Kevin Bales: How to Combat Human Trafficking

Last week we had Nicolas Kristof’s 10-minute pep talk; today we have Kevin Bales’ 20-minute crash course in ending trafficking. Below that you’ll find some key points from our about human trafficking page. This is a great post to refresh your memory and revive your motivation to end trafficking. It’s also a great post to share with friends who don’t know much about trafficking.

What is Human Trafficking?

End Human Trafficking

“Captives Set Free” by Collin Rowland

“Human Trafficking is a crime against humanity. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion, or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them,” according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Human trafficking is the fastest growing form of international crime and the second largest source of income for organized crime, surpassing even the drug trade. Today an estimated 27 million men, women, and children are held as slaves. Each year, more than 2 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), all commercial sex with minors is human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion are evident. Although the name suggests it, human trafficking doesn’t necessarily involve transporting victims. People can be trafficked on the same street they grew up on.

Human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery, is driven by coercion and exploitation. Physical force and violence often are part of the crime, but sometimes the oppression comes through psychological or emotional manipulation, insurmountable debt, immigration or other legal threats, or blackmail.

According the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report, trafficking has eight major forms:

  • forced labor
    sex trafficking
    bonded labor
    debt bondage among migrant laborers
    involuntary domestic servitude
    forced child labor
    child soldiers
    child sex trafficking

Greed and money drive slavery. Human trafficking thrives because the risks for traffickers are low and the profits are high. According to the U.N., the total market value of human trafficking is over $32 billion. In 2007, slave traders made more money than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined. While more and more traffickers are being prosecuted each year, conviction rates and sentences still aren’t high enough to deter criminals. Some countries and states still don’t have effective laws to convict traffickers.

Human trafficking robs victims of choice and freedom. It takes advantage of vulnerability and leaves a lasting impact on its victims. For survivors the physical, mental, emotional, and financial scars follow them the rest of their lives. It’s a dehumanizing crime that occurs under the surface of everyday life. But it’s also a crime that can be stopped with everyday abolitionists learn what to be aware of and commit to using their abilities and interest to eradicate modern day slavery.

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How is Modern Slavery Different From Past Slavery?

This information is adapted from this post about Disposable People by Kevin Bales. Read more about Disposable People.

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One striking difference between modern day and historical slavery is the quantity: There are more slaves today than in the whole 400 years of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The increase in slavery today is driven by the increase in the world population and the growing economy in places where slavery is most prevalent.

In today’s slavery, ownership is no longer central. In the past control came primarily through ownership. Today control comes primarily through violence and intimidation. Legal documentation of ownership is not as important. Written contracts are sometimes used, but their purpose is to entrap slaves and conceal what’s really happening from the outside world.

Race isn’t a key factor in slavery today either. Bales says, “The criteria for enslavement today does not concern color, tribe, or religion; they focus on weakness, gullibility, and deprivation.”

Slavery today is an economic endeavor, driven by money rather than simple hatred, and while slavery is illegal in every country there are very few economic controls on slavery. Economic sanctions have been successful in attacking drug and weapons cartels, but haven’t been widely used in fighting human trafficking. If governments and people make slavery unprofitable, it will stop.

Because so many people are readily available and vulnerable to being enslaved, they have become a less and less valuable commodity; slave prices are lower than they have ever been. Most slaves are used heavily until they are too sick or too weak, then they’re left to fend for themselves and often die.

In the past the cost of slaves was high, the return on investment was good, and there was motivation to keep and preserve slaves. Today the cost of slaves is low, the return on investment extremely high, and there is little motivation to keep and preserve slaves. Slaves become disposable. You work your car hard, but you take care of it through routine maintenance and repairs; however, you use a printer as much as you want, and then when it no longer works properly, you throw it away and get a new one—it’s not worthwhile to invest in maintenance or repairs. Slaves used to be like cars, now they’re more like printers.

One generation of slavery isn’t better or less criminal and inhumane than another—absolutely not. Old slavery and new slavery both take away a person’s freedom and humanity, but it’s critical to understand slavery today to stop it.


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Emily founded Stop Traffick Fashion in 2009. She’d been becoming more and more involved in the abolitionist movement, and she decided to start STF as an opportunity to bring together the best of all products made by survivors of trafficking. She hopes her response to trafficking will inspire others to take action, even in a small way. Emily lives in Bend, Oregon, enjoys traveling, and has visited Hagar International and StopStart in Cambodia.

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