Causes of Trafficking


In today’s modern world, the term slavery generally brings to mind impressions of an archaic past. The word itself, rightfully loaded with tones of suffering and pain, strikes distant memories of settlers, western colonization, or visualizations of even older eras when slavery was simply the norm. People often equate the idea of slavery with Atlantic slave ships and shackled, kidnapped people. These horrific images of captivity were real. This happened. And it’s important to remember that these cruelties occurred not that long ago. But it’s also salient to note that slavery still exists today. Although enslavement might look different in a modern context, slavery continues.

But how does this happen? What causes human trafficking?

Modern slavery is the result of a complex combination of social, economic, and often cultural factors that result in the entrapment of people. The U.S. Department of State says that:

Modern slavery can appear in the form of sex trafficking, child exploitation, unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, forced labor, domestic servitude, bonded labor, or debt bondage.

Last year, the world was shocked to discover that hundreds of people were being auctioned as slaves in Libya. This was a devastating reminder that even the most deplorable forms of slavery persist, reflecting even a darker historic period of bondage.

Modern slavery occurs due to a range of interconnected causes. Although there’s a complex scope of factors that contribute to modern day slavery, two underlying variables keeps the industry’s heart pumping — the traffickers themselves and the demand that motivates them.

Human trafficking is a global industry that circulates billions of dollars in profits each year. It could be argued that the main factor that drives slavery to exist today is those who are willing to exploit and enslave other human beings. Understanding the problem with demand could be the most crucial component in deteriorating the prevalence of slavery. This demand for modern slavery only exists due to a billion-dollar incentive that produces the need for traffickers. The market endorses slavery through consumption, and individuals financially enable traffickers to continue their dark trade. Ultimately, the thousands of buyers or industries with a demand for cheap labor around the world are the base purpose driving traffickers to seek out their victims.

But it’s still not that simple. Other contributing elements exacerbate the problem. Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable of people. Marginalized groups are easy targets due to harrowing life circumstances. Perpetrators seek out those who are marginalized for a number of reasons. They often prey on those whose lives have been torn apart by war, natural disasters, or economic desperations. They search for those or more easily come in contact with those who can be easily coerced into taking jobs that could then easily devolve into human trafficking. Victims routinely come from backgrounds of persecution, conflict, or other forms of marginalization.

The reality is that when victims don’t have the capacity to provide for themselves and their families, crime syndicates and operators could take advantage of their plight and force them into trafficking.

While the UN recognizes that the refugee crisis, conflict, and poverty all play roles in causing slavery today, some societies have built-in cultural characteristics that can increase the probability of trafficking of individuals. Societies that devalue women, certain ethnic groups or the LGTBQ community, can raise the probability of people being made vulnerable and susceptible to being targeted. It’s clear that women are frequently singled out due to the demand in the sex industry. Of course, men and boys are also trafficked, but women and girls are statistically sought out more often. According to the International Labour Organization, “women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.”

It’s true, the modern world is unrecognizable compared to the period of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Advanced technology has improved our medicine and life expectancy. There is overall consensus that we should protect universal human rights, and, according to many experts, violence has statistically declined. But in a world where an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, there is still outrage. We won’t settle for anything less than justice. Our collective LIFT team has expertise with investigations, aftercare and legal support, so that is what we focus on. Demand-side efforts and advocacy are a huge part of the solution. Partnership is crucial to address the root causes and reality of the after effects of trafficking in the lives of individuals all at once. We join many other organizations and advocates who still endeavor to combat slavery whenever, and wherever, it’s found.

constance dykhuizen