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.

Underage Girls Trafficked For Forced Labour In South East Asia

Credit: Al Jazeera - From Myanmar to Singapore: Why the maid trafficking continues
Credit: Al Jazeera – From Myanmar to Singapore: Why the maid trafficking continues

The trafficking of young girls between Myanmar and Singapore is again brought to international attention, as the media exposure in 2016 failed to prevent the on going practices which were perpetrated through Myanmar government employees.

Since 2014 Myanmar made illegal female domestic work abroad, however reports suggest that recruiters are still practicing in rural areas. They promise families better opportunities if their daughters are sent to be maids in Singapore, ignorant to the illegality and risks involved.

Cases at a Singapore trafficking shelter exposed one case of rape, one of physical abuse, and a girl who ran away from her male employer who requested showering with him. There is a clear pattern of girls around the age of 15 still being trafficked from Myanmar, leading to several incidents during 2017. A 15 year old girl allegedly committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of her employers apartment just two weeks after arriving in Singapore, and shortly following a second girl returned back to Myanmar with severe injuries from attempted suicide.

This victim reported to officials the identity of the recruiter who was a member of Myanmar’s parliament and director of company Myanmar Global Manpower Link which continued operation of maid recruitment at least two years after it became illegal in 2014. Reports suggest he was involved in trafficking over 60 underage girls from Myanmar to Singapore. Corruption on Myanmar boarders means age documentation is altered to meet the Singaporean legal age of 23, in which the defendant Louis Zung admitted. However he denied any wrong doing by trafficking and according to the Myanmar community, agents who recruit girls for domestic service are seen as ‘benefactors’ assisting in lifting poverty, rather than being blamed for tragedies.

However the economic desperation of the victims’ families conceals the deep rooted issue of rights violations through trafficking and and unjust labour. Due to the corruption linked to the government of Myanmar, it seems exposure and criminalisation is not enough to stop this practice. The trade policies between Myanmar and Singapore need to be internationally regulated and sanctioned to address this.

For the full article on Myanmar to Singapore maid trafficking, read here. 

North Korean Slaves in Foreign Territory Finance Regime 

Credit: BBC Panorama
Credit: BBC Panorama

Recent investigations have suggested that over 150,000 North Korean citizens are sent to work abroad in Poland, Russia and China in conditions alluding to ‘slavery’. The revenue produced is estimated over $1 Billion USD per year, the majority of which is funnelled back to North Korea to finance the dictatorship regime of Kim Jong-un.

In Russia, a worker anonymously reported that they are ‘treated like dogs here’ and they have to ‘give up being human’. They are paid over just $500 per month, of which almost all is paid to their North Korean ‘captain’, which is sent directly back to North Korea as ‘Party Duty’ or ‘Revolutionary Duty’. In Poland, around 800 North Korean labourers work primarily on shipyards, with extremely limited rights and substandard conditions. Although the company JMA denies having North Korean slave labourers, reporters were shown around the workplace and the ‘hotel’ in which the workers live on-site so they have no reason to leave. Furthermore, the Polish government suggests that all workers are under EU slavery regulations and there is no evidence of money being sent back to North Korea.

Defended in some respects as a positive system as workers are given the opportunity to have a ‘glimpse of the world’ when sent abroad to work, the conditions in which they are working is undoubtedly modern slavery. In December 2017, the UN sanctioned North Koreans working abroad with host nations having 2 years to comply, to prevent the finances fuelling the North Korean army, nuclear program and the luxurious living of Kim Jong-un.

For a video report on North Korea’s Secret Slave Gangs, see here. 

Anti-Slavery Progress in Mauritania

Rights campaigners had criticised an initial decision to release on bail two men accused of keeping women and children as slaves. By Scott Olson (Getty/AFP/File)
Image by Scott Olson (Getty/AFP/File)

With a hereditary system of servitude, Mauritania has previously demonstrated significantly low slavery prosecution rates. In 1981 slavery was deemed illegal, but the sanctions were increased in 2015 with punishment of 20 years imprisonment recognising slavery as a ‘crime against humanity’.

Two recent ground breaking cases in the country have led to the sentence of two guilty of enslavement to 20 years. The primary victim of this case died before the case conclusion, who alongside his son, were reduced to slavery.

Another defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison for keeping three women as domestic servants a without pay. Although the defence put forward the argument of treating the servants ‘like family’, the court ruled that slavery is a crime no matter how ‘gentle’.

These verdicts mark significant progress in the slavery case law of Mauritania, marking the success of the legislation and the three tribunals to address modern slavery established in the country. Similar cases that have been pending for several years will be reactivated according to authorities, signifying the normalisation of human rights issues being upheld by law.

Read here for the full article on these Rare Slavery Rulings in Mauritania Sending Three to Prison.

The Interconnection Between Slavery, Trafficking, Sexual Servitude and Terrorism

Issues of slavery, sexual servitude and trafficking are embedded as financing means in wider terror networks. The revenue produced by these means is used to sustain terrorist organisations, including the likes of Da’esh, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Such financing means are being used to replace traditional fund raising. Instead slavery, weapon trafficking, sexual violence are increasingly used for money laundering to finance terror measures. This is engrained further due to the ideological justifications of sexual violence.

The total capital value of the slavery and sex market feeding on going terror networks is unknown. Some reports suggest kidnapping ransoms account for $10-30 million revenue to Da’esh in 2016. Other reports refer to a list they published, detailing ‘spoils of war’ including Yazidi women and children sold as sex slaves, virgins having been auctioned through social media for upwards of $12,000 each. Many accounts suggest terror soldiers use the promise of sex slaves in their recruitment process, and punishment of ‘non believers’.

In 2016 a specific Resolution 2331 of the Untied Nations Security Council was passed to address human trafficking within areas of armed conflict, recognising that these are ‘tactics’ for terror groups and are perpetrated mercilessly through the ‘strategic objectives and ideology’ of such groups. It states “that trafficking in persons undermines the rule of law and contributes to other forms of transnational organised crime’’. The UN Resolution 2331 encourages its member states to align their national policy with the wider intentions of Women, Security and Peace and the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. It targets the financial mechanisms between trafficking, large crime rings in conflict zones and terrorism.

Illicit economies make it difficult to protect victims and identify and apprehend perpetrators. However slavery and sexual servitude are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity, which have universal jurisdiction under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, deeming the location and nationality of the defendants irrelevant. There is need for legislation to address this nexus, and for enforcement by international forces and agencies on the ground in conflict zones. The definition of terrorism in both national and international law must be broadened to include sexual violence as a tactic, amongst the wider UN resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.

Men Are Vulnerable To Trafficking As Labour Exploitation Rates Prove Higher Than Sexual Exploitation

7th Annual Report: G R E T A Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings

The Council of Europe has released a report through the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) which suggests labour exploitation is now the most significant form of trafficking in Europe, reflecting the rising trend in recent years. Alarmingly, it has taken over rates of sexual exploitation in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Portugal, Cyprus, Georgia and Serbia.

Due to this shift, men are the most identified victims of human trafficking, however women and children are still severely affected. ‘Men are often exploited in industries including agriculture, construction and fisheries whereas women tend to be exploited in more isolated settings such as domestic or care work – where they are sometimes victims of both labour and sexual exploitation.’

The primary cause of these new ​figures points to the previous underestimation of labour exploitation against sexual exploitation rates, as there is relatively less targeted legislation, and there have been few successful prosecutions and convictions. With both forms of exploitation, victims fear reprisals ​from traffickers, ​which makes data collection difficult, as well as impacting on low conviction rates.

For the full 7th Annual Report: G R E T A Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, read here. 

Tribute: International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

More than 15 million people were enslaved in Africa and sold during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which constitutes the largest legally sanctioned forced movement of people in history. Spread over 400 years, 96% of those enslaved arrived in the Americas and remain a prominent foothold in the demographic. This year being its 70th anniversary, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains a foundation document in international law and slavery legislation:

“Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.’’

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledges this and makes a tribute to International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade this week on 25th March. Denoting this period as one of the most brutal and shameful eras in human history and remembering those who died and suffered, he aims to spread the message of equality and remind of the ‘dangers of racism and prejudice’ in social thought. Although modern slavery has changed form and means, much of our understanding is grounded in the history of the Transatlantic slavery era.

For the full tribute on the Victims of Transatlantic Slave Trade read here. 

Climate Change and Natural Disasters Induce Vulnerability to Trafficking


Climate change increases the likelihood of natural disasters, forces groups of people into migration or resettlement from their original territory, and leaves people homeless, which are all high risk circumstances for trafficking. Environmental conditions should be a key factor in assessing socio economic wellbeing and security of a group of people against displacement, and in turn exploitation.

In contrast to refugees of war where majority of people that have been migrating are of middle or upper class, when faced with environmental catastrophe they may be pushed into a position of desperation and share the vulnerabilities if the poor. Through a sudden disaster, people may be thrust straight into poverty if all their assets, property and potentially lives are lost as there is often no safety net for unpredicted catastrophes. This shock and rapid displacement of people often attracts new traffickers to the affected area or encourages systems and crime rings already in place. As people are heavily dependant on their surrounding environment, they are suddenly put into situations of desperation for work people become targets for labour abuse or slavery. There is also risk of people becoming involved in the trafficking itself as a way to make income. This of course perpetrates the issue while bolsters the trafficking business in a disaster stricken area.

In slow onset environmental changes, such as sea level rise or temperature change, a similar trend occurs when it leads to forced migration. Traffickers may look to regions where recourses may be scarce or environmental changes cause a change in labour demand. For example drought causes the movement away form agriculture and into more industry driven roles in urban areas, giving traffickers a window for recruitment. Furthermore significant trafficking is seen at host regions or places of settlement, such as in urban slums. Often with very minimal beginnings, little education, work experience in cities or knowledge of their rights, migrants are mislead by ‘agents’ into exploitative work.

Women, men and children all face different risks to environment induced migration. If hit by disaster, children may be orphaned and at high-risk without the care of their parents, as seen after the 2004 Ocean Tsunami in South East Asia as records of child ‘abductions’ in Indonesia were much higher. Women are most often recruited for domestic work or sexual exploitation whereas men are most often forced into labour in inhumane and exploitative conditions. Such work is often in poor environmental conditions, including recourse extraction and dealing with toxic substances, for example palm oil extraction in south East Asia. This constitutes an abuse of their human rights and furthermore contributes to the supply chain of industry pollutants that cause climate change.

To combat this issue, there needs to be acceptance of the link between these climate change, migration and trafficking. There is need for awareness to be raised and regulation in times of disaster and on going migration, as the IOM monitors trafficking rates through their Migrant Crisis Operational Framework. National policy should avoid restriction of the movement of people, because this will push traffickers further underground or into the black market where exploitation thrives. Environmental migration should be regulated as a coping mechanism for victims, which requires international cooperation.

Nuanced Supply Chain Led Modern Slavery Legislation in Australia

There has been significant movement in Australia this week around the introduction to the Modern Slavery Act for Australia in 2018. This is being viewed as “historic legislation” as it pushes for nuanced supply chain based solutions involving individuals, business and public sector commitment, rather than the previous criminal justice perspective.

The major issues businesses have faced are in allocating resources and having limited education on addressing modern slavery in their supply chains. The new regulations are designed to avoid profit loss, but businesses will be accountable and at the forefront of addressing this issue. To comply with the new legislation, they will have to report on their efforts to eliminate modern slavery. Slavery will become an issue discussed by top management or Board Members of businesses rather than simply CSR efforts.

Technology is being developed to assist in these processes, including the block-chain systems, which document every valid contract in a supply chain. However, active commitment from the top-tier stakeholders is ultimately essential to address modern slavery through on going enforcement.

Modern slavery is a severe national issue with 4,300 living in this condition according to the Global Slavery Index, and a widespread issue amongst Asia-Pacific. Experts including Luis C deBaca, are viewing this as the opportunity for the Australian government to be a regional policy leader in addressing the on going problem.

Click here to read further information reported by ProBono on Australia’s Modern Slavery advancements.