This week’s blog is guest authored by Polaris.

With names like “Good Girl Spa,” and signs advertising “hot Asian women,” many businesses that claim to offer massage and bodywork in fact make little effort to hide what they really sell – commercial sex. They get away with it in part because these businesses have operated with such impunity and for so long that most Americans sort of shrug them off, assuming that what goes on behind their doors is essentially victimless crime. That is wrong. A new report from Polaris finds that human trafficking is rampant in illicit massage businesses. Polaris documented over 9,000 such businesses operating in America today, in every single state. Together they comprise a $2.5 billion-a-year criminal industry.

The new report details how this trafficking system works and offers actionable solutions for ending it, such as stronger civil regulations of businesses that claim to provide massage. The scope of human trafficking in massage businesses is such that Polaris believes implementing these regulations should be a priority for the anti-human trafficking movement.

Data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which Polaris operates, found that calls about trafficking in massage parlors were second in prevalence only to those about trafficking in escort services. Even so, as in all human trafficking situations, the situations we know about are likely only a small sliver of the problem.

To determine the extent of trafficking in massage parlors, Polaris researchers spoke with a range of survivors, service providers, and law enforcement officials and delved into case studies from around the country. They found that the vast majority of women providing commercial sex in these venues had been recruited through fraudulent advertisements, and coerced and manipulated into staying in expoitative situations. The women fit a very distinct profile. They are immigrants from China or South Korea who came to the United States because of dire financial need. Most are in their mid-30s to late-50s and have children.

The means of control in massage parlor trafficking follows a careful script. Women are told that that police in the United States are corrupt and there is no way for them to get help. They are told they will be deported if they seek employment elsewhere, and that their families will be shamed. They are paid less than minimum wage or no wage at all, and are on call seven days a week or otherwise in situations that violate American labor law. They are told this is normal, this is just how things are in the United States.

While law enforcement certainly plays an important role in shutting down illicit massage parlor businesses, going after individual venues, one by one, is both resource-intensive and ultimately ineffective. These are organized networks and thus organized crime investigations make more sense. These investigations, of course, also cost a great deal of time and money.

Jurisdictions around the country are starting to recognize that there are better ways to shut down massage parlor trafficking and provide women in these situations better options, by making the business less lucrative for traffickers. This is done through passage of commonsense civil laws that require massage businesses to adhere to certain health and safety standards — much like other businesses, including restaurants and beauty salons, already do. For example, simply requiring that all patrons enter the establishment through an easily visible front door — as opposed to through a more hidden entrance which is the norm for these businesses — is likely to dissuade a substantial percentage of potential sex buyers who are worried about being caught. Exactly what the law looks like will differ depending on the jurisdiction, but the important thing is that laws are consistent — so traffickers can’t just pick up and move to a nearby, “friendlier” location. Polaris is working with forward-thinking legislators around the country to move these kinds of bills forward at the state, city, and county level, and enlisting the public’s help in convincing other legislators that this matters and that it’s time to get to work. We are excited about the possibility of using the democratic process to disrupt massage parlor trafficking at the scale of the crime. We hope you will join us.

Polaris is a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. Named after the North Star that guided slaves to freedom in the U.S., Polaris systemically disrupts the human trafficking networks that rob human beings of their lives and their freedom. Their comprehensive model puts victims at the center of they do – helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and leveraging data and technology to pursue traffickers wherever they operate.

Photo courtesy of Polaris

If slavery were a country, it would be the third largest producer of CO2 in the world after China and the United States – Kevin Bales, Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World.

Modern-day slavery and human trafficking are recognized as international crises, yet they are often viewed in isolation from other global challenges. Kevin Bales, author and Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, is reshaping the narrative by demonstrating that these crimes are intertwined not only with global supply chains, but also environmental destruction and climate change.

Human Trafficking Search recently spoke with Kevin Bales to learn more about his research and the linkages between human trafficking, modern-day slavery, and environmental degradation.

From mineral mines in Congo to shrimp farms and fish camps in the Sundarbans and brick kilns in Nepal, Pakistan and India, modern-day slavery is inherently linked with environmental destruction. For example, in the Sundarbans, a vast coastal forest and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Bay of Bengal, slave labor is used to cut down mangroves – which remove CO2 and serve a key defense against erosion, tsunamis, and natural disasters – and create shrimp farms and fish camps – which contribute to increasing salinity that harms agricultural land – creating a vicious cycle of slavery-based environmental destruction. In Brazil, slave labor contributes to deforestation through illegal logging. In Ghana, children and adults labor in gold mines drenched with mercury, damaging the land and exposing the people to toxic chemicals. In the mines of Eastern Congo, which supply minerals for cellphones and other electronics, modern-day slavery degrades water quality, increases deforestation, contributes to poaching of wildlife, and takes a terrible toll in human life. Across these sectors, men, women, and children are forced into dangerous labor extracting resources for use in commercial products.

Bales argues that combating slavery can help protect the environment as some of these environmentally damaging practices, such as slavery-based brick kilns and gold mining, will cease to be profitable without slave labor: “In the brick kilns, that’s the same process they used in ancient Egypt when they enslaved Jews, you can buy a Chinese brick shaping machine that’s very small, very durable, and very effective without spending much; modernization, even a little bit, works more efficiently for everyone. It’s the same with gold mining. The idea that you would dump mercury everywhere and poison the environment and poison people for a fairly small amount of gold is a bit mad.”

These are just a few examples in Bales’ most recent book, Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World. At the University of Nottingham, Bales co-leads a group of over 100 researchers studying modern-day slavery and has launched a project identifying carbon emissions from slave-based businesses. Using satellite imagery, his team has located almost 50,000 brick kilns across Nepal, Pakistan, and India, and five additional slave-based fish camps in Bangladesh, sharing this information with relevant authorities to improve enforcement capacity.

Though eradicating slavery is an uphill battle, Kevin Bales is optimistic: “once you recognize that linkage you can begin to address it… it’s a web like any other crime and what I want to do is focus on a particular series of strong links within it and show how two of our biggest worries [modern-day slavery and climate change] are in fact deeply linked. On one hand it’s a sad fact to learn, but on the other, it opens up the possibility of trying to combat both of them.” Further, Bales speaks to a freedom dividend, economic, environmental, and social improvements that occur when individuals are removed from slavery: “it’s important to get past this idea that people in slavery are only victims, that they can’t really do much, when in fact they’re just people waiting to get free so they can make big changes.” Freeing people from slavery, “opens the door to positive impacts in all kinds of ways, from policy level right down to the ground where you plant a tree.”

For more information on Kevin Bales’ research on the linkages between human trafficking, modern-day slavery, environmental degradation, and climate change, read:

Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World

The Deadly Link between Slavery and Environmental Destruction, The Earth Institute (video)

How Hunger for Shrimp and Slavery Destroy Mangroves

Kevin Bales’ Website

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Global Slavery Index reports that over one million North Koreans are estimated to be in modern-day slavery. Of those, approximately 100,000 to 200,000 work internationally, performing slave labor for the Kim regime.

North Korea has exported forced labor for decades, but the practice has increased under Kim Jong-un, who came into power in 2012. It is estimated that North Korean workers are employed in 45 countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Working primarily in construction, mining, logging and textiles, the laborers endure long hours, poor conditions, and constant – though sometimes covert – oversight from government authorities. North Korean workers are known to have died from working conditions in Russia, Poland, and Qatar, among others. In compensation for their stressful manual labor, workers receive approximately only 10 to 20 percent of their wages; North Korea is believed to generate up to $2.3 billion, by some estimates, through this exploitative practice. The income serves to circumvent economic isolation stemming from North Korea’s nuclear program and provides the regime with a cash flow to sustain itself. To prevent defection, workers are heavily vetted prior to international placement. Michael Glendinning of the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea explains, “They only select workers who are married and have children – hostage-taking essentially”; if a family member were to defect, the government could inflict punishment on its loved ones at home.

Russia and China are home to the most North Korean workers. A 2016 report by the Data Base Center for North Korean Human Rights estimated that there are 50,000 North Korean laborers in Russia, providing $120 million to the state. North Korean slave labor has a substantial presence in Russia’s construction and logging sectors, contributing to World Cup stadiums, Moscow skyscrapers, and Siberia’s timber industry. In China, North Korean workers labor in factories, process seafood, and fill labor gaps. An AP investigation in 2017 found that seafood processed by North Korean slave labor was distributed in U.S. markets, despite federal law prohibiting this practice.

In the Gulf States, approximately 6,000 North Korean workers labor in slave-like conditions. It is estimated that 2,500 work in Kuwait, 1,500 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and 2,000 in Qatar. North Koreans have been known to work on World Cup stadiums in Qatar, in state-sponsored – and mostly empty – North Korean restaurants in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and even on expansion of the UAE’s Al-Dhafra Air Base, which is home to U.S. troops. In recent years, due to labor abuses and international pressure, Oman and Qatar have expelled some North Korean workers and Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE have stopped issuing worker visas, but North Korean state-sponsored slave labor continues to pervade the construction sector in the region. North Korean workers are isolated, suffer physical abuse, work long hours with little rest, and are under constant surveillance. Further, the AP reports that it is common for eight North Koreans laborers to live together in a 69-square foot apartment with little food and resources.

The European Union has also been a destination for North Korea’s unique brand of modern-day slavery. The Wall Street Journal reports that for decades, North Koreans worked in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Malta, Poland, and other nations; however, changes in EU policy and international sanctions have mostly ended the practice. Poland was one of the last states to end its use of North Korean labor, though workers can remain until their visas expire. The Polish State Labor Inspectorate estimates that 450 North Korean laborers remained in the country in mid-2017 working for at least 19 companies in industries such as shipbuilding and agriculture. In Polish shipyards, North Korean laborers worked on warships belonging to NATO members.

While North Korean workers are victims of modern-day slavery, exploited, and poorly treated in international postings around the world, they are often in better conditions – and receive better pay – than their fellow citizens at home.

Photo courtesy of Roman Harak/Wikimedia Commons

There is widespread consensus on the need to combat online sex trafficking; however, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), a recent bipartisan bill attempting to remove protections for internet platforms that knowingly facilitate child sex trafficking, has been met with great controversy.

Online sex trafficking, particularly of children, is an epidemic in the United States. A 2015 report from the anti-trafficking organization Thorn states that 63 percent of child victims of sex trafficking were sold online at some point and that over 100,000 new escort ads are posted every day.

In an effort to combat this abhorrent crime, SESTA would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to specify that provisions protecting providers from liability do “not prohibit the enforcement of Federal and State criminal and civil law relating to sex trafficking against providers and users of interactive computer services.”

The bill was introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and subsequently co-sponsored by 60 senators across the political spectrum. SESTA was produced in response to investigations into Backpage.com, which revealed that the website knowingly facilitated sex trafficking of both children and adults and covered up evidence demonstrating such. Backpage.com has evaded prosecution in the past through Section 230 provisions, and congressional supporters argue that the bill would help close those loopholes, facilitate prosecution of websites that violate sex trafficking laws, and provide justice for victims by allowing them to seek civil remedy. Senator John McCain, a co-sponsor, explained his support for the bill as such: “this legislation is critical to eliminating legal protections for websites like Backpage.com that have knowingly and recklessly facilitated the online sex trafficking of innocent young women and girls. Importantly, our bill would criminalize commercial activity that assists, supports, or facilitates a violation of federal sex trafficking laws and would enable state law enforcement officials – not just the Department of Justice – to take action against individuals or businesses that violate sex trafficking laws.”

The anti-trafficking community is, not surprisingly, very supportive of the legislation arguing that it will end immunity for online platforms that facilitate trafficking. Leading organizations such as Polaris, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Shared Hope International have advocated for its passage and highlighted its potential to alter the anti-trafficking landscape.

So why the big controversy?

Opponents of SESTA argue that while online sex trafficking is a real crisis that must be addressed, the bill is too broad and goes too far. Organizations such as the Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) contend that SESTA would “lead to increased online censorship” and weaken key protections for free speech on the internet.

Technology companies, initially opposed to the legislation, have changed their tone with major companies such as IBM and Facebook, as well as the influential Internet Association, which represents the likes of Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Amazon, endorsing the bill. However, some key technology stakeholders – notably the Electronic Frontier Foundation – continue to be against it. Opponents argue that large technology companies have the resources and capacity to handle the legal challenges that will follow passage of the bill, but that smaller companies and start-ups could fail under mounting legal pressure. They contend that the bill could prove a disincentive for companies to investigate their platforms for sex trafficking content noting that this would provide knowledge of such activities and thus increase the possibility of legal liability. This, they argue, would in turn lead corporations to over-censor user content as a means to avoid legal consequences – a similar argument to that of the ACLU. Additionally, it is claimed that the legislation could have the unintended consequence of pushing trafficking deeper underground, disrupting efforts to identify and prosecute perpetrators and reach victims. Further, it is widely argued that the impact of SESTA would be felt far beyond sex trafficking and effect the entire technology sector and how the internet is regulated, a slippery slope toward regulatory overreach that limits the flow of information on the internet.

While the bill’s controversy is far from settled, it is heartening to see bipartisan efforts to address online sex trafficking. The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act passed through committee in early January and is ready for a vote on the Senate floor, a move that supporters are eager to see.

For more information on the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and its surrounding controversy, read the following:

Full Text of Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA)

It’s the Beginning of the End of the Internet’s Legal Immunity

What’s So Controversial About SESTA?

Sex Trafficking Exceptions to Section 230

Senators Hear Emotional Testimony on Controversial Sex-Trafficking Bill

Photo courtesy of  Rattlenoun/Wikimedia Commons.

January 22, 2018

In the United States, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In support of this occasion, the Human Trafficking Search weekly blog seeks to examine areas of the human trafficking crisis that do not typically make the headlines. This week, it focuses on the disproportionate impact of human trafficking on Native American communities.

Native Americans are victimized by human trafficking at rates higher than that of the general population. Though statistics are few and far between, testimony from experts, activists, and tribal leaders – as well as independent investigations – have revealed a disproportionate impact. In a study conducted at four sites in the U.S. and Canada, “an average of 40 percent of women involved in sex trafficking identified as an AI/AN or First Nations,” yet Native women represent 10 percent or less of the general population in the studied communities. Lisa Brunner of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, summarized the problem to Congress in 2013 as such:

“Native women experience violent victimization at a higher rate than any other U.S. population. Congressional findings are that Native American and Alaska Native women are raped 34.1%, more than 1 in 3, will be raped in their lifetime, 64%, more than 6 in 10, will be physically assaulted. Native women are stalked more than twice the rate of other women. Native women are murdered at more than ten times the national average. Non-Indians commit 88% of violent crimes against Native women. Given the above statistical data and the historical roots of violence against Native women, the level of human trafficking given the sparse data collected can only equate to the current epidemic levels we face within our tribal communities and Nations.”

Though sex trafficking is the primary concern of both Tribal Nations and the U.S. Government, it is believed that labor trafficking and exploitation occurs as well, with the victims primarily men. Additionally, there have been a number of allegations of trafficking Native babies for adoption, most notably a 2013 Supreme Court case Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl.

Why is human trafficking more prevalent among Native populations? 

Native Americans are considered a vulnerable population. Statistics from the 2010 U.S. Census, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, and GAO Foster Care report illustrate that Native Americans experience higher levels of poverty, rape, and entry into the foster system – all risk factors for trafficking. The proliferation of the fracking industry also contributed to a rise in sex trafficking of Native girls and women as “man camps” were established in remote areas of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, creating a high-demand for sex in an environment rampant with drugs, alcohol, and limited supervision. While there was widespread media coverage of the rise of sex trafficking in the Bakken, discussion of its impact on Native girls and women was limited. Cindy McCain, co-Chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and wife of Senator John McCain, argues that “Native Americans are largely overlooked as victims,” further compounding the issue and reinforcing the belief among tribal communities that the U.S. government provides little protection and support. Additionally, some believe the presence of casinos on tribal lands contributes to the demand for sex trafficking; McCain has stated that she has “witnessed with my own eyes six little girls lined up against a wall in a casino outside of Phoenix on display for customers.”

The prevalence of sex trafficking of Native Americans is not solely based on the multiple risk factors associated with the community; it is, in many ways, a continuation of the marginalization of Native populations in the United States. Native women have been fetishized, bought, sold, and traded since initial European colonization of the American continent. The trauma experienced by Tribal Nations at the hands of the U.S. government has contributed to high levels of poverty and substance abuse, as well as isolation and distrust of authority that can both increase the likelihood of trafficking and complicate the legal response.

There are a number of challenges to addressing human trafficking in tribal communities that are unique to the Native American experience. As with all human trafficking, the covert nature of the crime makes statistics difficult to ascertain. This is further complicated by the lack of disaggregated data, which limits agencies from identifying the magnitude of the issue, “of the four federal agencies that handle human-trafficking cases, only one records the race or ethnicity of the victim.” There are also overlapping jurisdictional issues between tribal, state, and federal governments that allow perpetrators to slip through the cracks and creates gaps in communication between agencies. For instance, non-Native Americans cannot be arrested or prosecuted by tribes – instead they fall under federal jurisdiction – allowing non-Native traffickers to operate with little risk. A 2012 UN Report estimates that almost 80 percent of rapes of Native women occur at the hands of non-Native men, highlighting this dangerous gap in enforcement. Support services for at-risk individuals and survivors are also limited for Native American girls and women due to a lack of resources. For example, a 2016 survey identified a large gap in access to services; over two-thirds of the 650 tribal lands reviewed experienced a significant dearth of access to sexual assault examiners and sexual assault response team programs, while 381 reported no service coverage within an hour’s driving distance.

Combatting Trafficking of Native Americans

In recent years, human trafficking of Native Americans has received increased attention by both federal and tribal governments. Tribal Nations – such the Navajo Nation – have begun implementing anti-trafficking laws, raising awareness in their communities, and training initiatives. The State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report highlights a number of actions undertaken by the U.S. government to combat sex trafficking of Native Americans, among them increased funding, collaboration with Tribal Nations on training programs, increased efforts to identify victims, human trafficking training at all National Indian Gaming Commission regional conferences, and increased resources, training, and technical assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, the Department of Justice recently announced that it would expand the Tribal Access Program that provides tribes access to national crime information to help address sex trafficking, the opioid crisis, and other critical issues.

For more information on the impact of human trafficking on Native American communities, read the following reports:

Photo courtesy of Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons. Note: the photo is not of a victim; it was taken at Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow, Daybreak Star Cultural Center, Seattle, Washington. The event is part of Seafair (a series of annual summer events in Seattle) and under the aegis of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation.

January 16, 2018

In the United States, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In support of this occasion, the Human Trafficking Search weekly blog seeks to examine areas of the human trafficking crisis that do not typically make the headlines. This week, it focuses on the connection between foster care and human trafficking.

Children in foster care are disproportionately victimized by human trafficking. Despite widespread acknowledgement of the connection between foster care and human trafficking – it is estimated that 60 percent of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system – the topic is understudied and thus, not effectively addressed.

The prevalence of human trafficking of children from the foster system stems from a number of factors. While it is well documented that trafficking spans all demographics, ages, and economic statuses, there are a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood of human trafficking for an individual, most of which pertain to foster youth. Human traffickers typically prey on the most vulnerable such as individuals who are isolated and have a history of abuse. Unfortunately, many foster children fit this description as they have experienced sexual, physical, and/or mental abuse prior to entering the system and/or while under protection of the state, and are therefore more likely to be exploited again.

Often without a steady home or school life and without strong support networks, foster youth are at risk for recruitment. Traffickers recruit foster youth directly from group homes with false promises of money and a family structure. Youth who have been conditioned to view themselves as a paycheck, due to prior abuse and exploitation by both biological and foster parents, are at a heightened risk and vulnerable to the increased attention and generous overtures commonly used by traffickers. But not all victims are recruited from group homes.

Homelessness is a key contributor to trafficking of youth. Foster children who have runaway, aged out of the system, or otherwise find themselves on the streets are a greater risk of being trafficked, particularly in the commercial sex trade. Entry into human trafficking often begins with trading sex for essential items such as food and/or shelter, but can quickly evolve to victimization by organized trafficking operations. In a study conducted in the U.S. and Canada one-fifth of homeless youth were victims of sex trafficking. The issue is compounded by the fact that states do not always report when a foster child is missing, despite provisions in federal law that mandate it. LGBTQ+ youth in the foster system are particularly prone to homelessness due to added stigma and discrimination.

Policy gaps and a lack of adequate resources are also responsible for the high prevalence of foster youth involved in human trafficking. While there are federal regulations, foster care policy is primarily the domain of the states and therefore, protections, resources, and reporting requirements vary by state and information is not always effectively shared between agencies and jurisdictions. For example, in most states youth age out of the foster care system at 18 – approximately 26,000 people a year – often leaving them without shelter or support. Foster youth that age out at 18 have high rates of unemployment and incarceration, and one in four women get pregnant before the age of 21.  However, after the passage of the Foster Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act in 2008, a number of states – including California, New York, and Texas – have extended the age of foster coverage with federal support. Similar gaps exist across policies toward kinship care, Safe Harbor laws, background checks for foster parents, protections for LGBTQ+ youth, law enforcement response and more.

A comprehensive approach is needed to address the gaps in the system and help provide protections to vulnerable youth. First and foremost, legislation must be strengthened at both the state and federal levels.  Human Trafficking Search’s Foster Care and Human Trafficking: A State-by-State Evaluation report details best practices that can help protect children in the foster care system from trafficking. Training and raising awareness of the risks and recruitment tactics of traffickers is also necessary, and has – fortunately – been increasing in recent years. Nevertheless, more must be done. Foster children, parents, and group home leaders, teachers, community groups, law enforcement, hotel staff, and medical professionals should all be trained to identify red flags associated with human trafficking, and be particularly mindful of the added vulnerability of children involved with the foster care system. Ultimately, more resources are needed to strengthen foster care and improve policies that have contributed to the prevalence of human trafficking victims who are in the system. While the anti-trafficking movement and foster care community are large, there are few organizations working at this crucial intersection. Civil society can play a key role by raising awareness about the foster care-human trafficking nexus and advocating for stronger protections on behalf of children around the country.

For more information on the relationship between foster care and human trafficking, read the following research reports from Human Trafficking Search:

Photo courtesy of Alvin Decena.

January 8, 2018

This week’s blog is guest authored by Michele Clark, former Director of ArtWorks for Freedom

Human Trafficking is a big problem. Can one person make a difference?

Simply, the answer is yes.

To even think of engaging with a problem as intractable as human trafficking is overwhelming.  Both a domestic and international crime, affecting the young, the vulnerable, and the socially marginalized, it is also deeply entrenched in our consumer habits, including the production of our clothes and food. Its manifestations remain linked to underground and hidden criminal activity, and its causes are embedded in the complexities of poverty, globalization, and disquieting trends towards instant gratification. Its solutions call for stronger laws, improved services to victims and survivors, increased law enforcement, and, critically, more funding.  With the multitude of factors at play, it is no surprise that the average person is unsure where to begin addressing this issue that encompasses human rights, organized crime, supply chains, and public health.

So, what should one do?  ArtWorks for Freedom believes that every person can use their unique skills, abilities, and talents to contribute to the effort of ending human trafficking.

During the month of January, which is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, ArtWorks for Freedom is launching 30 Actions | 30 Days, a web-based Toolkit to help people deepen their understanding and identify actions they can take to combat human trafficking. Right where they are.

Beautifully illustrated with the work of artist activists and survivor artists, 30 Actions | 30 Days offers ArtWorks for Freedom 30 Actions | 30 Days30 distinct ways of getting involved through building awareness, taking specific actions, and engaging the people around us.  Each day you have an opportunity to be a change maker. All it takes is logging into the Toolkit, selecting the topic of your choice, and exploring the multitude of options ArtWorks for Freedom provides for engagement in the fight against trafficking. For example, you can find:

  • Information about new forms of trafficking in the United States and around the world, such as trends, trafficking routes, critical needs, best practices, and major challenges;
  • Suggestions of personal or community activities, including hosting discussion groups, becoming a board member, and learning to write blogs or op-eds;
  • Links to resources, including reports, articles, and organizations which are actively involved in policy, research, direct service, and advocacy; and,
  • Opportunities to join a social media community sharing similar visions and goals.

This Toolkit can be used by school and community groups, book clubs, friends, and individuals as a way of developing a personal and corporate commitment to ending modern-day slavery and human trafficking.  Small actions repeated over time and shared with other people are the foundation of all social change!

Please join ArtWorks for Freedom to help eradicate human trafficking and make slavery once and for all a topic for the history books.

ArtWorks for Freedom is a non-profit organization located in Washington, DC.  Its mission is to use all forms of art to raise awareness and inspire action to end human trafficking.

Photo courtesy of WGNS

January 2, 2018

Our December 18th blog detailed the five countries where modern-day slavery is most prevalent. In Part II of our series, we look at the countries with the greatest number of individuals living in modern-day slavery.

According to the Global Slavery Index, the top five countries – by the numbers – for modern-day slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. These five countries account for 58% of individuals living in modern-day slavery. It is significant to note that India and Uzbekistan are in the top five countries for both prevalence and number.

India

India is among the top five countries both by prevalence and total number of individuals living in modern-day slavery. Global Slavery Index survey data reveals that approximately 18 million people – the most in the world— are victims of modern-day slavery. Debt bondage, a type of forced labor that compels an individual to work to pay off a debt – often from previous generations – is the most common form of modern slavery in India. Men, women, and children are all engaged in debt bondage and forced to work in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and factories. Consistent with global trends, the most vulnerable groups to modern slavery in India are those in the lowest caste, minority groups, and migrants, and particularly women and children from these communities. Forced labor also occurs outside of debt bondage; children are exploited to work as carpet weavers, domestic servants, and beggars, as well as in factories and agriculture. Further, it’s reported that organizers of begging rings intentionally mutilate children as a way to earn more money. It is estimated that millions are subjected to sex trafficking. Child sex trafficking is common in areas of religious pilgrimage and tourist destinations. Foreign women and children are vulnerable to sex trafficking, particularly those from Nepal and Bangladesh. Forced marriages and recruitment of children into armed forces also continue to be prevalent in India.

China

According to the Global Slavery Index, 3.38 million people are victims of modern-day slavery in China. The internal migrant population, which is thought to exceed 180 million people, and the poor are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and are subjected to forced labor in brick kilns, coal-mines, and factories, among other labor sectors. State-sponsored forced labor, though technically outlawed in a series of policy changes from 2015 to 2017, is believed to continue, particularly among the minority Uighur population.

Sex trafficking and forced marriage continue to be prevalent in China. Traffickers often lure Chinese girls and women from rural areas to cities through the promise of work, but exploit them in the commercial sex trade. Outside of China, the TIP Report estimates that Chinese citizens are victims of sex trafficking in 19 other countries. China’s sex imbalance – due, in part, to the One Child Policy – has created a large demand for brides, both Chinese and foreign. To keep up with demand, women have been trafficked from countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and North Korea. Poor Chinese men often purchase a foreign bride because the price is much less than the needed dowries and gifts to marry a local.

Further, both the Global Slavery Index and the U.S. State Department’s TIP Report state that the Chinese government is not making significant efforts to address the issue.

Pakistan

Approximately 2.1 million people in Pakistan are victims of modern-day slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index. Bonded labor is the most frequent form of trafficking and is most common in agriculture and brick kilns, as well as fisheries, mining, carpet-making, and other handicrafts. Children are vulnerable to forced begging, domestic servitude, brick kilns, and sex trafficking and the TIP Report specifically highlights reports of boys victimized by sex trafficking surrounding truck stops, bus stations, and shrines. There are also reports of girls “used as chattel to settle debts or disputes” and systematic exploitation of LGBTQ+ individuals in sex trafficking. Forced marriage continues to be an issue in Pakistan with women and girls sold as brides and, according to the TIP Report, sometimes forced into prostitution by their husbands in Iran or Afghanistan.

Pakistan also serves as a destination country for men, women, and children from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, Russia, Nepal, Iran, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan, who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.

Outside of Pakistan, men and women who migrate for work are often exploited and forced into bonded labor and/or sex trafficking. This is often the result of working with recruiters who charge high and illegal fees.

Bangladesh

The Global Slavery Index estimates that 1.5 million people are living in modern-day slavery in Bangladesh with sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced labor among the most frequent forms of trafficking. Forced labor is the most common form of modern-day slavery in Bangladesh, impacting approximately 1.2 million; manual labor makes up 24% of those in forced labor, followed by 22% in construction, 13% in drug production, and 11% in farming. Forced labor disproportionately impacts boys and men with an estimated 85% of forced labor undertaken by males, though this is flipped in the garment sector. The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report states that children are vulnerable to forced labor in tanneries, can be sold into bondage by their parents, and that street children specifically are at risk for forced begging. Additionally, Bangladesh’s significant Rohingya population, stateless and often undocumented, is particularly vulnerable to all forms of human trafficking.

Though modern-day slavery occurs throughout the country, Bangladesh often serves as source country for trafficking. Bangladeshis seeking to migrate to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe, or the U.S. for work are often exploited by recruitment agencies prior to their departure. Large and illegal fees often trap individuals in debt bondage. According to the TIP Report, women and girls who operate through recruitment agencies are particularly vulnerable, with evidence showing that those attempting to secure domestic work in Lebanon or Jordan were forced into sex trafficking and other forms of labor in Syria.

Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, with 29% of girls married before the age of 15 and 2% before the age of 11. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 390,000 people are victims of forced prostitution, including girls as young as 9 and 10.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, like India, is among the top five countries both by prevalence and the total number of individuals in modern-day slavery. It is estimated that 1.2 million people in Uzbekistan ­­­­­­are ­­victims of modern-day slavery. Men, women, and children have historically been forced into labor in the country’s cotton fields. Though the government has stated that forced child labor ended in 2015, the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report mentions that anecdotal evidence shows forced labor of students, aged 11-15, continued. State sanctioned labor by adults in agriculture and construction remains widespread. Further, it is believed that a large portion of cotton harvested through state sanctioned slave labor is in the supply chains of major companies around the world.

Reporting on modern slavery in Uzbekistan is difficult as the government has routinely harassed, threatened, arrested, and abused activists seeking to observe the cotton harvest and weeding seasons. Outside of Uzbekistan, citizens are subjected to forced labor in the construction, oil and gas, agriculture, retail, and hospitality sectors, mostly in Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Ukraine. Though forced labor is most prevalent, sex trafficking of Uzbeks occurs both domestically and internationally, victimizing primarily women and children.

For more information on modern-day slavery in these countries and others, visit the Global Slavery Index and the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report.

Photo courtesy of Shresthakedar. 

December 26, 2017

This week’s blog highlights news on human trafficking and modern-day slavery from around the world.

Hotels are Key in the Fight to End Human Trafficking (Fast Company)

As the ski season ramps up in Beaver Creek, Colorado, about 120 seasonal employees at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch gathered inside a series of upscale meeting rooms for onboarding training. The agenda covered hotel rules and expectations, tours of the building, and good customer service.

Oh – and how to spot a slave, too.

Modern Slavery: ‘I had to eat the dog’s food to survive’ (BBC)

It was already late when Maria, alone in her room, thought about taking her own life by jumping from the seventh floor window. Her day at work, just on the other side of the door, had again started around dawn and only ended 15 hours later. She felt weak, having not eaten for two days.

For $6 a month, child trafficking nearly halted in Benin hotspot (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Giving poor families just $6 a month has significantly reduced child trafficking in parts of the West African country of Benin where there is a longstanding practice of exploiting children for labor in fields and mines

‘Damning’: Theresa May under fire as anti-slavery scheme branded a failure (The Guardian)

Members of Parliament and rights groups have criticized Theresa May’s flagship strategy to tackle modern slavery, after a damning report by the public spending watchdog found it had failed victims.

My brother was held as a slave for 26 years (The Guardian)

Alan drifted away from home in his 20s and, for 26 years, we didn’t even know if he was alive. Then we discovered the awful truth – for that whole time, he had been kept in modern-day slavery. This article provides a first-person account of reunification after tragedy and how modern-day slavery leaves a lasting impact.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force

December 18, 2017

Modern-day slavery is pervasive. Though estimates differ – the Global Slavery Index approximates 45.8 million people, while the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates 40.3 million – it is clear that slavery is a global crisis.

Where is modern-day slavery most prevalent?                                                                                           

According to the Global Slavery Index, North Korea (4.37%), Uzbekistan (3.97%), Cambodia (1.64%), India (1.40%), and Qatar (1.35%) have the highest prevalence – percentage of population – in modern-day slavery.

Modern-day slavery is an umbrella term – often used interchangeably with human trafficking – that refers to the exploitation of individuals through threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, and/or deception. It includes the practices of forced labor, debt bondage, domestic servitude, forced marriage, sex trafficking, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers, among others. The most common forms of exploitation are forced labor, which, according to the ILO, impacts 24.9 million people a year – 16 million in private sector exploitation, 4 million in state sanctioned forced labor, and 4.8 million in sex trafficking – and forced marriage, which enslaves 15.4 million individuals. The types of slavery vary by country and region, and, as will be seen in the cases below, is dependent on domestic factors such as the economy, type of government, social structure, current events, natural disasters, and interaction with neighboring countries.

North Korea

With 4.37 percent of its population enslaved, North Korea has the highest prevalence of modern-day slavery in the world. The North Korean government is the primary offender, presiding over forced labor both at home and abroad. Domestically, political prison camps and labor training centers have institutionalized forced labor among North Korean citizens. It is estimated that between 80,000 to 120,000 citizens are held prisoner in labor camps, forced to work long hours in poor conditions in logging, mining, and farming.  Even those not held in political prisons or labor training centers are required to work for the state. For instance, schools force their students to work on farms with the threat of physical abuse if quotas are not met. Internationally, in an effort to subvert sanctions, North Korea exports forced labor to over 45 countries, earning approximately two to three billion dollars annually through their exploitation. North Korean workers are located primarily in China and Russia, but also have a substantial presence in the Gulf states and Africa in industries such as construction, resource extraction, and agriculture. There have been widespread news reports on North Korean laborers building World Cup stadiums, and other large construction projects, in Russia.

North Korea’s oppressive state causes many to flee the country, making them vulnerable to traffickers. Women and girls who have escaped or been smuggled to China with a promise of a better life are often subjected to trafficking, either in the commercial sex trade or as brides. China’s unbalanced demographics, a result of its one-child policy, creates a demand for brides, particularly in rural areas; North Korean women are often trafficked to fulfill this demand. If found by Chinese authorities, North Koreans are forcibly repatriated and are often placed in labor camps or put to death.

Uzbekistan

It is estimated that 3.97 percent of Uzbekistan’s population ­­­­­­are ­­victims of modern-day slavery. Men, women, and children have historically been forced into labor in the country’s cotton fields. Though the government has stated that forced child labor ended in 2015, the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report mentions that anecdotal evidence shows forced labor of students, aged 11-15, continued. State sanctioned labor by adults in agriculture and construction remains widespread. Further, it is believed that a large portion of cotton harvested through state sanctioned slave labor is in the supply chains of major companies around the world. Reporting on modern slavery in Uzbekistan is difficult as the government has routinely harassed, threatened, arrested, and abused activists seeking to observe the cotton harvest and weeding seasons. Outside of Uzbekistan, citizens are subjected to forced labor in the construction, oil and gas, agriculture, retail, and hospitality sectors, mostly in Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Ukraine. Though forced labor is most prevalent, sex trafficking of Uzbeks occurs both domestically and internationally, victimizing primarily women and children.

Cambodia

Cambodia is the third most prevalent country for modern-day slavery in the world with 1.65 percent of its population living in slavery. Forced labor, debt bondage, forced marriage, and sex trafficking are the most common forms of slavery in Cambodia. Large numbers of Cambodian men have been victims of forced labor on fishing vessels, particularly Thai vessels; details of their poor conditions and treatment have been widely reported in the media. Global Slavery Index estimates that out of the 201,000 people subjected to force labor in Cambodia, 60 percent are in manufacturing, meaning that slave labor is in supply chains of multi-national corporations around the world. Forced labor through debt bondage is also prevalent in agriculture, construction, factories and domestic work. Cambodian women often migrate for domestic work in the Middle East, Malaysia, and Singapore, but have faced significant abuse and have since been barred from employment as maids in Malaysia and are prevented from work in Qatar based on concerns of “sexual abuse, low wages, and harsh laws.” Sex trafficking remains an issue in Cambodia. Men, women, and children are exploited in the sex tourism industry, which has been pushed further underground due to efforts to curb it. Street children are particularly vulnerable, and boys specifically have been the victim of abuse by foreign nationals as well as Cambodian men and those from neighboring countries.

The Global Slavery Index estimates that 55,800 people in Cambodia are victims of forced marriage. Further, the demand for brides in China has increased trafficking of Cambodian women. Women often enter marriages through a broker with promises of a better life in China, but many are deceived and find themselves in debt and facing situations of forced labor, prostitution, and/or domestic abuse.

India

Global Slavery Index survey data reveals that approximately 18 million people, 1.4 percent of India’s total population, are victims of modern-day slavery. Debt bondage, a type of forced labor that compels an individual to work to pay off a debt – often from previous generations – is the most common form of modern slavery in India. Men, women, and children are all engaged in debt bondage and forced to work in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and factories. Consistent with global trends, the most vulnerable groups to modern slavery in India are those in the lowest caste, minority groups, and migrants, and particularly women and children from these communities. Forced labor also occurs outside of debt bondage; children are exploited to work as carpet weavers, domestic servants, and beggars, as well as in factories and agriculture. Further, it’s reported that organizers of begging rings intentionally mutilate children as a way to earn more money. It is estimated that millions are subjected to sex trafficking. Child sex trafficking is common in areas of religious pilgrimage and tourist destinations. Foreign women and children are vulnerable to sex trafficking, particularly those from Nepal and Bangladesh. Forced marriages and recruitment of children into armed forces also continue to be prevalent in India.

Qatar

Forced labor in Qatar is a pandemic. It is estimated that 1.36 percent of its population lives in modern-day slavery. With approximately 90 percent of its population labor migrants, the population is vulnerable to exploitation.  These individuals – primarily from South and Southeast Asia as well as Africa and the Middle East – relocate to Qatar voluntarily for work in the construction and domestic sectors, but often find themselves subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, or other forms of modern day slavery. Forced labor and debt bondage is often a result of illegal and large fees charged by recruiters in the sending countries, however, Qatar’s kafala system is also responsible for the institutionalization of forced labor. Kafala, translated as sponsorship system is a framework that requires unskilled migrants to have an employee sponsor to legally be in the country. This system has created systemic abuse as employers often confiscate passports and are able to abuse workers with little recourse. Qatar has faced widespread international condemnation for their use of slave labor, particularly in the construction of World Cup sites. The government announced it abolished the kafala system in 2016, but this appears to be in name only. In October 2017, it was again reported that the end of the kafala system was near and improvements to workers’ rights forthcoming. Though construction is the most visible form of forced labor in Qatar, domestic workers, who are almost exclusively female and under the kafala system, face many of the same issues. Employers have been known to withhold payments, restrict movement, confiscate passports and other personal documents, and physical, psychological, and sexual violence. Even worse, domestic workers who speak out about these abuses are often imprisoned for “illicit relations.”

For more information on modern-day slavery in these countries and others, visit the Global Slavery Index and the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report.

Photo courtesy of Chris Shervey .