Towards a Socioeconomic Etiology of Human Trafficking

Paper by Juan J. Llach

Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery

Workshop 2-3 November 2013

Pontifical Academies of Sciences, Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations

I will refer first to the scope and the limitations of the issue of the paper – because there are many limitations – then the characteristics of the victims and afterwards those of the traffickers. Of course about the traffickers we know much less than about the victims. Then I will try to formulate some hypotheses about socio-economic factors that can be associated with or be causes of human trafficking. I will devote some time to the NEET phenomenon, people that are not in education, employment or training, which is a growing and very worrisome phenomenon. And finally, I will try to arrive at some conclusions. By its nature, the problem we deal with is very difficult; most statistics refer to detected victims and are not completely reliable, of course, and as regards criminals, information is even scarcer, which is completely logical. On the other hand, academics in general have not considered it very appealing to study the socio-economical and political etiology of the victims or the criminals. It is really surprising the very scarce amount of papers we have.

Going to the victims, the numbers, part of them, we saw this morning. According to the International Labour Office, they are between 20 and 27 million (and I will show new figures that come from a new organisation that is perhaps not very well known, in which victims are almost 30 million people): 68% are held in private forced labour, 22% in forced sexual exploitation, and 10% in state-imposed forced labour. The number of criminal convictions, compared to these statistics, is very small. Of the 4,746 global criminal convictions of traffickers, the majority was related to sex trafficking and not the other kinds, so there is the question of why this happens.

There you have the distribution and the value. According to the same sources, the value of the international – not the national – the international trade alone is 32 billion dollars. According to other figures, Gustavo Vera here told me that the figures are higher as regards the value of international trade.

This is the report of this new organisation called Walk Free, which is very recent; they say there are 30 million people and I recommend reading this report because from my point of view it is better than the other reports we have, I mean the human trafficking reports and those of the Department of State of the United States. Studying the phenomenon case by case, they built a ranking from the worst country regarding human trafficking, and that is Mauritania, and the best ones, which are England, Ireland, Denmark etc.

Regarding age and sex, 27% of all victims are children, defined as less than 18 years old. Between 55-60% are women. Women and girls together are 75%. Of every three child victims, two are girls. We can find a certain association between a region’s income and the proportion of adults that are victims of human trafficking. In less developed regions, child trafficking is more frequent.

There you have the distribution, more or less what I mentioned previously. It is very clear the situation in labour exploitation. You have more males than females in some categories but not in the case of state-imposed labour exploitation. Then you can analyse by regions; in some cases you can find perhaps some signals of solvent demand, so that the phenomenon per se is pushed by demand. For instance, sexual exploitation is more common in Europe, Central Asia and the Americas, so in countries with a higher GDP per capita. While in Africa, the Middle East, South and East Asia, forced labour is much more common, suggesting that perhaps you also have a phenomenon of excess supply of labour. I will refer afterwards, if I have time, to this characteristic.

You also have some association between a region’s income and immigrant victims. This is also something that could be useful at the time of preventing these kinds of crimes. Regarding countries of origins of victims detected in Western and Central Europe – mostly developed countries – you can find many Asians, Africans and Latin Americans, but also some Europeans and even Western Europeans, so apparently nobody is exempt from this situation and as concerns the share of children among the total number of victims, you have incredible dispersions. You can see Scandinavia there, the proportion is high – of course the absolute level of human trafficking in Scandinavia is lower than in other countries – but the proportion of children there is not low.

Then we can try to say something about education. First of all, of course, general education, lack of access to education is considered as associated, I mentioned there some sources, as a risk factor. Education clearly increases the probability of getting a better job. Secondly, parents eager to give a good education to their children, frequently the situations take advantage of this, offering every kind of good prospects that at the end are very bad.

And in the third place, more education leads to better specific knowledge of the situations that are dangerous from the point of view of human trafficking. This is interesting because there is a certain correlation between human development and slavery. Sorry if I use the word “slavery”, but it is the name used by the source, the source is Walk Free, and the index they build is called “Global Slavery Index”. So the more human development, the less human trafficking and the less slavery, and the correlation coefficient is high, 74, it is very high.

Then, regarding the family situation, isolation is considered a relevant factor, it was very clearly mentioned this morning. The situation of immigrants in many cases is very risky, it is considered an important risk factor. Some authors emphasise that family disintegration is a risk factor, then we can find parents giving in, forced by poverty and ignorance, and enlisting their children, hoping to benefit from their wages to sustain the family. This is a very complicated phenomenon because in the middle you have the decision of the family, the parents. Children sold, of course, and sexual abuse by relatives, different situations in which the relation with the family is important. Then we can go to human traffickers and we can ask, why in this, sorry I will say “market”, do you have force instead of pacific or peaceful market. Well, you have some problems. There you can see drug barons’ or dealers’ funerals, this is a case in Myanmar, a drug trafficking baron, and we have also some cases in Argentina, in Vicente López, very different but the question is, where were the security forces in those moments? The tolerance, in a way, to this kind of phenomenon in some parts of the world is growing, in Latin America in particular, in some countries of Latin America, the forced tolerance, we can say, because you do not perhaps have alternatives.

Of course, as regards the prevalent types of human trafficking, you can have different conclusions if dealing with detected cases or with persons, estimated figures of persons in human trafficking situations, very different conclusions. Sexual exploitation, 58% of cases detected, 22% of persons in situation of human trafficking. Forced labour, the contrary, 36% of cases detected, 78% of persons in situation of human trafficking. It surprised me a lot, a very relevant omission in most of these reports is the reference to drugs, and why and how youngsters are involved as dealers of drugs in many countries and in a growing number, and this is almost completely absent in the reports known. Not of course in the papers from NGOs etc., but in the reports it is almost absent. And well, you can see there the proportion by countries. If you consider the percentage of prevalence of forced labour, central and south Eastern Europe is the highest, 4% of the population, 4% in Africa. If you consider the amount of people in situation of human trafficking, Asia and the Pacific is the region with the highest value and as regards traffickers, we can say that they are mainly adult males and nationals of the country in which they operate. As it was mentioned today, more women and foreign nationals are involved in human trafficking than in most other crimes, and you have women traffickers, basically in the case of sexual exploitation, as it was mentioned this morning. Then you have 134 countries and territories that have criminalised trafficking, but the number of convictions for trafficking per person is, in general, very low, so a big contrast in the situation, persons in the situation of human trafficking and convictions. Then we ask this question of why these are situations in which forced and, very frequently, mafia behaviours are present. In some cases it is very clear, these are illegal activities so they only can perform by way of force in a way, this is the case of prostitution in some countries, not in all of them and, of course, more clearly the case of drugs. But in other cases, like forced labour, it happens in activities that are otherwise legal. So the question is, and in those cases it is very clear that we can find complicity of national or local authorities that is a very important incentive to perform this kind of human trafficking.

Here you have the picture of the activity that Margaret Archer mentioned this morning, what happened some months ago in Bangladesh, a terrible problem in a factory in Bangladesh with deaths. From my point of view, workers there are in a grave situation, they are not clearly in a situation of human trafficking by they are very clearly in inhuman labour conditions. Immediately after this accident, two different conventions, one by European countries, the other one by North America, were signed by the firms, multinational firms, in order to improve labour conditions. But some doubts exist about whether these conventions are put in practice. So it is important, from my point of view, to distinguish between clear cases of forced labour and these very inhuman labour conditions.

Speculating a bit, perhaps – of course, supply and demand are always together – but we can ask, looking at the prices that you can find in this market, which phenomena are basically demand driven and which phenomena are more supply driven. In the case of drugs it appears that demand plays a very important role. There is a rent, economically speaking, there is a rent in the business of drug trafficking. The same happens in babies and organ trafficking. Sex trafficking, from my point of view, appears as a very segmented market. You have a low price, medium price, high price, and in those different situations, you have a more active role of supply or demand, and in contrast with what Margaret Archer said this morning, I think that in the case of forced labour, from my point of view, the main original cause, is poverty. If you do not have persons in extreme poverty, it is very difficult for multinationals or any other firm to have people in those labour conditions, so the last reason, from my point of view, is poverty.

It is also very interesting this analysis about the correlation between slavery and corruption, made also by Walk Free: when you have less corrupt countries or regions, you have less slavery. The correlation is very relevant.

And now I will refer to some of the hypotheses. As regards generally socio-economic factors, they alone cannot explain the realities of human trafficking, but I think they are very important, as well as poverty, unemployment, underemployment, low level of education, being an immigrant (which is a risk factor) and local tolerance is also very relevant; in many cases you cannot explain the high incidence of human trafficking, if the tolerance of the authorities is not there. Otherwise it is impossible to explain the amount of people involved in those situations. This is interesting: it is the correlation between GDP per capita and human trafficking. You can see that you have a positive correlation, the higher the GDP per capita, the lower the slavery of human trafficking. But look at this red line, what you can see looking at this red line, instead of the other one, is that when we have enormous increases in GDP per capita, slavery reduces very fast. I think that this is a very relevant factor, because it obliges us to concentrate on the importance of poverty as one very crucial factor of human trafficking. Unemployment, you have also there in the case of Hungary, as an example, the incidence of unemployment. And some consider that the access to financial services is also relevant, why? Because many people in situation of human trafficking are there because of debt, debt bondage, particularly in some Asian countries. So when you have more institutions, more accessibility to credit, you are less in the hands of these people, who charge impossible-to-pay interest rates, and then people remain bonded.

And now I will refer very briefly to the hypothesis of the importance of the NEET phenomenon that is growing. We have 75 million unemployed youths nowadays. Unemployment fell during some years, immediately before the crisis of 2008, and then increased again. You can see there the projections for regions – by the way, this presentation is different, it has newer information than the one that some of you received, so we will try to send this one. You can check there youth unemployment by region, by gender: you can see many countries in which youth unemployment is much higher than 20%, going even to more than 50% in countries, according to the International Labour Office, like Spain or Greece. And then you have the statistics according to a study from Mackenzie. In the Netherlands, NEET youngsters are just 4% of people aged between 15 and 24. And on the other extreme, this considered basically OECD members, on the other extreme you have Mexico or Turkey which have between 25% and 30% of youth that are in this situation. So I think this is a relevant factor. In the case of Latin America the average is around 20%, and then you have a very complicated issue, but is worth mentioning. It is the growing importance of non-cognitive abilities. In education, in general, but also in the labour market, employers more and more tend to give more importance to non-cognitive rather than cognitive abilities, and this, I think, is also relevant from the point of view of the risk factor to fall in a human trafficking situation, the non-cognitive abilities. The problem with these abilities, one of the problems, is that nobody really knows how non-cognitive abilities are acquired, that is the problem. So everybody is speaking about this but nobody knows, almost nobody knows, how to improve non-cognitive abilities.

Going now to some sort of conclusion, we can enumerate risk factors that, of course, are probabilistic, not deterministic. To be a woman or a girl is a risk factor, particularly for sexual exploitation; to be a man or a boy, particularly in the case of forced labour. To have a disintegrated family is another risk factor. To be poor but healthy, strong, or pretty is also a risk factor, and in this connection the situation of the NEETs is worrisome, I would say. To have a low education level or to be educated but poor and live in a prosperous context, this can also be a risk factor. Going to more social ones, to be a NEET I mentioned, to live in slums near big and high middle-income cities in which the market is to be trafficked, to live in slums near richer countries, near the border, to be trafficked to that country, or to live in a country or region that is growing rapidly in which investment is also growing, and in which you have an excess supply of labour, particularly in rural areas, where people go to the cities and are offered 50 dollars per month. In Bangladesh factory I showed, the initial wage was 50 dollars per month; now they are negotiating 100 dollars a month for the salary.

And you also have political risks. To live in a weak rule of law country is a very clear risk factor, or to live in a country or region with high corruption levels is also a risk factor.

And finally, I will ask if it is convenient or not to link human trafficking to globalisation, poverty, slums, lack of education, unemployment etc. In the presentations we listened to this morning, and in the ones I read that we will see today and tomorrow, the positions are different. One of the positions is to think that it is better not to mix these questions, why? Because if you begin with the analysis of globalisation, poverty etc., you run the risk of distracting the attention away from the specific question of human trafficking. This is a position I think you need to put attention to, I do not agree with this position, but it exists and it has some reasons. On the other hand, to link those phenomena has some advantages, first from the point of view of prevention. What people and where are more prone to fall into human trafficking? I think the Academy, as I mentioned, is very clearly in debt with human trafficking, because the Academy has not given almost any interest to the issue, not only regarding the victims, but also, some studies can give information about which contexts are more prone to organised crime.

Networking with practitioners of other social programmes that eventually could be connected with the fight against human trafficking, to make evident the necessity of global concerted actions to fight against poverty, structural unemployment and the NEETs, I mean this is another advantage of the connection between human trafficking and those mega-causes. And finally, as I mentioned, alliances with the academy, as with this one, in order to improve the knowledge of the risk factors, actual and potential victims, and even to know more about traffickers. My perception is that we are just at the very beginning of knowing more about this phenomenon. I think that there exists the typical academic risk to study the issue, to organise seminars and discuss eternally about the causes of the phenomenon and the amount of people etc. and doing nothing. This risk clearly exists and in our professions, and I speak of mine, it is very common, but on the other hand this is no reason, from my point of view, to completely eliminate the study of these questions, because I think that these studies can help the prevention of these phenomena. Thank you very much.

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