Human Trafficking

Over a century and a half ago, slavery was abolished in the United States and it is illegal worldwide. Human trafficking, however, persists as a form of modern-day bondage. The United Nations defines human trafficking as a crime against humanity in which traffickers coerce people into performing labor or sexual acts against their will for the financial gain of the trafficker. It’s truly a global issue with victims and perpetrators all over the world. Although it is difficult to compile comprehensive data on the topic, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is certain it affects all the world’s regions and generates billions of dollars in illicit profits each year. The office also estimates that there are 2.5 million victims of human trafficking at any one time.

Human trafficking takes place in a variety of forms, including:

Forced Labor
Forced labor is a widespread form of human trafficking. A recruiter, transporter, and final employer are usually involved in the movement of people for this purpose. The trafficking victims endure a hazardous journey and, when they do reach their destination, are subject to low paying jobs in poor working conditions. In conflict countries, children as young as 8-years-old are sometimes kidnapped by government or rebel forces. They are forced to serve as soldiers on the front lines or are trapped into sexual slavery.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude
This is a type of forced labor wherein foreign migrants are recruited to come to more developed countries to work as domestic servants and caretakers. These workers, usually women, are not afforded legal protections and employers take advantage of gaps in the law. Workers are often sexually exploited or confined to their workplaces through physical restraint or confiscation of passports and travel visas.

Sex Trafficking
Sex trafficking involves recruiting, transporting, or paying for the services of a person to perform a forced commercial sex act. Women and girls make up a disproportionate amount of sex trafficking victims. Sex traffickers target vulnerable populations, such as people who have previously been abused, and use violence, threats, or other types of manipulation to trap victims in the sex trade.

International adoption has become increasingly popular, but corruption and loose international regulations have turned it into a form of human trafficking. Babies are often coerced, bought, or stolen  from their birth families, many of whom are poor or illiterate. Those involved in the procurement of babies, from adoption agencies to medical professionals, derive lucrative profit from the high fees adoptive parents are willing to pay for children.

Human trafficking activity isn’t always apparent, but more and more people are becoming involved in preventing this crime. The Pittsburgh region has organizations that are devoted to raising public awareness for human trafficking and providing services for victims. The Project to End Human Trafficking, led by Carlow University’s Dr. Mary Burke, pulls slavery into the public eye through educational lectures that focus on topics relating to human trafficking. Dr. Burke is also at the helm of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition. Local, state, and federal organizations, law enforcement officials, and citizens come together for monthly meetings and educational and prevention initiatives. Living in Liberty is a local safe house for victims of human trafficking. Clients have access to educators, lawyers, health care providers, and counselors to restore their physical and mental well being as well as help them toward self-sufficiency.

Numerous national and international organizations also work to spread the word about human trafficking and support its victims. The United Nations, Resolution Hope, and YWCA, among many others, all have programming and support research that address human trafficking. A Presidential Proclamation established January 2014 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and President Barack Obama called on businesses, organizations, and individuals across the world to take action against modern-day slavery, something he calls a “global tragedy”.

Whether a woman from Malawi is sold to a brothel in the United Kingdom, a baby from Peru is “adopted” by a family in the United States, or Cambodian domestic workers are being imprisoned in the Malaysian homes in which they were recruited to work, human trafficking isn’t confined to certain countries or specific industries. However, as citizens of an increasingly globalized world, we have the power to take action against modern-day slavery. As consumers, we can choose to buy from companies that have slave-free supply chains. U.S. technology company Intel Corp. recently announced that its processors are free of minerals from mines held by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Patagonia, a clothing company based in Ventura, California, is debuting a line of clothing made in factories socially and environmentally monitored and certified by Fair Trade USA. Organizations such as Products of Slavery detail products made by child labor and forced labor, many of which you may unknowingly buy or consume regularly. Conscious purchasing decisions are just one of the ways to hold governments, companies, and yourself responsible for human trafficking and its global implications.

In an effort to raise awareness for this international issue, the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Filmmakers are hosting a screening of Not My Life, a documentary focused on human trafficking and modern slavery across five continents. Visit our website or Facebook event to learn more and register for the January 27th screening.

By: Ciara O’Connor, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern