by Jon Atack

Human trafficking is an aspect of modern slavery – the capture and exploitation of people through coercion, intimidation, and undue influence. Predators use various methods to entrap others into forced servitude, from promises of financial or spiritual gain and the hope for a better life, to sexual seduction, extortion, and kidnapping.

Every year, global events such as natural disasters, epidemics, famine, war, poverty, the persecution of ethnic minorities, and civil unrest, create a ready-made population of vulnerable individuals who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in desperate circumstances, and will do almost anything to assure a better life for themselves and their children.

The UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) reports almost 41 million slaves worldwide, with the largest number in the Indian subcontinent. The 2017 ILO Estimates of Modern Slavery report calculates that of 24.9 million victims of forced labor, 16 million are thought to be in the private economy, 4.8 million in forced sexual exploitation and 4.1 million in state-sponsored forced labor including mandatory military conscription and agricultural work. The International Labour Organization says: “modern slavery covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, other slavery and slavery like practices, and human trafficking … 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”

The report says that of the almost five million people who were victims of forced sexual exploitation a million were children. Slaves are trafficked for agricultural, industrial or domestic slavery. Many impoverished people are enslaved to pay off a debt, as bonded labor. In the brick kilns of India, for instance, at the start of the season, workers take a “loan” to feed their families, then the entire family – small children included – works 14-18 hours a day, seven days a week, to make enough bricks to pay back the loan with the dim hope that they will earn a little extra.

Most of the time, workers are not paid until the end of the season, and are not told how much of their debt has been repaid; often, they are not paid at all. Record-keeping is scant, so that if the boss decides not to pay a family, they have no proof and no legal recourse if they want to leave. Bosses can use threats of violence and arrest to keep generations of families working for barely enough money to feed and house them.

Domestic slavery is another common face of human trafficking: millions of young women, lured by the promise of a good career in a wealthier country or region leave their families only to be held prisoner for no recompense (or pocket-money), beaten, threatened and held captive by their employers. This happens even in prosperous First-World countries. There is a flood of migrants and refugees from poor countries desperate to make a living, who are coerced into slaving in sweatshops, factory farms, fisheries and other high-risk, low-paying jobs. They are often mistreated and abused, crammed into substandard housing, their passports held by their employers, and wary of the authorities because they are undocumented.

Where belief in magic is part of the culture, a boss can create an overwhelming phobia of curses; but for many captives, the threat of deportation or harm to the slave’s family are enough to guarantee both silence and complete obedience.

Many good-hearted organizations work to help both the targets and the victims before the traffickers can reach them; but with limited funding, the corruption of various societies, and callous greed, criminals find trafficking very profitable indeed. Even societies with the most fair justice systems foster greed and corruption, so traffickers sell human lives below the radar of law enforcement and with the help of corrupt officials. Human traffickers exploit dreams of a better life, and turn the human misery they cause into profit.

Similar methods of seduction and recruitment are common to all types of enslavement. In some cases, people are simply in need, and desperate to believe that they can have a life without hunger, even if it means travelling far from home and leaving their loved ones behind.

Modern slavers are human predators. Their characteristics are not hard to recognize and their practices should be exposed and reported to both law enforcement and the news media.

See our articles on human predators and recruitment and seduction.