Modern slavery
Modern slavery

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Modern slavery

3 Modern slavery – trafficking human beings (THB)

You start this section by thinking about what THB entails.

Activity 5 What is THB?

Consider the following questions:

  • a.What, in your opinion, is THB?
  • b.What does it involve?
  • c.Who is involved in THB?
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Watch this cartoon, which defines THB.

Download this video clip.Video player: Activity 5 What is THB?
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Transcript: Activity 5 What is THB?

Slavery was practised for millennia – from ancient times to transatlantic slave trade and slavery within the colonies. In the 18th century, the strong abolitionist movement started, which called for the abolition of slavery. In the 19th century, slavery was abolished in Europe. This included the British Empire where the Slavery Abolition Act was enacted in 1833. In the 20th century, an international treaty called "The Slavery Convention 1926" was created – prohibiting the practise of slavery.
In 1948, the first international human rights instrument – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – was adopted. It states that "All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights," and it prohibits slavery in all its forms. Although slavery is legally prohibited, it continues in the 21st century. Trafficking in human beings – or THB – is a form of modern slavery. It is a crime which also has a strong human rights dimension. In short, it involves the recruitment of the victim and their transportation to another state or within the same state for the purposes of exploitation.
THB is defined in the 2003 Protocol to the United Nations Convention against transnational organised crime to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. Trafficking involves three elements – the act, the means, and the purpose. THB is a process that involves several stages and several perpetrators.
The act. Firstly, a person is recruited. The trafficker can be a recruitment agency representative who promises an attractive and well-paid job to the person whilst knowing that the person will be exploited. However, this act can also be done by a person who may have already known the victim. It is not uncommon for a victim to be recruited by a neighbour, a friend of a friend, or even a family member. Following that, a person is transported to another place in the country or transferred across state borders to another country.
The means. Deception is an important part of the process of trafficking. A person may be told that they are going to work abroad. For example, in agricultural work, in a factory, or as an au pair. Very often, the victim believes that they will receive a fair remuneration for their work.
Traffickers establish control over their victims. Victims are often subjected to threats, physical and sexual violence, and degrading treatment. Many have their identification documents taken away to prevent them from leaving the country. The purpose. One of the key purposes of THB is sexual exploitation, mainly of women and children. However, people are trafficked for other types of exploitation, too. For example, the victims may be trafficked for agricultural work, forced domestic labour, cultivation of cannabis, forced marriage, organ transplants, or begging. Trafficking happens worldwide every year. Victims of trafficking may not always be visible, but they are present everywhere. For example, they may be on the same flight as you or may be working in a hotel where you are staying. If you suspect that slavery is happening near you, you should call the police.
End transcript: Activity 5 What is THB?
Activity 5 What is THB?
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Trafficking in human beings (THB) is a crime, which has a strong human rights dimension. It involves the recruitment of the victim and their transportation to another state or within the same state for the purposes of exploitation. Victims of trafficking are subjected to various forms of exploitation that often vary according to their age and gender. It is commonly believed that THB happens predominantly for the purposes of sexual exploitation of women and girls. This form of exploitation is certainly one of the key motivations for trafficking. However, trafficking happens for other reasons too and it affects both women and men. Some of the other purposes of THB include:

  • work in sweatshops
  • domestic labour
  • work in agriculture, mines, factories and fishing
  • forced marriage
  • organ transplants
  • sport (e.g. camel jockeys)
  • adoption
  • begging.
Described image
Figure 5 Young boys working as camel jockeys

There are many misconceptions about THB, especially regarding the perception of victims. Very often, it is assumed that victims of trafficking are only women and that they are trafficked only for sexual exploitation. Another myth is that trafficking happens only in Eastern Europe or in poor and third world countries, and that Western countries are not facing this problem. Finally, victims are often perceived to have consented to being trafficked. This is hugely incorrect.

At the time of giving consent, victims very often do not know the true and full extent of what they are consenting to. For instance, a victim of THB may have consented to working abroad in an agricultural job and believed that they will be able to keep their earnings. However, upon arrival in the country of destination, the person might have their documents confiscated by the traffickers and be forced to carry out agricultural labour for little or no money. It is not uncommon that only upon the arrival, a victim of THB is forced into different types of work to which they did not consent, e.g. prostitution. Finally, it is extremely hard to believe that anyone could give real consent to forced labour, exploitation, being subjected to extreme violence, ill treatment and blackmail, which are often associated with the reality faced by the victims of THB.

The video, Work Abroad (2008) produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, illustrates some misconceptions of victims of THB that are discussed above. Please note that there is no verbal soundtrack to the video.

Download this video clip.Video player: Work Abroad
Work Abroad (2008)
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