Monday, June 16, 2008

A Horrible Business

From the Economist:

CONSIDERING it is a business that has provoked wars in centuries past, scant attention is paid to the modern slave trade. But one way to track the trade in people is the recently released annual report on trafficking in persons from America’s State Department. And it makes for gloomy reading. Though there have been improvements of late, the numbers of people involved are still appallingly high. Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders each year and millions more are traded domestically. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are at least 12.3m people in forced labour at any one time, including sexual exploitation, as a result of trafficking.

Efforts to wipe out this modern slave trade are hampered because human trafficking is a big business. It is impossible to know the exact sums involved but recent estimates of the value of the global trafficking trade have put it as high as $32 billion. The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking describes it as a high-reward and low-risk crime. People come cheap and many countries lack the necessary laws to target traffickers, or they are not properly enforced. Worse still, it is often the victims of the traffickers that are treated as criminals.

Women suffer most in this respect: the report estimates that 80% of victims of international trafficking are women forced into some form of prostitution. Women are involved in trafficking too, though this is less common. In Europe and Central and south Asia women are often recruited by other women who were themselves the victims of trafficking. In part to avoid detection by the authorities, traffickers grant victims limited freedom while simultaneously coercing them to return home to recruit other women to replace them.

The report also casts a light on the increasingly important role that technology is playing in the trade, both in combating it and its perpetration. The internet helps to identify and track down the perpetrators but increasingly it is becoming part of the problem. Chatrooms are used to exchange information about sex-tourism sites; people are targeted through social-networking sites where pornographic records of sex trafficking are also bought and sold; victims are ensnared through instant messaging.

There are a few bright spots. Ethiopia is commended for its efforts to combat the trafficking of children by establishing child-protection units across the country. Romania’s creation of a national database to identify and respond quickly to trends in trafficking is also praised as is Madagascar’s campaign to wipe out sex tourism.

Read the full article

The power of technology, both as a tool to fuel or prevent trafficking is an interesting and necessary discussion.

During the past two decades we have experienced the rise of the Internet and its incredible capacity to disseminate information, give a voice to the unheard and spur social change. The emergence of bloggers sounded the bell that the opinions of citizens, of individuals mattered- no longer was news limited to large organizational filters. Social networks established a new means of connecting with others and mobilizing action. In short, the Internet largely democratized information and created the power of connection between individuals across the world on a previously unimaginable level.

At the same time, whether it be environmental degradation, the Iraq war, soaring grain prices or the prevalence of modern day slavery, it is clear that we live in a time of serious global problems that we cannot afford to ignore.
On its own, technology, and principally the Internet, offer the raw potential to connect, interact and have access to information on a level previously unheard of. This potential can be used, as mentioned by the above article, in innovative ways that either promote trafficking or prevent it.

One of the running themes of this blog is to identify innovative uses of technology to combat trafficking, for example initiatives led by
Microsoft, MTV, Ashoka Changemakers and let's not forget the great viral videos by the guys and gals at the Freeze Project. I believe, however, that we are just starting to tap into the full potential of the Internet to effectively combat trafficking. I am not, however, making this criticism without offering some solutions of my own. The upcoming Human Trafficking Project website (not this blog) will launch next month and includes a few examples of how we can use technology to easily connect and work together to fill much needed gaps in the global anti-trafficking effort.

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