LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tackling demand for goods and services produced through slavery, a global minimum wage and the elimination of labour recruitment fees are needed to push ahead the global fight against human trafficking, a leading expert on the issue said on Tuesday.
The insatiable global demand for cheap, unregulated labour and the goods and services that it produces is one of the key reasons why almost 30 million people are estimated to be trapped in modern forms of slavery in factories, brothels and private homes, on farms and fishing boats.
"We need to face the challenge of demand," said Anne Gallagher, an independent scholar and legal adviser, stressing that campaigners and politicians needed to look more deeply and broadly into the systems and practices that encourage and reward such exploitation.
"Demand goes beyond commercial sex to forced labour and other forms of trafficking,” Gallagher, an international lawyer who has worked on trafficking issues in almost 60 countries, told TrustWomen, a two-day conference aimed at putting the rule of law behind women's rights.
Outlawing recruitment fees, making it illegal for any agency to charge employees for overseas job placements or for any company to accept the recruitment of their workers in that way, would be practical steps to help eliminate trafficking, Gallagher said.
Every country is implicated in human trafficking, Gallagher said, and governments, in particular in countries of destination, must acknowledge their role in constructing conditions that breed trafficking and push for the effective enforcement of anti-slavery laws.
"How dare governments treat trafficking as a lesser crime and shame on us for accepting this as normal," she told the conference in London.
Estimated to rake in $32 billion annually, trafficking needs to be treated as a business crime, not just a sex offence, said Cyrus R. Vance JR, district attorney for New York County.
To help fight sex trafficking, the district attorney's office puts an emphasis on charging those who patronise prostitutes in Manhattan, which is part of his jurisdiction, rather than penalise the prostitutes, he said.
"Everyone knows that sex trafficking…is nothing more than a business, to the trafficker the trafficked woman is a commodity, bought and sold like merchandise," he told delegates at the conference, adding that the victims were treated as no more than "bar coded women".
Vance said law enforcement agencies had historically been slow at linking prostitution arrests and trafficking but that investigative techniques and data were now helping to dismantle the business of trafficking.
"We are using investigative techniques and strategies that enable us to prove trafficking cases that don’t necessarily require testimonies of the victims themselves," Vance said.
"In Manhattan, we have significantly increased prosecutions of people who patronise prostitutes," said Vance, adding that prosecutions of men who use prostitutes had quadrupled since he came into office four years ago.
Vance and Thomson Reuters Foundation in April launched an international financial working group dedicated to fighting human trafficking. Eight U.S. banks have joined the group and agreed to share financial and technical information with U.S. law enforcement agencies.
A victim-centred approach to dealing with trafficking survivors, including in-house social workers and a specially trained prosecutor, had also helped more trafficking victims to come forward and to create trust between prosecutors and victims, Vance explained.
"It’s at that precise point when they are at their weakest that our office needs to be at its most sensitive to their needs: their needs are basic – food, clothing, shelter, language appropriate and culturally sensitive services must be put in place immediately to address their safety, health and legal concerns," Vance said.
For full coverage of the event, visit TrustWomen conference.