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.

Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility
Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been understood and conceptually used since the 1990s, yet only recently gained weight in legal terms. It was designed to hold businesses accountable for the environmental wellbeing and human rights within their production and supply chains that they financially benefit from, and in turn to uphold the rights of the most vulnerable sector of society – children.

The importance of child rights

The interaction between businesses and children is inevitable, as people under 18 years old make up a third of the worlds population. The importance of this interaction, whether as consumers, relations to employees or young workers themselves is critical because childhood is the most fundamental stage of development, where young people are more sensitive both to psychological and physical harm. Furthermore, they are most vulnerable to violence and abuse, deeming defenceless when forced into certain situations either out of desperation or before their own autonomy has developed to protest. If they are exposed to hazardous operations whether directly or indirectly, they are at high risk of mental and physical damage. In extreme yet unfortunately widespread cases of child labour exploitation within supply chains, for domestic work or other forms of illicit labour, the consequences to a child’s wellbeing can be irreversible.

Furthermore, the wellbeing of children is important to the long-term economic growth within communities. 215 million children are engaged in child labour worldwide, and 101 million children are not attending primary school. By being exploited from a young age, the stunt in education that children undergo will ultimately feedback negatively on the future overall productivity rates of businesses within certain economies.

The development of CSR

In the development CSR, rights observers have understood that corporate interests generally outweigh the voluntary demand for an ethical and socially responsible supply chain. There are various examples of CSR that have developed, which compels corporations to comply with legal standards. For example the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 that that dictates national legal standards, which requires corporations to publish the steps they are taking to ensure their supply chains and free of modern slavery, child labour, human trafficking. This regulation applies both domestically and for international sourcing, in which certain export standards of mandatory social compliance are placed onto developing countries with cheap labour. The California Transparency in Supply Chain Act (CTSCA) 2010 operates similar obligations but working at state level. The Indian Companies Act (2013) compels Indian corporations to spend 2% of their pre-tax profit on CSR.

How Child Rights fit into CSR

Although such legislation is aimed more broadly at achieving supply chain transparency, upholding child rights is a key element of this. Specifically, there is a set of 10 Child Rights and Business Principles as outlined by Save the Children, the UN Global Compact and UNICEF, which give a comprehensive yet non-exhaustive list of CSR requirements in relation to child rights. Corporations must:

  1. Meet their responsibility to respect children’s rights and commit to supporting the human rights of children
  2. Contribute to the elimination of child labour, including in all business activities and business relationships
  3. Provide decent work for young workers, parents and caregivers
  4. Ensure the protection and safety of children in all business activities and facilities
  5. Ensure that products and services are safe, and seek to support children’s rights through them
  6. Use marketing and advertising that respect and support children’s rights
  7. Respect and support children’s rights in relation to the environment and to land acquisition and use
  8. Respect and support children’s rights in security arrangements
  9. Help protect children affected by emergencies
  10. Reinforce community and government efforts to protect and fulfil children’s rights

As this literature points out, the rights of children are no ‘new legal obligation’, instead are innate human rights, which in turn drives CSR. This can be broken down into the Corporate Responsibility to Respect, which applies to the business’s own activities and to its business relationships, linked to its operations, products or services” as well as the Corporate Commitment to Support, which demands voluntary actions that seek to advance human rights, including children’s rights, through core business activities, strategic social investments and philanthropy, advocacy and public policy engagement, and working in partnership and other collective action.”

The focus of CSR towards children aims to eliminate child labour from supply chains, but also must take the nuanced approach which includes protecting the rights of children in their core business strategy, covering all operations, employee rights, marketing, and delivery of products and services.

The aim is for states to be responsible by implementing such CSR legislation to level out the injustices and inequalities of the world’s wealthiest corporations taking advantage of the worlds most poor and vulnerable. Although this works ideologically, the problem comes with implementation. Limitations with CSR studies show that even passive state regulation does not necessarily lead to thorough commitment to supply chains free of human rights abuses and environmental degradation by corporations. Trends show most corporations only apply resource to CSR when receiving pressure from external organisations. Hence, it takes active pressure by rights groups, NGOs and governments to achieve this, indicating the critical role of UNICEF and organisations to lobby against corporate interests. For CSR to be achieved, strict legal requirements and binding commitments must be met with appropriate sanctions as means of compulsion to achieve child rights.

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. 

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.

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.