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Every day, people living in the developed world wake up, drink their coffee, eat breakfast, get dressed, and go to work. However, what most people do not realize is that there are millions of other people who wake up without having something to drink or eat, already dressed because they slept in the only pair of clothes they own, and work around the clock because they are slaves. According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, 40.3 million people are estimated to be enslaved around the world.[1] Slavery is a ubiquitous problem, as it even exists in the coffee we drink. For example, two of the world’s biggest coffee companies, Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts, admit that beans from Brazilian plantations that use slave labor may end up in their coffee because they do not know the names of all the plantations that supply them. People trafficked to work for little or no pay, forced to live on rubbish heaps and drink water alongside animals, may have worked on plantations that supply these two companies, according to the media and research center DanWatch.[2]

Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is a multi-billion-dollar form of international organized crime that constitutes modern-day slavery[3] and represents the enslavement and exploitation of people on a daily basis.[4] It generates billions of dollars in illegal profits and contributes to global conflicts, terrorism, organized crime, corruption, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction. This article will discussicking%20External%20Brief2.pdf.tim of Trafficking Data energy transferredc volation of basic rights, freedom of expression and key TIP measures implemented by government and international agencies, highlight limitations, and propose recommendations.

Slavery is a ubiquitous problem, as it even exists in the coffee we drink.

In her book Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, Louis Shelly, a leading US expert on transnational organized crime and terrorism, describes the individual, communal, national, regional, and global consequences of TIP, stating that “trafficking undermines human as well as political security. Human security, as defined by the UN, requires that humans have security in their daily lives from such constant threats [… therefore] human trafficking violates the defining elements of human security.” [5] She moves on to point out the tremendous amount of scholarly and media attention, as well as resources, that have been given to the drug trade, underlining that this has not been the case for human trafficking.[6]  

In 2017, a collaborative effort occurred for the first time between the UN and a few of the top international organizations involved in TIP. The result of this collaboration was the report, “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, Forced Labor and Forced Marriage”, published using combined data in a uniform format, focusing on only two forms of modern slavery that were reliably able to be tracked. The report concluded that on any given day in 2016, 40 million people were victims of modern slavery, 24.9 million of forced labor, and 15.4 million of forced marriage.[7] As the title of this report suggests, it is important to understand that modern slavery covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labor, debt bondage, forced marriage, other slavery and slavery-like practices, and human trafficking.

Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term that focuses on commonalities across these legal concepts. Essentially, modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation in which a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.[8] What this report shows, along with Shelly’s trafficking analysis, is that the exploitation of people is a daily occurrence with security threats on a global scale, concerning governments, security services, international organizations, and citizens. 

According to the US State Department’s 2019 TIP Report, every year millions of men, women, and children are trafficked in countries around the world, including Turkey. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the ongoing refugee crisis, and thus migrant smuggling attempts, have caused an increase in human trafficking across the world. In fact, according to TIP reports in 2019, the 3.65 million displaced Syrians in Turkey represented the largest number of victims trafficked in 2017. Current estimates put the annual illegal profit from the trade at 150 billion dollars, only behind drug trafficking that generates 300 billion dollars, and the counterfeit trade at 250 billion dollars annually.[9]

Lost Children

A few years ago, the Managing Director for Ending Modern Slavery at Engage Now Africa (ENA), an international organization with a mission to heal, rescue, and lift its African brothers and sisters, worked with the Ugandan police force to locate and arrest several wanted human traffickers. During the anti-trafficking investigation, on 22 March 2017, ENA received a tip about the trafficking of children by a suspected rebel leader of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). This leader was on the Ugandan government’s most wanted list and was suspected of trafficking children to be child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ENA responded with the police force on a rescue mission, and as a result, discovered 15 children. The ages of the 15 children rescued varied from 1 to 16 years old, with most being between the ages of 3 and 7.10

The International Criminal Court states, “recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers are considered a war crime.”11 The use of children in war or conflict is not a new practice but has become more widespread. This particular child trafficking case drew a lot of media attention because police uncovered additional evidence linking one of the rebel suspects to a hit squad that had recently assassinated police spokesman Felix Kaweesi,12 along with his two bodyguards, in broad daylight only a month prior. The child soldier rescue operation became highly politicized, and was negatively impacted by all the sensational and inaccurate news stories which surrounded it. This caused the government to panic and abandon professional standards, policies, and procedures. Ultimately, the government haphazardly gave away all the rescued children to people claiming to be their parents. Sadly, it was only after giving these children away that the real parents showed up, demanding police re-rescue the very children they gave away. The ensuing chaos caused enough of a safety concern that ENA and its partners had to remove themselves from the case. The whereabouts of these children are still unknown.13 This illustrates a very clear nexus between TIP and conflicts, terrorism, organized crime, corruption, and human rights abuses. As Shelley puts it: “Trafficking in men and women also provides financial support for regional conflicts in Africa, Europe, Latin America, and Asia…children are trafficked in many regions to provide soldiers for rebel armies.”14

The US Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report documents numerous examples of TIP as a transnational crime threat. The 2018 report on Nigeria says:

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA [ISIS-West Africa] continued to forcibly recruit, abduct, and use child soldiers as young as 12-years-old as cooks, spies, messengers, bodyguards, armed combatants, and increasingly as suicide bombers in attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. In 2017, Boko Haram used at least 158 children as human bombers, significantly more than 19 used in all of 2016. The groups continue to abduct women and girls in the northern region of Nigeria, some of whom they subject to domestic servitude and forced labor. Boko Haram routinely forces girls to choose between forced marriages to its fighters—for the purpose of sexual slavery—or becoming suicide bombers. In some cases, Boko Haram forced child soldiers to marry one another.15

Countering TIP: The Role of Governments and International Agencies

Whether intentionally or not, even the US military, UN Peacekeepers, and private security companies contribute to human trafficking. In a 2005 report, Sarah Mendelson explains that security implications continue to be overlooked and downplayed: “First, networks that traffic in humans also traffic in guns and narcotics. Human trafficking therefore actively shapes the security environment by providing criminals with resources.”16 In the same report, counter-trafficking expert and former UK metropolitan police chief inspector Paul Holmes mentions that human trafficking provides “ready cash”, and that “every day a percentage of the money is being used to buy off the compliance of corrupt officials.” “In other words, peacekeepers—including military personnel and civilian contractors—who exploit trafficked women and girls not only break local and international laws but also unwittingly support precisely the people who do not want a safe, stable, and secure environment.”18

In September 2018, there was a major undercover investigation that resulted in the arrest of several NYPD detectives involved in illegal prostitution and gambling activities. “The brothels used online ads to attract customers and after passing the screenings, clients would be allowed to choose a prostitute and paid anywhere from 40 dollars for 15 minutes of sexual activity up to 160 dollars for a full hour,”19 according to the indictment. Between August 2016 and September 2017, prosecutors said the prostitution ring took in more than 2 million dollars. When you analyze this NYPD case, it becomes clear that an entrepreneurial criminal structure was used, meaning it was geared toward generating financial and material benefits. The media’s portrayal of the so-called prostitutes was misleading because the corrupt detectives arrested were, in fact, controlling the prostitutes’ movement, work hours, prices, type of sexual activity, and client profiles. That last measure of control was crucial because it prevented undercover police officers from uncovering the illegal activities for years.

The IOM Report in Figure 1 shows a graph of the means of control used by the perpetrators of trafficking. The report showcases rates of control through physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, threats, false promises/deception, lack of freedom of movement, provision of alcohol and drugs, denial of medical treatment, food, drink, withholding wages and ID, debt bondage, and excessive hours.20 All these measures of control demonstrate that TIP by its very nature is a serious crime threat. So, what are governments and international agencies doing to counter TIP?

Figure 1: Key Trends from IOM Victim of Trafficking Data

One would think that upon realizing and understanding all the stark realities surrounding human trafficking or modern slavery, governments and citizens would do all they can in their power to exterminate this scourge once and for all. While this has not happened, we can examine two key measures implemented to deal with TIP. The first is the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which is supplemented by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, also known as the Palermo Protocol (2000). The other is the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, which is the main legal instrument to combat TIP in the US. International agencies such as Interpol, UNODC, IOM, ILO, the FBI, and various NGOs use these measures to prevent and combat TIP around the globe.

The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime was adopted by the General Assembly on 15 November 2000. It is the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organized crime. Of the three protocols that supplement the Convention, we will focus on the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. In order for countries to become parties to any of the protocols, they must first become parties to the Convention itself. The US and Uganda have both fulfilled this prerequisite.

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children  entered into force on 25 December 2003 and was “the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed upon definition on trafficking in persons.” 21 The Protocol defined human trafficking legally, and specified three indicators for it to be defined as a criminal case of TIP — which is essential for a prosecution process.22 These indicators refer to a process or action (i.e., recruitment or the means of recruitment by force, fraud, or coercion) and a particular purpose (e.g., forced labor, sexual exploitation, or practices similar to slavery).  

Whether intentionally or not, even the US military, UN Peacekeepers, and private security companies contribute to human trafficking.

The establishment of domestic criminal offenses is supposed to support efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting TIP cases. The US’ TVPA 2000 is a good example of taking an international definition and applying it to a domestic legal framework.23 The TVPA of 2000, as amended, provides the tools to combat TIP both worldwide and domestically. The Act authorized the establishment of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons to assist in the coordination of anti-trafficking efforts.24 It also led to the State Department's TIP reports, which help provide insights into the crime and threat of TIP on a global scale. For example, Uganda’s Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2009 is the outcome of adopting the legal instruments mentioned above. Unfortunately, Uganda has still not ratified or signed the Palermo Protocol. This is an example of one of the weaknesses and limitations such conventions have.

The Use of the Internet in TIP Acts

In the 21st century, technology has become intertwined with TIP. Websites, social media, online ads, and advertisements are utilized to recruit and sell people, especially for commercial sex. Two of the biggest examples are the now-shutdown Craigslist’s “adult services” section and, each of which made vast profits using online advertisements for commercial sex. Backpage alone made 150 million dollars per year from its adult advertisements.25 These online advertisements and outcomes require a much further in depth look at beyond what this paper can discuss, as we would need to specifically analyze Section 320 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that protected both companies from prosecution.26 To state briefly though, there are overlapping issues between the First Amendment, human rights, and the crimes of prostitution and trafficking, in which technology plays a critical role. Indeed, technology has a part in the problem. However, its utilization is also crucial for intervention, prevention, and disruption efforts against those involved in perpetrating TIP.27

In 2016, a bizarre and disturbing child trafficking/murder case called the Illuminati case, or Busia case, named after the geographic location where the case originated, occurred in Uganda. This TIP case began with an online advertisement placed on Facebook that offered wealth, fame, and fortune. All anyone had to do was join this group called the “Illuminati” and call the number listed in the advertisement. There were two young male suspects in this case. One of them, who was unemployed, called the number from the ad and was given instructions on how to join this group and gain wealth. Not realizing that the ad was a scam, he sent money to the individuals whom he had contacted but had never personally met. The criminals running this scam knew how to take advantage of this young man, and thus carried out a grooming process. They convinced the suspect that he needed to commit a certain criminal act in order to be rewarded. What he did was truly horrific. An excerpt taken from the actual Ugandan police preliminary investigation report, seen in Figure 2, details the lengths to which this young man went to acquire the promised fame and fortune. It is shocking how this crime and its macabre results emerged from an online ad on Facebook. ENA and its partners were able to assist the Ugandan police in locating and arresting this young man, as well as the second suspect, mentioned in Figure 2. Both were found guilty of murder and aggravated trafficking of a child, and were sentenced to 26 years for each case on 20 February 2017. They are now in a maximum-security prison.28

Figure 2: Preliminary Police Report

How to Effectively Respond to TIP

International conventions, treaties, and legal instruments are not only necessary so law enforcement, governments, victim service providers, and citizens have tools, measures, and protections available to help rescue and assist victims, but also to arrest and prosecute criminals complicit in TIP cases. However, even all these instruments fall short when you analyze the TIP data that is currently available. The prosecution data in the 2018 TIP report shows just how few prosecutions have occurred. What good are any of these enforcement measures if they exist only on paper, without the political will to implement them? Some NGOs and international organizations are doing amazing work, but governments ultimately are responsible for protecting their citizens. Human rights abuses occur when governments fail to do their part. Resources are needed for diverse approaches in response to TIP crimes and threats. Law enforcement trainings, investigations, and follow ups are needed to catch criminals and prosecute them, as well as to help survivors recover and reintegrate. But in most countries, this is sadly not the case. Uganda’s 2018 TIP profile includes several examples of human and political security threats that show how insufficient resources escalate this transnational crime threat.

According to the US Department of State:

There were allegations that officials from the office of the prime minister were complicit in several illegal activities related to the refugee settlements, including corruption, sexual exploitation and abuse, and facilitating the movement of vulnerable populations from settlements in Uganda to South Sudan. The government suspended four high-level officials in the office of the prime minister based on allegations of their involvement in illegal activities in the refugee settlements. The government is investigating the allegations. There were also several media reports of alleged complicity of police officers in child sex trafficking of refugees and coercion of refugee women to perform sexual acts in exchange for various forms of migration documentation. The media also reported that the Police Professional Standards Unit (Uganda’s Internal Affairs Unit) investigated several regional and district police commanders in Busia and Tororo (Uganda/Kenya border areas) for alleged involvement in human trafficking. Additionally, the media continued to report that some of the labor recruitment companies (registered by government at Ministry of Internal Affairs where National anti-human trafficking coordinator is located) suspected of involvement in trafficking were associated with, or partially owned by, high-level officials, which impeded law enforcement agencies' ability to investigate their operations.29

The 2017 global slavery data is a good first step in improving reports on TIP, especially since it brought together large international organizations for the first time in a collaborative effort. However, this collaboration needs to continue if any progress is to be made. Bringing together diverse individuals and organizations within the private, government, non-government, law enforcement, and military sectors, especially by including survivor voices and leadership, will allow us to truly begin to prevent and combat trafficking in persons. International treaties, conventions, and trafficking laws should continue to be amended and strengthened whenever possible. But more importantly, they should actually be enforced and not just exist on paper. Adequate resources must be allocated and put aside for both enforcement and victim services, including for research and development. Finally, the use of technology must be maximized in the fight against TIP, and be utilized as a tool to educate and spread awareness on this ongoing problem.

[1] Global Slavery Index, “Measurement Action Freedom,” 2018,

[2] Julie Hjerl Hansen et al., “Bitter Kaffe,” Danwatch, 2 March 2018,

[3] US Department of Homeland Security, “What Is Human Trafficking?” 17 October 2018,

[4] Diana Teixeira, “Human Trafficking FAQs,” UNODC,

[5] Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010).

[6] Shelley (2010).

[7] ILO, “Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage,” 2017, pp. 9-10,

[8] ILO (2017), p. 9.

[9] Shakeeb Asrar, “The Cost of Human Trafficking,” Al Jazeera, 30 July 2017,

10 Chris Gay, “15 children rescued from rebels and from becoming child soldiers,” Engage Now Africa, 2017,

11 John G. Horgan et al., “From Cubs to Lions: A Six Stage Model of Child Socialization into the Islamic State,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 40, No. 7 (August 2016), pp. 645–64.

12 Paul Tajuba, “Kaweesi Killing: Police Confirm Holding 12 Missing Children,” Daily Monitor, 9 May 2017,

13 Gay (2017).

14 Shelly (2010).

15 US Department of State, “International and Domestic Law,”

16 Sarah E. Mendelson, “Barracks and Brothels: Peacekeepers and Human Trafficking in the Balkans,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2005, p. 14,

18 Mendelson (2005), p. 17.

19 Ida Siegal and Jonathan Dienst, “DA: Ex-Vice Cop, Wife Masterminded Huge Sex Ring; 49 Arrests,” NBC New York, 19 September 2018,

20 IOM, “Global Trafficking Trends in Focus, IOM Victim of Trafficking Data 2006 – 2016,” 2017, p. 5,

21 Alexander Sauer, “Organized Crime,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, July 2018,

22 Siddharth Kara, Modern Slavery: A Global Perspective (New York: Columbia UP, 2017).

23 Terminology and an agreed upon definition are very important because it helps to avoid confusion in accurately understanding and describing a process or phenomenon related to slavery. Unfortunately, human trafficking continues to be a term of confusion surrounding TIP and slavery. Even in this paper, I have used multiple terms for trafficking in persons including human trafficking and modern slavery. My personal preference is modern slavery. Modern slavery covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labor, debt bondage, forced marriage, other slavery and slavery like practices, and human trafficking. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term that focuses attention on commonalities across these legal concepts. Essentially it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power. See ILO (2017).

24 US Department of State, “The Facts About Human Trafficking for Forced Labor,” 25 July 2005,

25 Kara (2017).

26 Cornell Law School, “Communication Decency Act of 1996 47 U.S.C. § 230,” Legal Information Institute, 1996,

27 Social media tools also are used by traffickers. A few years ago, I was part of a training on social media and exploitation, and the training was conducted by a former FBI agent with twenty plus years investigating and specifically dealing with or being tasked to combat online sexual crimes against children. He used a simple fishing metaphor to explain and describe the recruitment process of human traffickers, pedophiles, and other predators on Facebook. They cast out many fishing lines, meaning they are online on multiple social media platforms communicating and waiting in plain sight among the millions of users. They wait for a bite or a nibble, like a teenager or some other person that comes online to post about how their parents just don’t understand them, or about how they don’t feel like they fit in anywhere, or that they hate school. The posting opportunities are many that can be exploited by predators, and social media provides opportunities for the trafficker to begin engaging with and recruiting victims. In other words, they begin reeling in the fish or fishes towards the net.

28 Cases: Uganda Vs Katende Moses (alias Jeft Kiwa), Uganda Vs Weere Herbert (alias Habertson Ogema).

29 US Department of State, “U.S. Laws on Trafficking in Persons,”

Chris Gay
Chris Gay

Chris Gay is the Co-Founder and President of Freedom Now Africa.

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