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The United Nations and the Global Scourge of Human Trafficking

There is an innate cruelness buried deep within the hearts of certain members of our society that when unleashed shatters the very foundation what is good and decent. These people act in a way that can only be characterized as depraved indifference. They prey on young children, our children, as well as those deemed the most vulnerable amongst us. The individuals described here are part of an ever-expanding criminal enterprise that does not respect borders; no corner of the globe is immune from their wrath. Hidden in the darkness is a crime so shocking and vast it will require a concerted effort of the international community to resolve it. The crime being referred to here is human trafficking, and it is the most heinous, despicable, violent and horrific crime imaginable. Just stop and pause for one moment and consider what this crime entails: Human beings, half of whom are children, are trafficked from one country to another for the sole purpose of being exploited for financial gain. This alone should make every one of us in the civilized world sit up and take notice. Traffickers utilize their tools of deception to lure individuals and their families into believing that a better life awaits them in their new country. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The major concern today is traffickers act largely with impunity. This must end now! There must be a real global effort undertaken to shed light on this moral depravity. It has to occur sooner rather than later. The Efforts of the U.N. The U.N. has stepped up to the plate to play its part in eradicating this scourge. In December 2000, 148 nations assembled in Palermo, Italy for a high-level conference regarding the new U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The responsible agency for overseeing this Convention is the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). At the conference 121 nations signed the U.N. Convention, with another 80 countries signing supplementary protocols. As of this past February, there were 159 signatories. The Convention’s three protocols are: • Protocol to Prevent Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. • Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. • Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition. The Palermo Protocol, as it is known, expressly addressed the crime of trafficking in persons –specifically as it pertained to women and children. It has become the universally accepted definition of human trafficking. Under this Protocol, there are three elements involved in trafficking: 1. The specific act being done. “Recruitment, transportation, transfer, [harboring], or receipt of persons”; 2. How it is being accomplished. “Threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person.” 3. Why are they doing this? For the purpose of exploitation...Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced [labor] or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs’.” Movement and exploitation are the only two elements that need to be present, according to the Protocol, because a child cannot give consent. Globalization and Human Trafficking: The Causal Connection The world has been reduced in size by the advancements in technology, transportation and telecommunications through the forces of globalization. Positive developments have certainly arisen as a result but, unfortunately, equally as many negatives have come about as well. One such negative byproduct is forced labor. Globalization has increased the demand for cheap labor around the world. Unscrupulous individuals have capitalized on this demand. Under Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it expressly states that: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and servitude shall be prohibited in all their forms.” This could not be any clearer, right? Wrong! According to various international organizations (IOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there are an estimated 30 million people around the world today who are enslaved – 60,000 in the U.S. alone. The Walk Free Foundation of Australia surveyed 162 countries and their results found slaves in every one of them. Walk Free specifically reported that the countries with the greatest percentage of individuals living under modern day slavery were: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh. If one wants to obtain a clearer picture of why this problem continues to persist today on such a grand scale, one simply just has to “follow the money.” Based on a report issued by the U.N. agency, the International Labor Organization (ILO), modern day slavery is a $150bn-a-year business. The construction industry, agriculture and domestic work account for a great deal of this revenue. For example, chocolate is something most of us enjoy; however, do most people know that 40% of the world’s chocolate is produced by slave laborers on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast? Perhaps not. Or as a recent editorial in The New York Times titled, “Slavery and the Shrimp on Your Plate”, pointed out, the seafood industry in Thailand generates $7bn in revenue exports per year. But the Thai seafood industry is a major employer of slave labor; thus, the U.S. State Department in its recent report on human trafficking cited Thailand as one of the world’s most egregious violators. The State Department’s report analyzes 188 countries each year to determine how well they are dealing with the issue of human trafficking. Based on evidence cited in the report, individuals are trafficked from Myanmar and Cambodia – as well as from Thailand - to work extremely long hours every day of the week for what amounts to little or no pay. According to the editorial, Reuters, the Environmental Justice Foundation and the British newspaper The Guardian also conducted investigative research into this matter and found “…that slavery is central to the shrimp industry’s success.” Think about this the next time you purchase a box of chocolates, or when you walk up to the fish counter at your local market to purchase a pound of shrimp - which nowadays costs approximately $20/lb. Shedding Light Where Darkness Resides It has never been more apparent than it is today that the issue of human trafficking needs exposing; the harsh and cruel practices traffickers impose upon unsuspecting individuals requires the light of day shed brightly upon it. Nations where the press operates freely and unfettered have a moral responsibility to expose the dark world of human trafficking. CNN International has taken the lead on this subject for the past several years with its documentary programming “The Freedom Project.” This is an issue that is happening all around us and we all need to remain vigilant and do our part to help put an end to this scourge.