The new global slave trade

More people are being trafficked across borders against their will now than at any point in the past, says Ethan B. Kapstein in U.S. Foreign Affairs.

Although exact slave trade figures are difficult to come by, experts estimate:

  • Some 600,000-800,000 people are subjected to human trafficking across borders each year.

  • This number does not include the many millions of people who are held as forced labourers within their home countries.

  • Taking those individuals into account, the total number of people grows to 12 million.

  • Approximately 80 per cent of today's slaves on the global market are female, and up to 50 per cent are under the age of 18.

    Unfortunately, conventional tactics, such as legalising prostitution to ease demand for female slaves, or promoting economic development in poor countries have proved futile, says Kapstein. Rather, developed countries need to focus on a few concrete actions that could have a real impact in the short run, for example:

  • Naming and shaming of traders and the governments that support them; more awareness of documents like the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report could help.

  • Better confrontation of countries on the State Departments list of Tier 2 and Tier 3 lists – countries where compliance is weak or nonexistent – and imposing economic sanctions on them if they do not act to ban human trafficking.

  • More empowerment by western police, intelligence and military forces to act much more aggressively against those who traffic in humans.

    As long as slavers continue to face only mild penalties from a handful of countries – and none from the rest – they can be expected to continue their work, undermining in the process the legal and ethical foundations of the global economy.

    Source: Ethan B. Kapstein, The New Global Slave Trade, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2006.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 05 December 2006
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