The slave trade was legally abolished in the British Empire on March 25 1833, yet the illegal trade of people continues today and is a growing problem. The very nature of the trade, appropriately named ‘human trafficking,’ means gathering statistics on the scale of the problem is near impossible, but it is estimated that between two and four million men, women and children are trafficked across borders and within their own country each year. This means one person is trafficked across borders every minute.
The trade earns double the worldwide revenue of Coca Cola and is the fastest growing international crime. A report published by Patrick Belser in 2005 estimated that human trafficking was the second largest source of illegal income worldwide, exceeded only by drugs trafficking.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has since stated that there are some reports that trafficking groups are changing their cargo from drugs to people.
This enables them to achieve higher profits at a lower risk; people can be sold and re-sold a number of times and for various uses.
Human trafficking is a huge injustice and the US Department of State declared in 2003 that the trafficking of people to be ‘one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time’. It is becoming increasingly prominent in the media, however it is still hard to detect, and therefore hard to prosecute perpetrators.
Location of trafficking victims is also hard, and there have been only 25 convictions a year for sex trafficking since 2004 in England. In October last year, Scotland had their first prosecution for human trafficking and Northern Ireland’s first conviction was in early February.
Both these convictions were sex trafficking offences, yet trafficking for the sex industry is only one of many different forms of the crime.
Simon Chorley of Stop the Traffik said: “between April 2009 and June 2011, 60 British nationals- men, women and children- are believed to have been tricked or forced into exploitation in the UK or another country.”
Sophie Hayes* from Leeds is one such victim- she was trafficked into the sex industry by her boyfriend, Kas*, whilst on holiday in Italy. She says “my life fell into a horrific routine.
“Kas used violence to keep me in check… Working all night and sleeping all day, I could barely manage a mouthful of food. I was so sickened by what my life had become. As the months went by, I became racked with endless illness from standing in the freezing cold every night, and my weight plunged to six stone.
But still, I was forced to sleep with up to 30 men every night, earning Kas up to €1,200 (£1,030).”
Sophie however was lucky as she managed to escape from her horrific ordeal. She has recently published a book, Trafficked, to tell her story, under a pseudonym as she cannot safely tell her story under her real name.
So what is human trafficking? It is when someone is deceived, taken by force or abducted and then bought, sold and transported into slavery.
In many cases, family members or friends deceive parents into releasing their children or selling them for as low as $20 to local gang masters of serious organised international trafficking rings. Victims of trafficking suffer repeated physical abuse, fear, torture and threats to break their spirits and turning them into a saleable commodity.
A person can be sold and trafficked many times, within their own country and across international borders. It takes many different forms, the most common being sexual exploitation but it also can be work in sweat shops, child brides, circuses, sacrificial worship, forced begging, sale of human organs, farm labour and domestic servitude.
Trafficking may seem like a crime committed far away – terrible, yes, but ultimately of little consequence to a student at the University of Sheffield. Think again. UNICEF has said that cocoa, coffee, clothing, electronics, jewellery and many other everyday products that we take for granted bear the taint of slavery, especially child slavery.
For example, the Ivory Coast, which produces 40 per cent of the world’s cocoa (a key ingredient in the production of chocolate), often uses child labour in their factories and fields. The US Department of State estimates that 10 per cent of the children employed are trafficked labour.
One victim told the organisation Stop the Traffik his story: “When I was 10, I left home to try and earn some money to help my family. When I got to Sikasso I didn’t know anyone.”
A locator found me at the bus station and asked me if I was looking for work. He told me that the work in Mali is not worth my trouble; that I should go to Korhogo, and when I get there I could make lots of money. I told him that I could not say that this was true, because I have never been to Korhogo, and that I was too small to go.”
But I could not get away from him and he talked and talked and convinced me. He put me in his car and we went to Ivory Coast and sold me to a planter for 20,000 CFA ($40).”
Children like him work in inhumane conditions which involve long working hours, dangerous tools, exposure to pesticides, work in gruelling heat, and beatings.
The children who are trafficked into work on cocoa plantations are denied basic human rights, including the right to an education. Education is integral in breaking the cycle of trafficking – the more educated and informed people are, the more able they are to avoid being deceived by traffickers.
A deadline was set for major companies to certify their labour to be “child labour-free” by 2005; however, this deadline was missed and extended to 50 per cent child labour-free by 2008. This too passed with only insignificant, surface reforms, and now in 2012, child labour is still used widely in cocoa plantations across West Africa. This includes slave labour from children taken from their homes against their will.
Companies can become complicit in the crime of trafficking without realising it.
Many source ingredients or products from other companies who in turn source from other companies – and so the chain goes on.
This can eventually lead back to a supplier who uses trafficked labour on their plantations or in their factories. On the other end of things, traffickers may use a company’s products or premises to facilitate their trafficking activities.
One key way in which the use of trafficked labour can be reduced is by reducing the demand for trafficked labour in the first place.
Reducing the demand can range from reducing the use of brothels and prostitutes (who are often trafficked and forced into work in the sex industry against their will), to educating consumers about product origins.
Whether it’s sex or chocolate, awareness and education are key in reducing the consumer demand that keeps those who run slavery industries in business.
At the global level, the United Kingdom is primarily a demander, rather than a supplier, of trafficked labour. Although internal trafficking in the UK exists, relatively few UK citizens are actually victims of human trafficking.
However, this means that we are one of the countries that supply the demand for trafficked labour. Therefore, the onus rests on us, as residents of the United Kingdom, to do what we can to combat human trafficking. How is this achievable?
The easiest way to be traffick-free is to ensure your purchasing habits do not support trafficked labour. The simplest way to do this is to buy Fairtrade produce.
Fairtrade is such a large movement now that you can easily buy a significant proportion of your everyday groceries from Fairtrade or similar ethical suppliers.
It may cost an extra quid or two, and that can be quite significant for students on a tight budget, but surely the long-term benefits are better than the short-term expenditure.
Fairtrade food is easy, however clothing is unfortunately harder to come by and a lot more expensive relatively compared to Fairtrade food.
One alternative is to buy vintage or second-hand clothes. Another is to check out shops’ ethical policies – you can usually find their pledges on their websites.
One thing to look for is whether shops are a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative or have a similar alternative policy.
If you can’t work out where a shop’s goods come from, a great way to put pressure on companies to change their practices is simply by emailing them to ask about their ethical policies and whether they are certain that there is no trafficked labour involved in any of the stages of making their product.
As well as this, it is important for businesses to know where all parts of their products come from – businesses must be told that it is just as bad for them to indirectly engage in trafficked labour as it is to directly engage in such practices.
As consumers we have an enormous amount of power over companies. The only reason that the Fairtrade movement is so successful today is that people have bought Fairtrade goods.
If companies turn more of a profit by stocking Fairtrade produce than they do non-Fairtrade produce, they will begin to stock more ethical goods. So use your money as you would a ballot paper on Election Day – it really does make a difference.
At the policy level, stronger labour laws and unionisation has been shown to reduce the ease with which trafficked labour can be used – so long as they can be extended to cover currently-excluded groups of people such as undocumented migrant workers (trafficked people are often undocumented).
Two common end points for trafficking (domestic work and sex labour) are completely undocumented, and pressure on the government to change this would make it harder for traffickers to use forced labour in the UK.
There are many organisations across the world working hard to end the slave industry.
GoodWeave is one example; they work to end child labour in the rug industry. Many children are forced to work in the rug industry, and there have been examples of child labour from children as young as five.
These children face health risks such as malnutrition, impaired vision, deformities caused by working in cramped conditions, and respiratory diseases from inhaling wool fibres.
Children trafficked into industries such as the rug business are often re-trafficked, for example into the sex industry, and face a lifetime of slavery.
Chameli, 12 was sent by her father to work in a carpet factory in Nepal from the age of ten. She would wake at 5am each day to walk to the factory and start to weave rugs straight away, having had no breakfast.
She worked until 8pm each night with only a short rest in the morning. She earned the equivalent to £3.50 a month with and was unable to go to school. But then an inspector from GoodWeave came and persuaded the factory to allow Chameli to go to their rehabilitation centre.
There she is taken care of and is able to have an education. She says “GoodWeave has changed my life… if [they were] not in Nepal many children like me would have to work in carpet factories. They would be deprived of love, care and education.”
Stop the Traffik is an organisation established in 2006 with the principle aims of preventing the sale of people, protecting the victims of the trafficked and also to prosecute the perpetrators of trafficking.
It does this in three key ways; to educate; to advocate and to fundraise.
The organisation endeavours to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking and ways to act by engaging with communities and professionals to establish an environment where it is harder to traffick, hide and exploit people. They raise money to finance Stop the Traffik projects and anti-trafficking activities throughout the world, working with campaigners as well as those who are vulnerable to, and have been, trafficked.
To get involved in the fight to end human trafficking, search ‘Sheffield Uni Stop the Traffik Society’ on Facebook and get in touch.