Is human trafficking truly an intractable problem?

After two decades as an anti-trafficker, two things are clear to me. First, there are no magic bullets for success in anti-trafficking. Preventing and combatting trafficking in human…

After two decades as an anti-trafficker, two things are clear to me. First, there are no magic bullets for success in anti-trafficking. Preventing and combatting trafficking in human beings requires knowledge of the patterns, factors, and circumstances that allow trafficking to happen. Second, there are no purely technical solutions. Anti-trafficking efforts are political in nature, and political responses are required to protect people and provide effective assistance to victims.

Governments bear primary responsibility for this and it is their job to ensure that they comply with their international obligations. They must, for example, ensure that victims are not subject to criminal sanctions. They must also refrain from expelling potential victims due to their unlawful migration or labour status. This is all already stipulated in international agreements; what is needed is the political will to put those into practice.

It has been twenty years since the Palermo Protocol came into force. Over that time anti-traffickers have participated in endless negotiations around documents and declarations, in conferences, seminars, workshops, and trainings. Despite this, trafficking has persisted, as have questions as to whether and when governments will ever muster up that political will. How successful can we have been as a field?

Frankly, I am unsure. My experience tells me that action is still often taken simply for the sake of action, which neither leads to nor produces meaningful results. Too much effort has been spent on symptoms, while too little has substantively addressed causes. We have not yet moved away from the cookie-cutter approach to policy. And still there is no integration between anti-trafficking and more significant areas of policymaking, such as development cooperation, technology transfers, trade, and investment. Would it be better just to call the anti-trafficking field an anti-trafficking industry?

Worse, the partnerships which are often vaunted in this world are frequently superficial.

Partnership, in general, means cooperation and coordination between equals based on mutual trust. Partnerships should be mutually beneficial and oriented towards the same goal: the eradication or decrease of trafficking and the prioritisation of survival, wellbeing, and freedom. However, in most cases, funding is provided by destination countries that typically suppress cross-border migration. Their funds strongly influence the anti-trafficking agenda and define its scope. This has meant stepping up border controls and subordinating human rights protections, thereby undermining the protection of victims.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.


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