The pressure of unprecedented globalisation has meant that human trafficking and modern day slavery are inescapable realities of our political system. Commodification of the human body and global inequality produce the environment for human trade.
From Pope Francis declaring human trafficking as a “crime against humanity” to forced labour in Thailand’s seafood industry, the issue of human trafficking has been contemplated in 2014 in a way that it has not been before. Contemplation, however, does not effectively tackle the unfavourable issue of human trafficking; neither does it halt the growing vulnerability of migrants in a period of brisk economic change.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has outlined the present situation of human trafficking. The report discusses countless statistics, analysing human trafficking in a way that sheds light on its distinctive forms and typical features. Perhaps its most informative contribution is how it breaks down the issue, which helps to disclose why it is arduous and tricky to fix.
Modern-day slavery takes the form of complex and well-organised trafficking flows, sustained by large and efficient criminal groups.
Being entirely transnational in nature, it is crucial to note that no country is exempt from modern day slavery.
Whether as a transit, destination or origin country, the report frames the statistics for 2014, and reveals that the problem remains as universal as ever.
The report does however have certain limitations, which makes it difficult to properly sum up the action taken to combat the problem of human trafficking in the past year. Strikingly, the report uses information largely taken from the years 2011 to 2012, despite attempting to provide an overview for a much more recent time period. Furthermore, its main source of information is statistical criminal justice data reported to the UNODC by member states. Complementing this are cases of trafficking in persons recently prosecuted. As member states are liable to use discretion when providing evidence, the information in the report is limited by its very nature. These factors coupled together entail that the report is not sufficient as a summary of human trafficking in 2014, and thus it is the task of the new year to bring with it action toward a revised and updated narrative on the progress of human trafficking and modern day slavery.
Taking its drawbacks into account, UNODC’s report does point towards the main areas of human trafficking which are likely to remain imperative when tackling this issue in 2015 .
One is the problem of impunity. Already out-dated evidence shows that over the previous ten years from the point when the report was conceived there was no discernible increase in convictions as a result of human trafficking. Moreover, 10 per cent of countries recorded few or no convictions. This does not however signify that the trafficking in persons has decreased; rather it reflects the difficulties of the criminal justice system in responding to what is highly organised and thus intricate crime. If anything the phenomenon of human trafficking is set to become more, not less, evident yet difficult to record.
Globalisation has both created more influential ‘pull’ factors as the disparity between rich and poor nations becomes increasingly visible. It has also instigated increased mobility which has the effect of improving transportation: making the mobility of people both faster and cheaper. Both these developments mean that in 2015, increased awareness and more flexible criminal justice systems must be implemented, in order to allow those to be prosecuted for the crimes that they have committed.
As well as a more recent investigation into the statistics surrounding human trafficking, this report must remain impartial and not subject to political influence. The US Tier System is an example of how politics must remain separate from tackling the issue of human trafficking in persons. The controversial upgrading of China from Tier 3 is an example of the significant influence international relations can wield in information gathered in reports such as this one. China continues to fail on three core areas of protection, prevention and prosecution. Yet as an upcoming major power, China seems to be given a certain degree of special treatment. The New Year must see increased investigation on the statistical evidence of human trafficking in persons, yet it is crucial that such evidence remains impartial and not influenced by the international relations and political perspectives of certain nations.
Finally, human trafficking as a political reality will feel the ramifications of the on-going debate surrounding the decriminalization of prostitution. The increasing popularity of the ‘Swedish Model’ has seen a backlash where proponents of sex workers’ rights insist that only the decriminalization of prostitution will mean that sex workers can enjoy better and safer conditions. Whatever the outcome, the human trafficking industry, which sees much of its action in the area of sexual exploitation, will be affected by the result of this dispute. Will the actions taken in Sweden entail that human trafficking is driven away by increased prosecution, and act as an effective measure in ensuring that cases that surround human trafficking are brought to justice? Or will decriminalization, as practised in New Zealand, allow for more resources to be devoted to those exploited? Only time will tell.