wanting to become slaves, rather they are coerced into a situation that results in their enslavement. Logan, Walker, and Hunt (2009) explore the link between labor demand and human trafficking noting that ever-shifting trends in global economics play a key role in the decision which leads many into slavery.

Consider. A woman living in an economically-depressed South American country is desperate for employment. It has been months since she worked and she goes to bed nearly every night hungry. There is a knawing in her that transcends even her stomach. She yearns for something better, gainful employment not only to fill her physical needs but also restore her dignity.

One day, she sees and responds to an ad for foreign workers. The ad promises a new life in the United States working for wealthy families in their homes. The company will handle all expenses and paperwork to make this dream job a reality. She applies for the job, is told she qualifies, but then told that the closing date is tomorrow, that the employer is expecting all the new employees to be on the plane in the morning. Excited, she spends the entire day getting ready, telling friends and family of her good fortune and packs for the trip. It is all happening so fast, she cannot believe her good fortune. In her haste, she fails to investigate the offer further. In fact, she doesn’t even consider the possibility that something fraudulent is taking place.

She is then taken by bus to a holding location where there is a group of women just like her. All young, all pretty. Eventually, they are put into a cargo container and placed onto a ship. It does not take them long to realize something is not right, but by now, the women are at the mercy of their captors. After what seems like forever, being fed and given water via a slot in the container, they arrive at their destination. It is not the United States, but they do not know this. What they soon discover, however, is that they are to become sex workers. Their ordeal is only beginning.

Global Human Trafficking Statistics

One of the direct effects of globalization is shown in research. Around the world, researchers and research organizations are collecting data like never before in history. They are analyzing the data, researching hypotheses, and drawing conclusions about human trafficking, the causes, the reasons, and the methods used to fight modern slavery. Advances in technology thanks to globalization are making this happen.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Human Trafficking (TV miniseries)
Human Trafficking (TV miniseries) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly every advance humanity has ever made has come with a corresponding cost. Globalization and human trafficking are stark examples of this. As Wheaton, Schauer, and Galli (2010) point out, it is not hard for slavers to exploit people when the economic realities in many parts of the world cause desperation. As long as there is money to be made in illicit businesses from initially willing people, those seeking cheap, forced labor will use such tactics. In fact, human trafficking is the third most lucrative criminal enterprise worldwide, surpassed only by the illegal drug trade and counterfeiting (Greenberg, 2016).

The sad fact is that most people who fall victim to human traffickers do so because they are seeking a better life. Some become enslaved by human smugglers who force them into working to pay off their debt–few escape the debt, however. In other cases, smugglers take them to remote locations to force them into helping with other illicit operations, such as the cultivation and manufacture of drugs. Others are forced into the sex trade, yes, even in America and other Western nations.

Some are tricked, some are coerced, some are forced through violence, but all are subjected to years, even decades of degradation and abuse.

Some statistics worth noting about global human trafficking are:

  • 80% of human trafficking results in slavery in the sex industry.
  • 19% results in labor slavery
  • Between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked each year.
  • Half are children
  • 80% female
  • Between 20 and 30 million people are currently enslaved worldwide.
  • The average starting age for a sex worker in the United States is 13.
  • Texas is the top receiving state for the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
  • About 17,000 people enter the United States annually at the hands of human traffickers.
  • Human trafficking generates more than $30 billion each year.

(figures from

Why is Trafficking in Humans such an Attractive Crime?

Money is the short answer. The long answer is supply and demand. Because trade imbalances and economic conditions vary wildly throughout the world, people can be easily manipulated into situations wherein they can be controlled.

Ask any economist about the law of supply and demand. It is really very simple: Anytime there is a demand for a product or service, legal or not, someone will rise up to meet the demand. Meeting demands means money. Money means power…power over self and/or over others.

“In the early twenty-first century, American industry continues to rely on immigrants as the source of the least expensive labour. Suppressing wages is a way for business and industry to compete with ubiquitous subcontracting and outsourcing of production (Kwong, 1997: 10). The low cost of illegal immigrant labour and trafficked labour in such enterprises as agriculture and construction tends to depress wages for legal immigrants as well as for citizen labourers.” (Wheaton, Schauer, & Galli, 2010)

As Wheaton, Shauer, and Galli point out in the above quote, seemingly legitimate corporations too engage in human smuggling. The goal is not only to have workers, but keep wages lowered among all workers. So, again the issue comes down to money. As long as there is money to be made on the backs of others there will be slavery of some form or another. That is just a sad fact of life on earth.

But the issue of human trafficking runs even deeper than just global economics.

Vohs, Mead, & Goode (2006) found that when people had money they tended to feel more independent. Naturally. Who does not know that, right? But they also found that ample money had the effect of causing people to withdraw from normal interactions with others to the extent that they became more self-serving. Researching this trend further, in the team discovered some startling facts. Testing subjects in various interpersonal settings, they variably introduced the element of money or not and found,

“Participants reminded of money were less helpful than were participants not reminded of money, and they also preferred solitary activities and less physical intimacy. On the other hand, reminders of money prompted participants to work harder on challenging tasks and led to desires to take on more work as compared to participants not reminded of money. In short, even subtle reminders of money elicit big changes in human behavior.” Vohs, Mead, & Goode (2008)

In other words, when money was no object, people were more socially aware and cooperative, but when money played a role in their interactions, they tended to be less concerned with the well-being of others but more task-driven. Applying this research to globalization and human trafficking, we can understand how those driven to obtain wealth can become monsters to their fellow man (or woman, as is most often the case).

Who are Most Vulnerable to Global Human Trafficking?

Anyone desperate for a better life is vulnerable to the efforts of human traffickers. At any given time around the world, economies are depressed and inflation eats away at earnings. Where a year ago an economy was thriving, today the people may experience massive unemployment. Where an economy was stagnant just last week, a business may now thrive. In part because of globalization, economic conditions shift almost daily.

Because of the constantly shifting economic conditions, uncertainty resides in the hearts of many, even Western Nations. In fact, no nation is immune to this uncertainty. There is a saying which may be useful here.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

USAID Human Trafficking Symposium, Sept. 16, 2...
USAID Human Trafficking Symposium, Sept. 16, 2009 — Actress and UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu spoke out against human trafficking and lauded USAID efforts to increase awareness. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This saying reminds us that no matter where we are, we have a tendency to believe things are better elsewhere. This attitude accounts for many of the drastic changes people take in their lives. For instance, in America and many of the Western Industrialized nations divorce rates are soaring. Could it be because when things get tough in the relationship, people look elsewhere rather than work to retain what they have? The grass does look greener elsewhere. Too, in some parts of America, the economy is thriving and people are constantly changing jobs, always looking for the better job but always getting more of the same, never improving their financial status.

Taking this philosophy a step further, many people living in such places as Mexico, Asia, Europe, Russia, and elsewhere look to America as a desirable place in which to live, grow fortunes, and thrive.

Yet, the reality is that the economic conditions that made the United States strong no longer exist. Anti-immigration attitudes sweep the land, economic uncertainty continues unabated, shifts in the political winds constantly alter the fiscal landscape, and the causes of income disparities continue to erode wealth for some while increasing it for others.

The grass is no longer greener in the United States, which is why so many immigrants to America are now leaving the country (Hirsch, 2012). Could it be that the Wall President Donald Trump proposes is intended to keep people IN rather than Out (Connolly, 2017)?

The People Most Vulnerable to Human Trafficking Efforts

English: A chart showing positive correlation ...
English: A chart showing positive correlation between level of human trafficking in countries and number of female children out of primary school. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Putting aside the reality that many immigrants are leaving America and a record number of expats living abroad have chosen to denounce their U.S. citizenship (McPhillips, 2017), the United States remains a favorite for many living in impoverished lands. These are largely ignorant of the realities of life in America and it is this ignorance, this long-standing belief in the American dream that drives many into the welcoming arms of human traffickers.

The most common groups are women and children. In fact, more than half of those trafficked are children, 80% of which are female. These are most often sold into sexual slavery worldwide, frequently in so-called civilized nations. In fact, in the United States, the average age a prostitute begins working is 13, many of whom are held in abject captivity to pay off their debt to those who “helped” them enter the country illegally.

When caught, these children are often treated as criminals and subjected to further abuse before being returned to their home countries where their lives only get worse (ProCon, 2017). If they manage to remain in the county to which they were taken by their captors, they never escape the debt and remain sexual slaves for life. Some escape only by taking the only thing they have left, their lives.

Organizations and Efforts to Stop Human Trafficking

The United Nations calls human trafficking “A Crime that shames us all.” That is a good way to look at it. Think. If those who engaged in human trafficking were not ashamed, they would not hide their efforts but instead, work to get their operations legalized. Instead, organized criminal groups operate in the shadows often nestled within legal corporations, some of which are aware of the illicit nature of their business partners, some of which are not.

A UN protocol signed into effect by 111 nations in 2007 reads,

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;” (UN, 2007)

Because of the global nature of human trafficking, no single nation can make an impact on the trade. The United Nations is the only organization in a position to adequately fight the scourge of global slavery, but it lacks the teeth to do so.

In late 2016, President Barack Obama reiterated the U.S. commitment to United Nations programs (Pomper, 2016). But that was then.

Human trafficking. Main origin (red) and desti...
Human trafficking. Main origin (red) and destination countries (blue). Data from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2006 report ( (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shortly after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, world leaders at the United Nations waited anxiously to learn his attitude toward the organization. Republicans have traditionally opposed the UN, often rejecting any programs as a matter of blind, political policy. Naturally, world diplomats were apprehensive. To be sure, Mr. Trump has made comments that appear to hold a positive view of the organization, but on inspection have more to do with offers to renovate the buildings. Mr. Trump is best-known for his world-class properties (Sengupta & Gladstone, 2016).

Yet on a variety of issues on the United Nations radar, Mr. Trump has already shown himself to be opposed to the organization’s efforts. Some of these include (Sengupta & Gladstone, 2016):

  • Climate change
  • The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
  • Refugees and Migrants
  • The Iran Nuclear Agreement
  • Human Rights and Torture
  • The International Arms Trade Agreement
  • Lifting Sanctions on Cuba

Given the hostility that President Donald Trump displays towards the United Nation of these issues and his known hostility towards women’s rights, there is little doubt he will oppose efforts to curb human trafficking.

Does the United Nations Need the United States’ Support?

Given that the United Nations receives most of its financial support from the United States, is located in Manhattan, New York, and the U.S. tops every major council, the organization does need the U.S. to survive. In fact, many within the organization and in the press believe that the U.S. Republican Party is planning to use President Trump’s angst of the UN and their control of both the House and Senate as a way to dismantle the organization (Seddon, 2017).

If this happens, there will be no global organization with the means to fight human trafficking. The human toll will be devastating in many ways, especially in democratic nations with free-market economies.

What Role Does Democracy and Free-Market (Capitalist) Economics Play in Global Human Trafficking?

The rise of democracy as a global force is bringing massive shifts in economic conditions worldwide. Combined with Free-Market economics, the concept yields conditions which are ripe for exploitation. Why?

Once again, the law of supply and demand answers this question. This law is at the heart of any economic system, but the nature of both capitalism and democracy allow for increased exploitation of the most vulnerable people in any society. Add to this the hunger for money, wealth, and power which fuels Free Market economies and efforts to stop human trafficking and slavery nearly always fail (Molloy, 2016). As noted by Geracoulis (2012),

“Increasingly, commodities produced by slave labor such as cotton, bananas, rice, coffee, tea, chocolate, bricks, fashion accessories and electronics reign in the US market. The Better World Shopper, a research organization that ranks corporations based on a corporation’s social and environmental practices, publishes information on more than 1,000 corporations. Walmart, Chevron, GE, Citibank and Nestle, turn up at the top of its worst offenders list.”

Yes, decisions are often made per the “bottom line” rather than per the morality of the choice. Free Market economics permits such choices.

Add then that element of Free Market economics which seeks to keep government out of the business of business and the stage is set for rampant exploitation of humans. Little surprise then that along with the increase of Democracy and Free Market economics through globalization, a corresponding increase in human trafficking is taking place.

Why do Most Efforts to Stop Global Human Trafficking Continue to Fail?

Democracy itself is a noble and fine ideal. Democracy provides power to the masses to decide matters of justice. This works well when the masses come together to resolve a problem facing the whole of society. But when the masses are apathetic to an issue, it continues to fester and slowly undermine social constructs. This can be said of human trafficking, which is running rampant throughout the world yet hardly lands on the radar of the average person: They simply do not care. It is a problem for someone else, someone in some foreign land not my own seems to be the attitude. So, little is really done to stop the practice.

One of the biggest reasons efforts to stop global human trafficking continue to fail is apathy. When people fail to see the harm in a practice, when a certain practice does not directly impact their lives, they tend to simply ignore the practice. It is not for direct lack of caring, but rather because they cannot see why the issue is important to them.

The adage, WIIFM applies here.

English: Prostitutes in front of a gogo bar in...
English: Prostitutes in front of a gogo bar in Pattaya, Thailand. Original text: Like slaves on an auction block waiting to be selected, victims of human trafficking have to perform as they are told or risk being beaten. Sex buyers often claim they had no idea that most women and girls abused in prostitution are desperate to escape, or are there as a result of force, fraud, or coercion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WIIFM is a sales acronym which means, What’s In It For Me. It is used largely by sales managers and motivators to teach new sales reps how to reach the core motivations of a prospect. In other words, if a sales rep can get a prospect to understand how they personally benefit from a product or service, they stand a far better chance of making the sale.

Politics and justice are no different. People must be sold on why an issue is important to them or they will offer little in the way of support for the effort even if they believe on a moral level they should. On the surface, failures to stop global human trafficking appear to be simple jurisdictional politics.

 “As a result of the underground nature of their trade, traffickers often manage to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. Heretofore, globalization has largely facilitated human trafficking while accordingly serving to impede counter-trafficking efforts. State-centered approaches to combat trafficking are proving obsolete and futile since human trafficking knows no state boundaries.” (Brewer, 2009)

A large part of the reason for this lay in the nature of Democracy. Democracy allows people to both get involved with issues they believe are important as well as put serious issues off on others–it is a form of ‘cop-out.’ Democracy allows people to ease their conscience in serious matters by allowing others to take care of it. And if the larger society does not rectify an issue, then all are responsible.

Finding ways to get the global community to drop borders and permit cooperation between law enforcement agencies to combat a problem harming millions living everywhere who are from everywhere becomes no one’s problem. Democracy allows this.

This is the same reason that so-called good people will do bad things during a riot. Mob mentality allows people to commit heinous acts or to allow heinous acts to go unpunished. Democracy tends to breed this kind of group insanity.

That said, Democracy is still the best answer for solving the globalized problem of human trafficking.

What Can be Done by the Global Community to Stop Human Trafficking/Slavery?

Trafficking of women, children and men
Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To be sure, money, the desire for wealth, and lust for power are key drivers of human trafficking. U.S. Aid is an organization working hard to stop global human trafficking. To that end, the National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct was launched in December 2016 to encourage major corporations to take the lead in reducing slave labor (USAid, 2017).

In an article titled, 15 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking, the United States State Department offered practical tips for anyone interested in stopping human trafficking. The overarching point of this article is that citizens must get involved. We cannot do nothing. We cannot sit back and let someone else decide. We must be actively engaged and pushing elected representatives to do the same.

Just as Democracy can be used to permit globalized efforts to continue human trafficking, Democracy has the teeth to stop it. Whether it is allowed to continue is up to the people of the world, collectively, regardless of nationality, religion, political ideology, or any other contrived division we may apply to ourselves. We are a global community now.

We are a global community now. Like it or not, globalization is here. Whether we embrace it to the betterment of the world or fight it to our own destruction is up to us. One thing is certain: Globalization is having a huge impact on human trafficking. What that impact is depends on US.