From stadium construction to the games themselves: human trafficking and modern slavery is prevalent in the sporting sector


Sport can provide the context for human trafficking

When the words ‘sport’ and ‘human trafficking’ are put together it immediately conjures images of the use of forced labour to construct stadiums or work as hospitality staff at events, or even trafficked sex workers being exploited by organised criminals to make an income on the vast number of people gathering in a particular area. However, human trafficking can be found in other areas of sport also; trafficking of athletes.

Media reports often discuss the issue of trafficking athletes with respect to young boys being trafficked from Africa with the promise of a successful football career. Reports from 2018 placed the value of European football at over 20 billion Euros, with English teams accounting for almost a quarter of this, making it an incredibly alluring industry for those in poverty elsewhere in the world. The victims are often forced to pay a large sum up front before being transported to another country. The end countries are often far away from the major European stadiums that were promised, the destinations often including countries such as Nepal for the ease of acquiring visas. Whilst these issues are often discussed in relation to the football industry, it is in no way limited to football, and can be found in track and field sports, hockey, and camel racing in the Middle East.

A useful distinction when discussing athlete trafficking, and in particular trafficking in the football industry, is the difference between trafficking in football/sport and trafficking through football/sport. This distinction was introduced by Poli (2010, Cited by Esson and Drywood) as follows:

  1. Trafficking in football/sport: The individual is moved to the a destination country where they have their money and documents confiscated and controlled. They may be forced to sign an exploitative contract which is then further used to control them.
  2. Trafficking through football/sport: The individual is drawn into paying for transport to a foreign country with the allure of a promising career, though upon arrival they are abandoned.

Generally, most of the recent media cases related to athlete trafficking fit within one of these two distinctions. Whether there is an exploitative contract at the destination or not. However, some criticism of the second category, trafficking through sport, has arisen as to whether the abandonment in the destination country constitutes exploitation for the purposes of the UN definition of human trafficking.

Outside of the illegal exploitation of vulnerable young people from economically deprived backgrounds there have been criticisms of legitimate bodies acting either just outside, or within the deliberately ‘grey’ area of, the rules. These concerns particularly arise over the international transfer of young people between sporting clubs, which under the right conditions could amount to human trafficking, and there have been several high profile cases involving the ‘sale’ of children in a sporting context for the purpose of sexual exploitation. However, the market demands of these usual industry practices has raised concerns that they may operate contrary to the best interests of the children involved more generally. In the context of football, despite the introduction of regulations targeting the international transfer of child players to limit potential cases of trafficking, there have been continued instances of international transfers of children. International transfers, though not always constituting human trafficking, can treat children as commercial commodities. Consequently, these practices are not in the children’s best interests or welfare, especially when considered in respect of the UN Convention of the Rights of a Child. Since these practices are more likely to occur within major legitimate corporate structures, and possibly even within a regulatory framework, isolating instances of human trafficking may be much harder than the cases involving debt bondage and agreements made on false promises

With trafficking of athletes increasingly in the spotlight there has been some criticism of the labour practices involving young athletes taking college sporting scholarships. College sports scholarships have in some ways been likened to modern slavery practices, with athletes being paid what amounts to a very low hourly rate for many hours of their time training and competing. Furthermore, the necessity of their scholarship to their future—many of these athletes coming from more deprived backgrounds— and strict requirements of amateurism can lead to excessive measures of control by scholarship funders and little opportunity for the players to leave their contracts. However, it is unclear from current reporting on the issue whether the exact conditions college sports scholars are under constitute coercion sufficient to amount to modern slavery.

Overall, it is clear that there are many different ways in which human trafficking can manifest in the context of sport. Though there has been no discussion of the links between forced labour, construction, and major sporting events, or the links between sporting events and sexual exploitation, these are important issues to account for. When forced labour and sexual exploitation are also included it is clear that the sporting sector is one at high risk of human trafficking and modern slavery. The conditions for human trafficking can occur under the traditional ‘push and pull’ of economic deprivation and a ‘way out’ and appear congruent with traditional concepts of human trafficking. But human trafficking in sport can also occur within the legitimate structures of sports player transfers, particularly transfers of children, without proper safeguards for their welfare and best interests.

Modern Slavery Act 2018- What does it do?

Photo Credit: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre; Lauri Väin

New Modern Slavery Act 2018 in Australia introduces strict reporting requirements for businesses among other key objectives.

There has been significant interest recently over the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (MSA) in Australia, and its likely coming into force in early 2019. The act will carry with it significant thresholds for businesses to meet in terms of reporting requirements. But what is the new act?

Section 3 (Part 1) of the MSA 2018 details the main objectives of the act are to:

  • Combat modern slavery,
  • Provide assistance and support for victims,
  • Establish an Anti-Slavery Commissioner,
  • Provide for detection and exposure of modern slavery,
  • Raise community awareness and provide education on modern slavery,
  • Encourage collaborative cross-sector and multi-agency responses,
  • Introduce provisions for the ongoing assessment of anti-slavery laws,
  • Criminalise forced marriage,
  • and, penalise further involvement in cybersex trafficking and CSE.


Statistically reports of  modern slavery in Australia are low in comparison to other countries, but there are concerns this is because of a lack of awareness on the matter. As part of this, there are concerns that businesses are not fully aware of the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains. Part of the act focuses on supply chain transparency, and appears to be heavily oriented towards tackling these issues. The focus on business accountability and corporate supply chains suggests a main focus on forced labour, which is not unsurprising given forced labour accounted for approximately half of all modern slavery cases in the ILO’s 2016 statistics. However, the objective statements of the act regarding forced marriage and child exploitation demonstrate the wide reaching and comprehensive aims of the act to eradicate modern slavery in all forms.

A link to the act itself can be found here.

New article considers modern slavery to be a public health concern: but how has the healthcare sector approached the problem?

Healthcare responses to human trafficking

On the 26th February 2019 the British Medical Journal published an article entitled ‘Modern Slavery: A Global Public Health Concern‘ that identified that “health professionals are well placed to identify and advocate for victims“. This article analyses some of the current health care responses to modern slavery and which health care professionals can help provide a comprehensive response.
In 2012 the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a document on human trafficking that addressed some of the public health concerns of human trafficking, highlighting that:

… evidence on health and human trafficking is extremely limited…” (p.2)

The document noted that most of the 16 studies consulted had focused on sex trafficking with only two that looked at forced labour, overall recommending that health care providers increased their capacity to identify and respond to human trafficking, and that urgent research needed to be done on modern slavery and trafficking in men so that more comprehensive responses could be made.
Since 2012, medical authorities and institutions, such as the Royal College of Nursing and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have incorporated a number of policies, documents, and professional resources to help identify and appropriately categorise instances of human trafficking and modern slavery. The WHO authorised an adaption of the ICD-10 for use by the US government, and it is this tool that the CDC have added new codes to for the purposes of reporting suspected cases and examination and observation of victims of trafficking.
It is well recognised now that medical and health professionals play a key role in targeting human trafficking and modern slavery, and organisations such as HEAL have released a variety of training resources and toolkits to help different health professionals in responding to human trafficking. These health professionals can be drawn from any health sector, including counsellors and psychologists, doctors, nurses, first responders, dentists and many others. These key moves towards mobilising the healthcare sector in combating human trafficking and modern slavery represent a significant addition to the global effort to eradicating modern slavery and human trafficking; which effects an estimated 40 million people globally. Multi agency and cross sector responses, from active investigations to supporting survivors, is vital to an effective and comprehensive response to such a major humanitarian crisis. The trend of increasing awareness and active responses in the healthcare sector adds a significant dimension to global anti-trafficking and anti-slavery efforts.

Access to the articles can be found here. The full article citation is:

Such, E., Walton, E., Bonvoisin, T. and Stoklosa, H. (2019) Modern Slavery: A Global Public Health Concern. British Medical Journal. 364, p.1838.

Victims of modern slavery at risk of homelessness – Homeless at risk of becoming victims of modern slavery

Homelessness and Destitution
Significant links can be found between modern slavery, human trafficking and homelessness. In 2017 the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner‘s Office published a report entitled ‘Understanding and Responding to Modern Slavery within the Homelessness Sector’, which followed a 2016 exploratory survey conducted in conjunction with the homelessness charity ‘The Passage‘. The main findings, which have since been re-published in The Passage’s 2018 Anti-Slavery Handbook, primarily suggested that those who are homeless and destitute are at significant risk of exploitation, and those victims of slavery are at risk of becoming homeless without proper provision of long term support strategies; accommodation has been identified as one of the most pressing provisions required for victims of modern slavery by other homelessness charities.
The report found that:
“… the majority of homelessness organisations (64% of survey respondents) have, to varying degrees, encountered potential cases of modern slavery…” (p.10)
And that whilst there is a degree of recording and there is certainly some awareness of the problem:
 …data on the numbers of potential victims of modern slavery [within the homelessness sector] is lacking or unreliable. This is either a result of a lack of recording or of a lack of information” (p. 10)
Aside from the issues in reporting, which were noted as needing improvement in their accuracy and reliability, there was a clear need from the report that greater co-operation was required across different agencies to comprehensively tackle the two overlapping issues. One of the current issues noted by the report is that the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) required reports to come from a designated first responder, which most homelessness charities are not. This causes unnecessary delays, as noted by the report, and clearly demonstrates the need for multi-agency responses, or reforms to the NRM so that a broader spectrum of organisations may act as first responders for a crime that can effect anyone from any background.
Since the report there have been a variety of handbooks and advice documents produced specifically targeting the issue of homelessness and modern slavery;  from both Non Governmental and Governmental organisations, for a wide range of groups and organisations that may come across modern slavery in the homelessness sector, targeting both homelessness resulting from modern slavery or slavery resulting from homelessness.
Given the vulnerability of homeless individuals becoming victims of modern slavery, and the risk of slavery victims becoming homeless, the importance of multi-agency responses to both issues to avoid situations where individuals undergo continual cycles of exploitation is clear.  As such, more research into the overlap between homelessness and modern slavery, both in terms of the nature and extent of the overlap and the effectiveness of responses, is greatly required.


Links to the full report and a short summary of the findings can be found on our e-learning page here.

Europol’s Role in Combating Child Trafficking

Europol plays a critical role in combating crime rings within Europe through international cooperation. It provides a centre for law enforcement expertise and international data exchange. Combating human trafficking is one of its five core security priorities, with an aim to disrupt organised crime groups involved in the trafficking of people in and out of the EU. Trafficking is often disguised by legal business structures that directly or indirectly facilitate exploitation. The report, Criminal Networks Involved in the Trafficking and Exploitation of Underage Victims in the European Union analyses data from Europol’s 2015 – 2017 findings in relation to child trafficking.

Although a wide demographic is affected by human trafficking, minors are the most extremely vulnerable sector of society. Children are often lured into sexual, labour or other forms of exploitation, and as a result suffer severe physical and psychological damage.

Unaccompanied minors that may be in the process of migration or orphans, are common trafficking victims that need protection from state and law enforcement actors. However one of the most concerning complexities within the regulation of child trafficking, is the role of families in facilitating the sale or exploitation of their own children. The ‘private’ nature of families forms a protective shield against reporting or disclosure of the child’s wellbeing.

In a similar respect, legal businesses such as brothels, red light districts, sex clubs, within some EU states facilitate the exploitation of minor victims. However recruitment processes are shifting, with the use of online advertisement of sexual services being used as a major platform for the exploitation of children, whereby they are ‘sold’ as adults. Cyber security is another core sector of focus for Europol that intercepts with the issue of child trafficking.

Document and identity fraud for fake identification of minors is a core component of child trafficking to conceal the minor’s real age. In tracing the international movement of victims and traffickers, Europol plays a key role working between EU states to intercept organised crime gangs working internationally.

It is clear that Europol’s role in EU state to state data sharing and law enforcement cooperation is critical. The consequences of Brexit must be considered in terms of regulating international security threats. The UK is the second largest contributor to Europol’s information systems, and currently leads the teams on human trafficking and modern slavery. Ceasing the UK’s involvement in Europol’s affairs may have downstream effects on the capacity to respond effectively to such issues.

Organ Trafficking and Trafficking in Persons for the Purpose of Organ Removal

Since the life saving medical phenomena of organ transplantation was developed, the value in which people will pay for functioning organs has been recognised by global crime rings. With the new medical capacity comes an increasing demand, and therefore increasing profitability of organs for transplantation. Faced with a major scarcity in organs versus the demand for them, the black market for organ trafficking and trafficking in persons for organ removal rose at the beginning of the 20th century.

Illegal transplantation is a highly dangerous and exploitative practice, leaving the victims often with a lifetime of health consequences. The WHO estimates 10% of global organ transplantations are illegal each year. With a growing market, it is estimated the organ trade generates  $840 million to $1.7 billion annually, according to Global Financial Integrity. These estimates are due to the illicit nature of the crime, it is impossible to account for unreported cases – a dilemma that leaves enforcement fairly low. Relative to the legal demand and supply of organs however, kidney transplantation is significantly most common on the black market. The WHO estimates 10,000 kidneys are traded annually, followed by liver, heart and lung transplantations.

UNODC make clear the need to differentiate between the terms organ trafficking or trafficking in organs and trafficking in persons for organ removal. The definition of trafficking in persons for organ removal is included in the international convention they honour, the Trafficking in Persons Protocol:  

According to Article 3(a) of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol ‘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’.

However the terms trafficking in organs or organ trafficking is not included and therefore treated as a crime to be dealt with independently.

The practice of organ trafficking is distinct from other forms of human trafficking due to the distinct feature of technical medical ability needed to undergo the procedures, particularly if the organ donor is living. This makes it difficult to understand and trace if legal professionals become involved. With ethical and moral implications of this practice at all stages, it must be undergone in strict legal manor. However, standards of patient privacy are likely to prevent medical professionals from reporting patients with an illegal organ. Yet regulations for physicians include transparency with patients, and a framework for reporting colleagues involved in illegal transplantation.

Bound with ethical implications, legislation must safeguard the reporting practice of medical practitioners that come into contact with illegal organs. Furthermore, it is clear that a dedicated international convention is required to further encompass a definition of organ trafficking. This must include guidance on the criminalisation, prevention strategies, victim care recommendations. Targeting the financial sector for a transaction trail is a potential way to regulate this practice.

Competitiveness of Fashion Industry Driving Forced Labour in Supply Chains

As the fashion industry makes increasing mark on modern culture and consumerism, the implications of cheap clothing are becoming further understood. Despite the lure of cheap apparel, there are hidden costs often in terms of a ‘human cost’ within the supply chains and production lines, unseen to the retail environment. The fashion industry has been ranked 2nd in the top 5 global industries that drive modern slavery.

Labour exploitation is endemic and inevitable with such competitively priced end products relative to the cost of production. Like other industries, there are 3 major stakeholder groups that must work together for a comprehensive modern slavery response – 1) government and legal bodies, 2) business owners and 3) consumers.

UK government action against modern slavery is at all time high, with 920+ live investigations underway in September 2018. According to the UK Modern Slavery Act, companies that turnover over £36 million are obliged to produce annual Modern Slavery Statements which detail how each company is regulating and addressing labour abuses within their supply chains, such as child labour, excessive working hours and inadequate pay. However, we are still seeing gaps in this legislation where the obligations conflict with business interests, who are battling for higher sales in a competitive fashion market.

The business owners of major fashion brands in the UK including John Lewis, M&S, New Look, NEXT, River Island and Shop Direct are stepping up towards tackling the issue as the industry is facing growing pressure from external groups. These 6 brands have made a new agreement to tackle modern slavery within the textiles industry by committing to work with law enforcement, including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to address modern slavery within apparel supply chains. Their commitment includes raising awareness around worker abuses, protect at-risk and exploited employees, and root out modern slavery from their supply chains.

The top down government and legislation led approach to addressing labour abuses is critical, but falls short without compliance regulation and strict penalties. The competitiveness of the fashion market is continuing to overrule the moral obligation of many businesses to ensure supply chains are free from labour abuses. To thoroughly work towards eradicating modern slavery within the industry, there has to be a consumer led shift in the demand for low-priced unethical clothing, where major brands can influence through transparency and marketing campaigns for public awareness. 

Migration and Human Trafficking Public Awareness in Nigeria

IOM: Nigerian migrants stranded in Libya arrive in Lagos as part of IOM’s voluntary return and reintegration programme. 14 February 2017.
IOM: Nigerian migrants stranded in Libya arrive in Lagos as part of IOM’s voluntary return and reintegration programme. 14 February 2017.

In 2016, 37,550 Nigerians migrated to Italy, and many more unaccounted for did not survive the journey. As the number of African migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe increases and anti-immigration pressure is growing in Europe, more and more migrants are pushed to take illegal and high risk means. Often without much knowledge of the situations migrants are getting themselves into, they put themselves or their families at extreme risk of human trafficking, exploitation, immigration detention, sexual abuse, as well as physical dangers such as dying at sea.

The organisations including the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), National Commission For Refugees, Migrants and Internally displaced Peoples (NCFRMI) and Nigerian agency mandated with preventing human trafficking (NAPTIP) have launched a joint initiative of public awareness raising around the risks of migrant vulnerability to trafficking through public radio. They will air real testimonies of returned migrants and trafficking survivors who attempted to cross the Sahara desert or Mediterranean sea, give government and UN expert’s advice as well “promote social cohesion and deal with the issue of stigmatisation of returned migrants” according to the IOM.

For the full article, Nigeria: Awareness-raising radio show on perils and opportunities of migration, launched by UN agency read here. 

Control Mechanisms of Exploitation

Control Control Mechanisms of Exploitation

Modern slavery differs from the historic notion of slavery that implicates a restriction of ones freedom by chains and shackles, or more broadly control of another human being via physical or legal ownership. Although physical control still exists in illegal instances, the term ‘modern slavery’ encapsulates all forms of exploitation that happen to this day, and there are different control mechanisms that replace the physical handcuffs. The GLAA highlights three broad categories that often overlap: physical control, financial control and coercion that are used to restrict freedom and exploit people.

Physical Control
Despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declaring slavery illegal, there are cases where it still occurs through force or violence. For example in the UK, the infamous Rooney case where 18 workers were trafficked kept captive, working for little to no wages, physically abused, and in one case forced to ‘dig ones own grave’ if he did not agree to sign a contract for a lifetime of servitude.  Furthermore, a slave auction of migrants captured in Libya was brought to international media attention earlier this year, highlighting the extent to which people are being exploited under the mechanism of physical control in societies all around the world. In many cases, physical control can be exercised by confiscation of ID, passport or critical legal documentation, restricting the victims’ ability to leave their country of exploitation.

Financial Control
Financial control is an ever growing control mechanism of exploitation in modern societies. This may manifest in the form of debt bondage, where individuals or families give all their money or sell their assets to receive a false service or unjust return on their investment, either by deceit or out of desperation. This form of debt bondage is designed to be a life sentence and impossible to get out of due to the crippling interest rates, hence individuals must keep on working for free to ‘pay it off’. Forms of financial control are commonly being used to keep people in captivity by fraudulent trafficking and exploitation perpetrators. They may inflict on their workers undue or unreasonable fines, they may withhold their earnings, and or set up bank accounts which the worker cannot access often by taking advantage of language barriers. Many cases of this can be seen of Eastern Europeans having being trafficked to the UK and exploited for no or little wage, such as in the waste processing and construction sector.

Coercion, blackmail and deceit are used to recruit victims into a position of exploitation, or to maintain their slavery sentence. This can come in many forms, overlap with physical and financial control and may be perpetrated by family or friends of the victim rather than an external exploiter. Common cases of blackmail can be seen by Vietnamese women trafficked to work in massage parlours and end up being sexually exploited, who may be blackmailed by their traffickers to keep on working or receive family ridicule and shame for the nature of work (they have been forced into). In many cases, blackmail is used against the victims to stop them from running away and reporting to authorities, which poses problems for victim support services having being freed from their situation of exploitation.

Furthermore, coercion to enter situations of exploitation may be inflicted by families for traditional or cultural practices, rather than an external perpetrator. This may be seen through situations of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or forced marriage. A particular example is a tradition in southern Nigeria’s Becheve community called “money marriage” where young girls are being used as currency to repay debts of family debts.

Modern slavery is an issue that takes many forms of exploitation where control mechanisms and tools of manipulation are constantly changing and evolving as legislations and sanctions tighten within each contexts. In order to address this, it is important look beyond the obvious signs of physical control to collect vast and accurate data to protect future vulnerable victims of exploitation.

Global Supply Chains: 4 Principals Adopted Against Modern Slavery

The UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA have made progress in the movement to expel modern slavery and labour exploitation from global supply chains.

These five partner countries have created a set of 4 principles designed for nations all over the world to adopt, in order to promote ethical supply chain compliance within their jurisdictions. The principles are aimed at policy level, addressing both public and private sector procurement, supply chains, recruitment and encourages the need for cooperation between such actors.

The four principles are as follows:

Governments should take steps to prevent and address human trafficking in government procurement practices

  • analyse, develop and implement measures to identify, prevent and reduce the risk of human trafficking in government procurement supply chains
  • provide tools and incentives and adopt risk assessment policies and procedures that require their procurement officers and contractors to assess the nature and extent of potential exposure to human trafficking in their supply chains
  • take targeted action, including adopting appropriate due diligence processes, to identify, prevent, mitigate, remedy, and account on how they address human trafficking

Governments should encourage the private sector to prevent and address human trafficking in its supply chains

  • work in partnership with business, workers and survivors to set clear expectations for private sector entities on their responsibility to conduct appropriate due diligence in their supply chains to identify, prevent and mitigate human trafficking
  • provide tools and incentives to the private sector to encourage meaningful action and public reporting of their efforts, including through programmes policies or legislation

Governments should advance responsible recruitment policies and practices

  • advance responsible recruitment practices, including by implementing polices that incentivise and support responsible practice, and by support initiatives such as the ‘Employer Pays Principle’
  • contribute to the growing knowledge base of promising practices for protecting workers from fraud and exploitation in the recruitment process

Governments should strive for harmonisation

  • make reasonable efforts to share information and work with other committed governments to align existing and proposed laws, regulations and polices to combat human trafficking in global supply chains


The UK,  leading global efforts in anti-slavery policy, is encouraging governments at the UN General Assembly to adopt these principles. By leveraging the combined $600 billion purchasing power of the partnered nations there is the capital to influence high-level actors in both public and private sectors.

The principles provide a clear and progressive framework for cooperating governments to aim towards. The major drawback, however, is the lack of enforcement of these principles, which in many instances is controlled by  legislation. However, for these principles to be effective in practice rather than theory, strict and coherent sanctions are critical. The further challenge is to address cross border transactions, and encourage non-cooperative countries that produce the majority of global slavery statistics to adopt and enforce such principles.