Children of the Refugee Crisis are Vulnerable to Trafficking

ARCHIVE PHOTO. A Syrian boy walks along a corridor inside a refugee camp in Harmanli, 280 km (173 miles) east of Sofia, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Pierre Marsaut
ARCHIVE PHOTO. A Syrian boy walks along a corridor inside a refugee camp in Harmanli, 280 km (173 miles) east of Sofia, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Pierre Marsaut

Human trafficking has become one of the three largest organised crimes, along with small arms and drugs trade which all monopolise on the displaced people of the refugee crisis. Gangs already involved in trade of illegal substances exploit the opportunity in the modern slave trade that produces over $150 billion annually.

Modern slavery is a global issue, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi highlights the highest number of slaves per country are in India, with over 18 million current victims. Europe’s refugee crisis exacerbates numbers, as approximately 10,000 lone children have been reported missing since entering the EU according to Europol data. In order to prevent their daughters being sold into slavery or for commercial sex, families of Syrian refugees are being pressured to arrange child marriages.

This month Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit 2018 is an international summit on Child Rights addressing the nexus between gangs, refugees and modern slavery. There is an emphasis on technological advancements such as facial recognition for missing children, as well as tighter enforcement amongst gangs involved in refugee migration and education amongst vulnerable victims to address the root causes.

For further information on exploitation of the refugee crisis by gangs see here.

Trafficking Victims Forced Into Illicit Massage Business

There are over 9,000 known illicit massage parlours within the USA, with an estimated annual revenue of $2.5 Billion. This accounts for the second highest bracket of human trafficking.

Workers ​in illicit massage parlours are often criminalised or punished for a job they may have been forced into. While some sex workers make the conscious decision to enter the line of work, many within the illicit massage business are victims of human trafficking and therefore work under conditions of force, coercion, fraud and deceit. Due to the underground nature of the business, crime lords and business owners have the ability to protect themselves and their own identities amongst the vast network of people involved. This poses a major issue as employees lower in the supply chain bear the consequences, on top of working under inhumane conditions.

Trafficking cases within massage parlours accounted for the second highest bracket in the USA in 2017, (to escort services as the first) with 2,949 out of 32,000 cases of trafficking recorded by National Human Trafficking Hotline. There are over 9,000 known illicit massage parlours within the USA, with an estimated annual revenue of $2.5 Billion.

However, these figures are a small estimation in the total scope of the problem. Naturally it is a crime that is difficult to quantify, as victims often do not know they are being taken advantage of or are manipulated into keeping quiet​, through threats and control mechanisms​. The victims are statistically most often women from China or South Korea, in their 30s-50s who have had children, speak very little English and are in positions of debt or financial pressures, in which they would have been taken advantage of by seeing this opportunity.

The perpetrators may use these vulnerabilities to fraudulently or deceitfully recruit women. The recruitment advertising often hides the sexual element of the work and also understates the pay, leading victims into debt to their traffickers. In addition, they may use coercion, legal and emotional manipulation, cultural shaming or deportation threats to force victims into commercial sex on an on going basis. Typical scenarios may be when women are told these circumstances are “normal in the USA” or “police are corrupt and will not help them”, or using blackmail by threatening to tell victim’s families of their sexual experiences. Their access to money, communication and national identification are most often confiscated.

The underlying cause of illicit massage businesses is to feed larger crime networks. ‘Front’ businesses are operated, including nail salons and laundromats, in order to launder money through and move victims between. However customers who engage in this business create the demand and therefore sustain the business.

According to the Polaris Project report, there are some obvious indicators as to which parlours are operating commercial sex, even if they do not openly advertise it. If they do, they promote to primarily male clientele through online sites such as and Craigslist. They will typically offer lower market price reflecting the wages of the women, if any. There will be private presentation of the business, often with windows covered and locks on doors with buzzer entry only. A significant indicator of trafficked victims is when the women live on site of the parlour.

The most effective way of combating trafficking in the massage industry is effective and local-national scale legal framework, with increased risk for the traffickers themselves rather than their employees forced into criminality or prostitution, with thorough law enforcement and consistent regulation. In the USA, 46 states reference industry standards for massage orientated businesses, yet these are usually only regulated on county or city level. Business operations including open hours, profit transparency, landowner responsibility should be enforced, and online advertising banned. On a broader scale, cross-state investigations into trafficking and crime rings should aim at the root of the issue, as well as avoiding media framing of ‘sex workers’ as the criminals rather than victims.

Traffickers Target the Vulnerable After Natural Disasters

Traffickers will take opportunities to exploit vulnerable people, and natural disasters create high-risk scenarios. Traffickers target homelessness, and hundreds of people are left homeless with their property, lives and families exposed to recruiters. Tragically, rescue centres become a common point for traffickers to target, according to survivors in the Southern USA states of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida who periodically experience hurricanes.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre “one of the largest labor trafficking cases in United States history resulted from human trafficking that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina”. The higher demand for labour in the clean up and reconstruction of the affected area led to 5 men being recruited by traffickers and eventually paid out $14 million.

The threat of crime and exploitation needs to be built into the emergency and resilience strategies of societies against natural disasters. There is an abundance of agencies and organisations prepared to assist in disaster response, who must partner with local law enforcement and civil service to create awareness around human trafficking and protect the vulnerable against exploitation post disaster.

Read further reporting on natural disasters and human trafficking here.

UN Promotes Empirical Benefits of Migration 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2017 in close coordination with the Ministry of Migration and Displacement in Iraq is distributing non-food item kits to families in Al Habanyah displaced from west Anbar.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2017 in close coordination with the Ministry of Migration and Displacement in Iraq is distributing non-food item kits to families in Al Habanyah displaced from west Anbar.

Despite the stigma around the security threat of migration, Louise Arbour, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration at the United Nations stresses that the benefits are proved to outweigh the challenges according to empirical evidence. It is encouraged for governments and policy makers to make their decisions based upon data, rather than guided by emotive reactions to specific scenarios.  Although short-term effects of large influxes of migrants can become destabilising, long term, the movement of people is most often beneficial to a host country’s economy. In 2017, 85% of migrants’ earnings were transmitted to their host countries via taxes and spending.

The issue is that migration is an inevitable fact of a globalising world, in which “there are currently 258 million international migrants today, 3.4 per cent of the global population, an increase from 2.8 per cent in 2000, and the figure is expected to increase in the coming decades.’’ According to estimates by the McKinsey Global Institute “migrant workers in higher-productivity settings contributed $6.7 trillion – or 9.4 per cent – to global GDP in 2015, $3 trillion more than they would have produced in their countries of origin.”

Such figures cannot be ignored when using and creating rhetoric around migration, although extreme caution must be used at a national security level. If the figures are ignored and migration is treated with prejudice, migrants suffer less chance of successful integration and are at higher risk to exploitation, forced labour and neglect of human rights within host societies. The UN reiterates the imperative of statistical data to be utilised by organisations, private sector and media to balance the emotive and politicised response to migration. Using the facts and context, we must enhance the objective of international cooperation.

Further detail on the UN’s evidence-based approach to migration can be found here.

Slavery Still Pervades the ‘Fairtrade’ Coffee Industry

Historically, in counties such as Brazil, coffee was a majority slave industry. Although today slavery is illegal in all coffee producing countries, it still exists in forms of coercion, exploitation and forced labour in an industry of 26 million people.

In terms of developing country exports, coffee is the second most valuable commodity. The majority of capital is made via the end product, usually sold in the developed world via coffee shops and supermarkets. Due to the volatile price of coffee, there is significant risk of exploitation within the workers’ supply chain, stemming from its original sources primarily in developing countries. Farm owners have no leverage on the commodity price and therefore bear the consequences of price flux, making labourers on their farms the most vulnerable people within the supply chain.

Smallholders produce coffee on farms of less than 25 acres, and have relatively fairer working conditions and more sustainable production. In comparison to Estates, however, they do not have the resources to stay competitive when prices drop despite being responsible for over half of global coffee production. Estates produce coffee on more than 25 acres, and in contrast have economies of scale which do not suffer such consequences of price flux, however tend to be more exploitative than Smallholder farms. Harvesting coffee is a seasonal job, so migrant labour systems have developed (primarily) for Estates, often from poorer and desperate neighbouring regions, which leads to exploitation by farmers. Migrant workers who are extremely dependant on their employers are at high risk of being put out of work when harvest demands.

The major issues amongst coffee labourers tend to be low wages, lack of signed or contracts altogether, dismal living conditions including lack of privacy, safety, sanitation, and adequate housing. For example cases of 40-60 families living together in overcrowded warehouse spaces have been reported.

In 2016, countries that produced coffee using forced or child labour were Côte d’Ivoire, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, El Salvador, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam as recorded by the U.S. Department of Labour’s ‘List of Goods Made with Forced Labor and Child Labor’. However, along with the lack of supply chain regulation in this industry, there are limited comprehensive studies done to investigate forced labour. A 2012 report in Peru found that Fairtrade coffee did not produce a higher standard of work for farmers. In 2014, a study within Uganda and Ethiopia suggests the agricultural labourers of Fairtrade coffee had lower wages and living standards than non-Fairtrade labourers. The most extreme example is within Ethiopia where non-Fairtrade labourers earned 5% below the median wage whereas the ‘Fairtrade’ workers earned 60% below. This highlights an alarming example of unaccounted labour abuse within coffee supply chains that are presented as ‘Fairtrade’.

The issue stems from the Fairtrade Certification, which pays coffee producers who meet certain labour, environmental and production standards an above market ‘Fairtrade’ price. This aims to empower growers, particularly of the Smallholder bracket, to develop ethically and sustainably, whilst ensuring the coffee is of high quality. However, this system is problematic because it requires producer groups to be transparent and accountable when they do not have the incentive to do so. Consumer actions and intentions are relayed through the coffee roasters and importers, which is where the Fairtrade Certification is regulated and awarded. Critics suggest information is collected from voluntary surveys, and such stakeholders do not have the authority or means to ensure a forced labour free supply chain.

Evidence suggests that Fairtrade coffee does successfully assist some Smallholder coffee farmers, but it does not prevent conditions of forced labour or alleviate poverty as it intends. The Fairtrade certification must either be seen as a means for consumers to assist in the reduction of slave labour to work alongside other legal responses to abuses within this industry or it must be adapted and adopted as a centrally regulated certification. Alone, current means to denote a brand ‘Frairtrade’ does not have enough weight to eradicate forced labour from the global coffee supply chain.


World Day of Social Justice 2018: Focus on Migrant Worker Exploitation  

IFAD Remittances, the money migrant workers send home to their families, provide crucial financial support for millions of people in developing countries.
IFAD Remittances, the money migrant workers send home to their families, provide crucial financial support for millions of people in developing countries.

The UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) addresses the ‘World Day of Social Justice’ today, the 20th February by focusing on the rights of migrant workers. There are 150 million migrant workers worldwide, and 44% of which are women. Migration is most often fuelled or connected to the need for employment, therefore workers are acutely vulnerable to forced labour, coercion, discrimination and exploitation in unsatisfactory working conditions because they are overtly dependent on their employer in unfamiliar territory.

Director-General of ILO, Guy Ryder acknowledges that ‘’many migrant workers end up trapped in jobs with low pay and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, often in the informal economy, without respect for their labour and other human rights. They often have to pay high recruitment fees to get a job, on average over a year’s wages – this makes them highly vulnerable to forced labour and child labour.”

If migrant labour is met with respect for human rights and basic working conditions according to the international labour standards, their contribution will deliver benefits to the host community as well as the families of those who are forced to migrate. This must be adopted at a global, national and regional level, and governance must be coherent between labour ministries and businesses.  The Global Compact on Migration will be amended later this year and will be essential to eliminating exploitation within migrant labour, and in turn contributing to social justice.

Read here for full details on ILO’s contribution to World Day of Social Justice 2018. 


UN Finds Ongoing ‘Alarming Rates’ of Child Soldier Recruitment 

UN Photo/Tobin Jones A young child looks on as older boys play football next to a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Mogadishu, Somalia.
UN Photo/Tobin Jones A young child looks on as older boys play football next to a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Mogadishu, Somalia.

International attention has been brought to the issue of child soldiers as the United Nations released findings of high recruitment statistics, despite progress made last year. According to the United Nations, ‘’the global commitment to end the use of children in armed conflict led to the release and reintegration of more than 5,000 children in 2017’’. 

In 20 countries analysed by Virgina Gamba, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, ‘’tens of thousands of boys and girls are still being recruited, kidnapped, and forced to fight or work for military groups or armed forces at ‘alarming rates’.” The main goal is to prevent children from being recruited from within conflict zones, as their opportunities become limited once exploited in this environment and exposed to violence and trauma which ‘shapes their identity’. 

Reintegration is a sensitive process which requires ‘‘strong political and financial commitment’’. Once freed from armed forces, children are rehabilitated through education and training, medical and psycho-social support to cope with anti-socialisation they may have learned. There are questions around the effectiveness of international efforts and it is stressed that each case must be dealt with individually, the causes must not be assumed to be ideological, interventions must be long term and children treated with autonomy.

Read further on these findings of child soldiers in UN News.

Today, Over 200 Million are Subjugated to Female Genital Mutilation, UN Reports

This week on February the 6th marked the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This practice is recognised as a violation of human rights against girls and women, and is an underlying cause of deep gender inequality.

The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, speaks at the forum in Banjul, the Gambia. Photo: Alhagie Manka
The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, speaks at the forum in Banjul, the Gambia. Photo: Alhagie Manka

Statistics produced from the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth in Gambia on Monday report that ‘’globally, over 200 million women and girls are estimated to have undergone some form of genital mutilation and girls aged 14 and younger account for about 44 million of those who have been “cut.”

Despite recent figures of FGM having declined, the Female genital mutilation ‘not acceptable’ in the 21st century – UN envoy on youth highlight the fact that in many of these counties, populations are rapidly growing, which means proportionately the numbers will increase.

Although the reasons for FGM lie in cultural, religious or traditional practices and are sometimes perpetrated by women through their own autonomous decisions, it ultimately aims at ensuring females are subservient to their husbands, and therefore an oppressive force beyond the accepted social framework.

Elimination of FGM is included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed to by all Member States. Many countries have moved towards this by criminalising these harmful activities, including Gambia in 2015. However, on top of a legal framework to reduce the physical harm, all stakeholders are needed to accept a shift in status quo against acts that historically perpetrate inequality.

Read the full report here:

Female genital mutilation ‘not acceptable’ in the 21st century – UN envoy on youth


Forced Marriage Remains Prevalent Globally

The Walk Free Foundation has released a report showing recent analysis of forced marriage globally. Victims of forced marriage, many being children and most often women, may undergo similar conditions to slavery. They are acutely vulnerable to sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and other forms of forced labour.
The numbers are significant, showing ‘‘in 2016, an estimated 15.4 million people, or two in every 1,000 people, were living in a forced marriage. This includes marriages of both adults and children that were reported by the survey respondent to have been forced and without consent, regardless of the age of the respondent.
Being the most vulnerable targets, 84 percent of the total victims are women, and 34 percent of total victims younger than 18. All continents display cases of forced marriage, however highest known rates are in Africa, followed by Asia and the Pacific. The reasons for forced marriage are complex and cultural context specific, and are entrenched in gendered, cultural and religious beliefs where value is only assigned to women as wives, mothers and caretakers. Solutions to end forced marriage require legal change as well as a normative and systematic social shift by understanding and challenging the drivers of it.

See full report on Forced Marriage by the Walk Free Foundation.

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos presents a New Global Fund to Reduce Modern Slavery

Significant progress was made at last week’s 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos.

The discussions emphasised the alarming figures of today’s modern slavery crisis, with estimates stating 40.3 million people are currently in slavery worldwide, Gary Haugen, CEO of the International Justice Mission said there are more people in slavery today than were extracted from Africa over 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade. Haugen was one of the panelists at the forum who discussed a new fund, led by the US and UK, whose goal is to raise $1.5 billion (€1.2 billion) combat slavery. “The modern slavery problem is massive … but it’s more stoppable than it’s ever been,” commented United States Senator Robert Corker, chairman of Committee on Foreign Relations”. What is needed is a collective effort by companies and individuals and transparency in supply chains. Governments and consumers also have a role to play in holding business accountable.

Read further on the discussion on modern slavery at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos.