Organized Crime And The Global Issue Of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is prevalent throughout modern society, remaining one of the most horrifying criminal practices that exists today. As the third largest act of organized crime, human trafficking continues because criminal networks can, in many cases, profit from the practice and avoid persecution. Many nations targeted by this practice are undergoing severe internal strife such as Libya or Somalia, making these nations prime areas for such a trade to flourish. However, human trafficking exists in a number of other countries that are also less impoverished or underprivileged. Japan, for example, has been struggling with Human Traffickers who often supply sex workers for their sex industry. On the annual Trafficking in Persons Report for 2017, Japan was listed under Tier 2 – they still have issues with human trafficking, but the government is making attempts to curb it. Nations often have laws for dealing with human trafficking and slavery, implementing their own penalties into stopping the illegal enslavement of individuals. The United States has been one of the most active countries in trying to curb the criminal elements that are continuing to sell the lives of others. The most notable attempt was in the formation of the non-government Polaris Project, which seeks to combat human trafficking through the use of information and crisis hotlines to aid in identifying human traffickers.

The main reason that this issue persists is two-fold. The first, and most obvious, is that the largest contributors to this crime targets nations that are already vulnerable because of severe societal issues. These groups target those that are desperate, promising them a way to escape their woes or even help their families in a time of crisis by going overseas. In other cases, more forceful abduction is used but the most successful trackers prey upon those who are desperate. The second, more glaring, issue can be found in the fact that each nation is ultimately responsible for tackling the issue themselves. While some entities exist to track or dissolve these networks, such as the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants: a joint venture between the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Union that runs between 2015 to 2019, most efforts to stop the practice are left in the hands of individual states law enforcement or even non-governmental organizations. According to the latest findings, however, these efforts have been insufficient in deterring the practice. In a September report last year, the International Labor Organization and Walk Free foundation discovered that “an estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, 16 million (64%) were exploited for labour, 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labor.” The Asia-Pacific Region was found to be responsible for 15.4 Million of these abductions, being responsible for 62% of the global total of abductions over the course of the year. These numbers are a clear indication that the current course of action is not yielding results. Further evidence can be found in the State Department Trafficking in Persons reported that in 2017 there were only 14,894 prosecutions and 9,071 convictions for trafficking globally in 2016. While there have been concentrated efforts to wipe out modern-day slavery, they have not yielded substantial results due to a lack of effective international co-operation and, most importantly, not doing enough to tackle the root causes of trafficking.

Perhaps the most debilitating issue in the struggle against human trafficking has been a lack of coordination between nations. Traffickers often operate across multiple borders, targeting less privileged nations and desperate individuals primarily. Due to the global nature of this crime, it is more necessary for states to cooperate with one another by sharing information about movements and possible criminal actors, and monitoring trafficking that is outgoing or possibly headed towards a particular nation. While this would work for capturing traffickers on a more substantial scale than in the past, there is still an important aspect to consider: a large majority of these groups are also linked to organized crime groups and cartels. Some, like the Russian Mafia’s Solntsevskaya Bratva, may not be active participants of the act itself, they are involved as buyers of trafficked people. Therefore, more efforts must be taken to dismantle the power bases and influences of criminal organizations themselves. For some nations, this will no doubt prove difficult, especially in places such as Japan where groups like the Yakuza have a unique place in the social order of the nation. However, one of the best ways to combat the surge of human trafficking is to put more pressure on these groups, thereby making it far more expensive an endeavour to undertake, especially given how profitable trafficking is in the criminal underworld. Human trafficking is a very profitable venture for a number of organizations. Current estimates by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime put human trafficking at an annual illegal profit of $150 billion, which is only behind drug trafficking’s $300 billion and counterfeiting’s $250 billion. The trade of human lives is one that can be made to cost traffickers far more by, firstly, discovering the common link between traffickers and organized crime groups that either traffic themselves or purchase from these traffickers. Once this is discovered, states can coordinate to hunt down and disrupt these operations no matter where they are found. The next step is also impacting on other criminal enterprises that these organized crime groups are linked to, particularly ones that are profitable for their illegal operations. Pressure should also continue by increasing the penalties associated with those who are found or suspected of selling human lives. If countries coordinate and cooperate by taking a stand against organized crime, it will have a far more substantial impact upon the trade then by simply focusing on individual traffickers or smaller rings: by affecting their bottom line and biggest customers, or even the biggest players, this will make it far more difficult for the trade to prosper as it has. By making the trade much more difficult to carry out, both by damaging their largest customers and increasing pressure through joint cooperation between countries, the impact will be more substantial than if nations attacked the problem individually. Although aiding the most vulnerable nations could help, it ultimately would not stop the traffickers that are already globally active. That is not to say that efforts should not be taken to help these nations, but human trafficking must be stopped at the source through increased international cooperation that targets the perpetrators themselves.

Joshua Robinson