The Rise in Trafficking of African Footballer Players

There are 12 current FIFA investigations into false identification documents for young African football players trafficked to Europe
There are 12 current FIFA investigations into false identification documents for young African football players trafficked to Europe

The exploitation of aspiring young African footballer players is being analysed as a rising channel of human trafficking. Boys on the West Coast of Africa, along with their families living in various degrees of poverty, are sold into a form of ‘debt ​bondage​’ through the dream of playing for a European league, in which their fortunes would be immense. With premier European football transfers reaching 200 million Euros, the attaining a cut of this fee is being seen as a lucrative business opportunity.  Following recent African football heroes such as Stephen Appiah, now a multimillionaire who began as an academy player of Ghana, there scouts from European clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco looking for talented players within the developing world. Although aiming to provide opportunity for talented players, the chances of selection for the majority remain disproportionately slim as the selection process is based on a system of privilege and club prejudice. However, aspiration to these African football idols is used by local football ‘agents’ as a ‘realistic opportunity’ to leverage poor African families to spend their life savings and limited resources to pay agents from football academies around $3,000 per player to promise passage to Europe and signing by a big club

In attempted replica of the few legitimate academies that successful African footballers used, a number of illegitimate clubs or unlicensed ‘academies’ have begun to develop mostly in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. Often, the agents themselves claim to be ex-pro players, yet have false resumes and limited knowledge of the game or the professional football selection process. In many cases they present binding contracts where agents are guaranteed a majority cut of their potential success, as well as require payment for all intermediate consultation and logistic services. Such fees are extortionate ​in relation to the families’ financial situation, where houses, family heirlooms, jewellery is often resorted to as payment. Furthermore, because of the devotion to this opportunity, boys are pulled out of education or any other form of skill development, which narrows their chance of economic prosperity in any other field.

The reality is that in many cases for these boys to get to Europe, they would have to be trafficked or smuggled by the agents via extremely dangerous routes, using illegal identification documentation obtained through domestic corruption. On arrival in Europe, given the illegitimacy of the clubs they come from, the chances of the players getting a professional trial are very slim. In some cases, they are provided with this opportunity, however as reported by Italian authorities, the fake documentation they have will jeopardise the opportunity for their selection – as seen by the current 12 investigations into FIFA rule violations for this purpose. Furthermore, if they do not succeed in their tr​ial ​or become injured, the young boys are commonly abandoned or refuse to return home because of the shame to their families. This form of trafficking is a growing epidemic as the footballers are left homeless, poor and resorting to street trading or petty crime. The agents are exploiting  families by selling them false hope, because despite the world-class skill and potential of the players, the probability of their success through these illegitimate channels is highly unlikely.

Child Labour is Prominent in Tobacco Production Supply Chains

A farmworker rests while harvesting tobacco at Dormervale farm, east of Harare, Zimbabwe, on November 28, 2017. (Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)
Photo Credit: A farmworker rests while harvesting tobacco at Dormervale farm, east of Harare, Zimbabwe, on November 28, 2017. (Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

Claiming to be ‘ethically sourced’, tobacco fields are one of the biggest cash crops in the developing world yet have one of the most corrupt supply chains. Tobacco farms are worked on by children labouring excessive hours for minimal or no pay, while tobacco companies reap the multi-billion dollar benefits of the industry.

Human Rights Watch conducted research in Zimbabwe in 2017, which revealed children aged 12 – 17 are employed for tobacco harvesting and processing. They reported negative health affects including nicotine poisoning, pesticide exposure, carcinogen exposure and associated immune defects, yet the workers and farmers themselves were ignorant as to the cause of their regular sickness. Despite the ongoing social consequences of child labour including exemption from education, tobacco farm labour is not regulated as ‘dangerous work for children’ in Zimbabwe.

On our analysis, this is problematic not only because of the short-term consequences on the health and social rights of the workers, but also as it fuels the longer-term demand for the toxic, pollutant and addictive recourse. This demand is rising in the vulnerable areas of Asia, Africa while decreasing in the West due to education, taxation and policy restrictions. Abolition of child agricultural labour is a high policy agenda for the new Zimbabwean government, and a fundamental step in promotion of a stable democracy throughout other developing states that are also the production sources of tobacco.

For the full report on A Bitter Harvest: Child Labor and Human Rights Abuses on Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe, read here. 

Human Trafficking Infiltration Success in L​atin America and the Caribbean​

​Image Credit: BBC - INTERPOL Operation Liber​a​tad saved victims in 13 different countries - all photos were taken on an operation in Guyana
​Image Credit: BBC – INTERPOL Operation Liber​a​tad saved victims in 13 different countries – all photos were taken on an operation in Guyana

With a history of engrained widespread criminality, gang culture and drug trafficking, Latin America and the Caribbean has the framework in place for serious human trafficking cases that feed into the wider crime networks.

A significant 2.5 year anti-human trafficking project comes to a conclusion with approximately 350 victims having been rescued. Funded by the Canadian Government to address crimes in the region, Interpol lead the operation in which lead to 22 arrests.

Modern slavery is perpetrated through a variety of instances in the​ region. Victims were rescued from work in inhumane conditions, from markets, mines, farms​, to night clubs. Reports suggest some cases of forced labour were of gruelling nature, particularly in the sex trade. For example in Guyana prostitutes are forced to work on isolated goldmines, completely vulnerable, no change to escape and difficult to track. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was a hotspot for Asian trafficking victims working in factories having their passports held and forcing them into ‘complete dependence’.

On analysis of these cases, in th​e​se​ region victims are most commonly recruited when they are immigrating or moving out of economic necessity, both internationally and domestically. Some however remain ignorant to the fact they are being exploited, as they come from situations of desperation. Once they have been rescued, NGOs play a significant role in victim care, psychological rehabilitation, and ​assisting in ​cooperating  with  law enforcement​.​ This also illiterates how multi jurisdiction collaboration between law enforcement organisations is key to infiltrating criminal networks.

For the full report on 350 victims rescued in Caribbean and Latin America by the BBC, read here.

Tighter Laws Needed for Business Registration to Combat Human Trafficking

Photo credit: Polaris Project, Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses
Photo credit: Polaris Project, Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses

A Polaris Project report has highlighted the current systems of ‘corporate secrecy’ as an inhibitor to exposing human trafficking networks. As a primary example, cases of illicit massage parlour businesses ‘flourish in secrecy’ due to the laws surrounding business registration, and the legal obfuscation of names of owners associated with businesses.

9000 parlours were analysed by a 2018 Polaris study in the United States, of which 6000 had no business records at all. 21% of these had an associated name listed, with no legal requirements to prove the identity legitimate. Although the current system lends towards business ownership anonymity at both a state and federal level, it is evident that this provides the opportunity for trafficking ring leaders to shield their identity, significantly limiting the capacity for regulation, enforcement and prosecution of traffickers.

In particular, effective law enforcement requires tackling the ownership of front businesses, which feed into larger organised crime networks. Not having the sufficient information contributes to a pattern of victim arrests during police raids, where owners are rarely on premises and usually untraceable. In order for enforcement operations to be effective, there is a demand for a policy shift that tightens the means to start an ‘official’ business, and the legal identification of owners to be essential for corporate transparency.

For the full report on How Corporate Secrecy Facilitates Human Trafficking, read here.