Law enforcement struck a heavy blow against human trafficking organizations in the last month, with major arrests in Thailand and Spain. Police raided a prison island off the coast of Thailand where hundreds of Burmese refugees were held for ransom, or auction. The European arrests netted 75 criminals in a Chinese-based trafficking ring. But, what does this have to do with you and me? It must be a third-world problem, right?
It is hard to wrap your head around stories like the arrests in Thailand and Spain without some context. Think of human trafficking in terms of heroin production. You’ve got your growers, distributors, dealers and users. Human trafficking is no different, only the product, or commodity isn’t on opium poppy, it’s a person.
Instead of a grower harvesting a crop, vulnerable men, women and children are plucked from lives of poverty with a vague promise of something more. The rest of the supply chain gathers the crop, moves it closer to the destination and the users who readily pay for the end product. And you ask, “What’s that got to do with me?” Guess where the buyers are? The victims rescued in Thailand and Spain were bound for the UK, Western Europe and the United States. Not so third-worldish.
A post a couple of weeks ago, we talked about how human trafficking wasn’t only about sex. Forced labor, indentured servitude and sweatshops play a huge role in the 32 billion dollar underground industry fueled by trafficking. When you purchase that knock off handbag, or bargain off-brand suit made in (insert location here), you might be lining the pockets of a trafficker.
The war on drugs didn’t have much of an impact on the cartels, dealer or users for that matter. New ones sprung up to fill the void and kept the supply chain moving. The war on human trafficking will face the same outcome unless the approach changes. Increased prison terms for the traffickers are a specific deterrent, one which applies to that one individual caught and convicted. Demand reduction could make a difference.
Demand reduction, in drug trafficking terms, means the attention on the end user to address the nature of drug use and addiction. In human trafficking, demand reduction means the penalty for “using” the “product” is so severe, the risk isn’t worth it. Make the sex tourist or the creep at sex club think again before they prey on a vulnerable trafficking victim. The CEO who uses a sweatshop to make a quick buck is no less of a predator.
How we, as a society, get to a demand reduction response won’t be simple. I’m all for cutting off the offending member of perverts, but what were talking about here is something much more broad-based. It starts with a clear message – human trafficking, in all its forms is not tolerated. It begins with taking the blinders off and recognizing forced labor, or sweatshop operations in our own backyards. It begins with immigration reform. It begins with trade restrictions with nations harboring human trafficking. Each of us bears some responsibility for continuing the hidden secrets of human trafficking. We’ve all seen the sweatshops and shops selling counterfeit designer goods, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Irvine and Sacramento. Until we end the demand for trafficked people and goods in our own backyard, let’s not be so quick to label this as a third-world problem.
One small step is that a portion of the profit from the sales of my novel, Little River are donated to Not For Sale, a non-profit established to fight human trafficking. Won’t you join us?