World Day against Trafficking in Persons is an opportunity to open our eyes to the scale of an abominable crime taking place in our midst and to shine the brightest spotlight on what takes place in the shadows: slavery. Human trafficking is just another name for modern-day slavery, wherein the victims are coerced and deceived into labour and sexual exploitation.
Modern slavery is a global problem; one that exists in nearly all societies. It does not respect borders or jurisdictions. It is the second largest and most lucrative criminal activity in the world with human beings traded like commodities. Despite international labour standards and a UN Protocol against human trafficking, globally, it is estimated that there are at least 20 million victims of human trafficking – trapped by debt and violence. In a perverse commercialisation of humanity, they are used like products and then thrown away, making modern slavery, whether for labour, sex, or organs, not only a crime against an individual; it is a crime against human dignity.
This barbaric exploitation is a threat to national security, public health, economic stability, and democracy. It undermines the rule of law; it erodes the core values that underpin a civil society. Transnational criminal networks – be they involved with drug trafficking, money laundering, or document forging – are partly enabled by participating in human trafficking activities and making high profits. The International Labour Organisation estimates that forced labour generates EUR 130bn of illegal profits each year.
Conscious of the risks posed by trafficking in human beings to people and societies, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes commitments and goals on ending trafficking in human beings. To be successful, all countries must be united in the shared commitment to end modern slavery.
The European Union (EU), as a major development aid donor, has funded projects in different areas of the world to strengthen capacities of partner countries to prevent and effectively respond to this crime. Our actions, such as the EU-UNODC Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, follow a comprehensive approach under the paradigm of the four Ps: Prevention of engagement in trafficking activities; Protection of victims; Prosecution of criminals; and the establishment of Partnerships between the various actors involved. This victim centred and gender sensitive approach places human rights at the centre of all efforts and is part of every project we fund.
The fight against trafficking in human beings features prominently on the EU Agenda on Migration adopted in May 2015. Trafficking is, however, more than just an immigration issue; it is a human rights issue, a development issue, a criminal issue, and a security issue. It requires a coherent response that acts across multiple fronts: collecting data to uncover the scale of the problem; building specialist capabilities among law enforcement and criminal justice systems; and making sure that all relevant agencies are talking to each other, whether it is social services, health departments, hospitals, or care homes.
In addition, the ACP-EU Dialogue on Migration and Development provides a sound basis to develop a common understanding on the main challenges Governments face in addressing human trafficking while strengthening cooperation in these areas. However, the real work has to be done in translating the Dialogue’s recommendations into concrete actions, inter alia, through projects such as the ACP-EU Migration Action. Only this way can authorities be supported to provide the most comprehensive response to trafficking, can criminal networks be dismantled, and can victims be supported.
Considering that these challenges are not unique to the EU, we are supporting our partners in the Caribbean in conducting a comprehensive study on the extent, nature, and patterns of human trafficking in the CARIFORUM region. As many countries in the Caribbean have still not recorded a single conviction for human trafficking, we are providing training to regional law enforcement officers in identifying, investigating, and prosecuting those who are committing these abhorrent crimes.
Slavery thrives partly because its horrors remain largely hidden. Let’s not shut our eyes and dull our senses to crimes that shame us all. Let’s take action to prevent any more victims from having their dreams of a better future turn into nightmares of exploitation and servitude.
(Ambassador Daniela Tramacere, Head of the EU Delegation to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS, and CARICOM/CARIFORUM)