Human Trafficking: A Global Enterprise

Human trafficking has become the third largest criminal enterprise globally enslaved millions. We won't stop until all are free.

Human Trafficking: A Global Enterprise

The rapid expansion of the modern slave trade threatens the stability of all nations. The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are approximately 45.8 million people enslaved worldwide, and that slavery is present, in some form, in 167 countries. The modern slave trade is operated and sustained by a variety of actors: individual traffickers, family networks, small businesses, and a large range of criminal organizations. Human trafficking presents a massive societal problem because it has been proven to break down family relations, stimulate organized crime, worsen public health crises such as HIV/AIDS, and weaken the integrity of law enforcement and government agencies.

Human trafficking has grown to the third largest criminal enterprise globally, and continues to expand at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, trafficking most often occurs through the exploitation of vulnerable populations. The majority of trafficking victims are taken from less developed regions of the world (Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Central and South America) and transported to regions where they will be most “profitable.” Still, developed nations face large trafficking concerns as well. The U.S., for instance, is both a destination country for international trafficking, as well as a source for its own national trafficking networks.

The financial profits of human trafficking have increased dramatically during this century. In 2005, the International Labor Organization estimated the annual profits of the trafficking industry to be about $44 billion. Just 9 years later, in 2014, the estimate had risen to nearly $150 billion a year. It is clear that the injustice of human trafficking is operating as a massive global industry that can no longer be ignored.

Modern Slavery’s Global Scope

Because human trafficking is illegal, it remains a hidden criminal enterprise. Accurate data and statistics can be difficult to find, but they give us a starting point. Today’s estimates for the total number of modern slaves range from 21 million to 48 million people, but there is other important data to look at when researching the scope of human trafficking.

The following statistics were drawn from the International Labor Organization’s 2014 Annual Report:

  • Modern slavery takes many forms including: forced labor (both private and state-imposed) , sexual exploitation, and debt bondage
  • The most common industries for forced labor include: construction, mining, agriculture, circus work, forced begging, domestic work, and commercial sex work.
  • Females account for around 55% of trafficking victims globally, with many being under the age of 18.
  • Asia – particularly South and Southeast Asia – Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean are the regions that employ the largest numbers of forced laborers.

Law enforcement efforts to decrease the threat of global human trafficking are falling short. The 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, released by U.S. State Department, reported that 10,051 traffickers were prosecuted worldwide in 2014. Of these prosecutions, only 4,443 individuals were actually convicted of human trafficking. It is clear that there is a massive imbalance between the scope of human trafficking and the work being done to stop it.

Trafficking: A Massive, International Business

The 2014 ILO report on human trafficking breaks down the profits earned for each category of trafficking:

  • $99 billion from sexual trafficking and slavery
  • $43 billion from forced and bonded labor
  • $8 billion from forced domestic servitude
  • Total: $150 billion a year

Sex trafficking is by far the most profitable sector of human trafficking, accounting for 66% of the global profits. The following chart breaks down the annual profits PER VICTIM for each category of trafficking.

Human trafficking has grown to the third largest criminal enterprise globally. See what Free for Life is doing to help make all free.

How Traffickers Operate

The primary reason human trafficking exists is simple: high profits and low risks. High profits are what drive the expansion of trafficking and have made it the successful, and rapidly growing, business it has become. Further, traffickers prey on vulnerability. They promise employment, success and acceptance to those who often need it the most. Once in control of an individual, traffickers often employ both physical and emotional violence to maintain a victim’s obedience and even loyalty.

Although small-scale trafficking does occur on individual and small group levels, a large amount of trafficking is conducted by large, highly structured criminal organizations. These organizations are well-connected within the community and often operate like large-scale companies. Still, whether trafficking is occurring through an individual, small group of criminals, or massive organized criminal enterprise, one element remains the same: trafficking is abuse.

Modern day slavery almost always involves the use of excessive violence. Through beatings, drugs, psychological torment, and debt bondage, traffickers exert control over their victims and demand obedience. Sex traffickers terrorize young women and girls by keeping them hidden in rooms or brothels for months at a time. Here, the girls continually experience the horrors of abuse and violation. After being broken down so many times, victims are often afraid to confront their traffickers and lose hope of ever finding freedom.

Free for Life: Our Response

It is for these reasons that Free for Life International is dedicated to the elimination of trafficking operations that lead to the enslavement of millions of people worldwide. Through our work in Rescue and Border Monitoring, we will not stop until all are free. No human being is for sale.

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Gabrielle Thompson
Gabrielle Thompson is the Executive Director/CEO of Free for Life International. At a young age, Gabrielle’s heart was pulled towards women in developing countries; she's continued to engage in helping and empowering women in various settings globally. She has a love for adventure, which has taken her to over 20 countries – and when Gabrielle is not fighting trafficking you can find her lost in nature. View more posts by Gabrielle.