Human trafficking

Published date01 November 2008
Date01 November 2008
Human trafficking:
Sketchy data and policy responses
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Austria
This article looks at the phenomenon of trafficking in human beings,
with examples drawn from intergovernmental organizations, the
European Union and the UK. It begins by outlining legal recognition
of and current responses to trafficking, and goes on to present an
overview of what we currently know and don’t know about the
extent and nature of this crime in relation to its various manifestations.
The article critically examines policy responses to trafficking in
the light of what are often, at best, sketchy data. The existence of a
trafficking ‘industry’, both as an organized crime ‘industry’ and as
an IGO and NGO ‘industry’, is introduced in the arcicle through
legal and policy responses that set out to identify, map and counter
trafficking. The article concludes by asking where the focus on
trafficking is heading, and if it will be supported in future by more
robust evidence for policy development.
Key Words
data • human trafficking • legalisation •policy responses • victim-centred
Legal recognition of and responses to human trafficking
Human trafficking encompasses labour and sexual exploitation, and its vic-
tims can include men and women, adults and children. Trafficking can
Criminology & Criminal Justice
© 2008 SAGE Publications
(Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore)
and the British Society of Criminology.
ISSN 1748–8958; Vol: 8(4): 421–442
DOI: 10.1177/1748895808096471
manifest itself both within and between countries, and therefore should not
only be thought of as a transnational crime but one that can also take place
within a country’s borders. Exploitation—using means such as fraud, force,
threat and deception— lies at the heart of trafficking; as such, human traf-
ficking is often described as ‘modern day slavery’.
International legislative developments
The abolitionist movement against slavery has a history dating back hun-
dreds of years, with 2007 marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition
of the slave trade in Britain’s colonies1. In the 20th century, notable legal
developments against slavery include the League of Nations 1926 Slavery
Convention and the United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on
the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices
Similar to Slavery. The UN’s first convention dealing specifically with traf-
ficking was the 1949 Convention on the Suppression of Trafficking in
Women and the Exploitation of Prostitution of Others. The association of
slavery with prostitution, and particularly with concerns related to the
‘white slave trade’ in women, came to a fore at the beginning of the 20th
century. Since this time, the specific crime of trafficking has been linked
with prostitution of women and, more recently, children, and less so with
other areas of ‘slave-like’ exploitation in the labour market.
Renewed international interest in human trafficking emerged in the late
1980s and 1990s in response to increased population movements in the
wake of war, civil conflict and, in Central and Eastern Europe, the fall of
communism; events which were often accompanied by the illegal movement
of people and exploitation of vulnerable populations at the hands of organ-
ized crime. In Europe, the European Parliament adopted its first resolution
on the exploitation of prostitution and trafficking in human beings in 1989,
which was followed in 1993 by a parliamentary resolution calling for inter-
national co-operation to combat trafficking in women and to improve the
situation of victims. Currently, the United Nations Protocol to ‘Prevent,
Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and
Children’, which supplements the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational
Organized Crime (TOC), provides the legal reference point for an interna-
tional definition of human trafficking2. While the protocol encompasses
forced labour or services, the removal of organs, and prostitution, the onus
of the international community’s attention in practice, as evidenced by the
UN’s Global Programme Against Trafficking (GPAT), lies disproportion-
ately with sex trafficking.
The UN Convention against TOC also has a supplementary protocol
against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, which includes a
separate definition of smuggling3. In legal terms, smuggling becomes traf-
ficking once a person who is being smuggled experiences exploitation at
any point from recruitment through to arrival at their destination. Yet,
media reporting and political debates on illegal immigration have often
Criminology & Criminal Justice 8(4)422

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