My Week with the Trafficking in Persons Team

This week I am helping the trafficking in persons team complete surveys on anti-trafficking in sub-Saharan Africa. While many people assume that human trafficking is the illegal movement of people for sex work, it actual encompasses a much larger variety of labor. Traffickers market their victims to clean houses, harvest the cocoa in our chocolate, and even work in gold and diamond mines. This is a huge problem globally, but we are focusing on the unique challenges in sub-Saharan Africa.

One of these challenges is that human trafficking is a hidden crime, and often victims either don’t know or don’t want to admit that they’ve been trafficked. This can happen because the victim crossed international lines willingly, but then their “employer” took their passport and withheld wages. For these workers, it is less obvious that they have a claim for human trafficking. Another challenge is that many countries are lacking the legal framework and institutions to fight human trafficking. Some of the countries we are examining do not even have human trafficking laws on the books! Others have introduced human trafficking laws since around 2003, but are still prosecuting only a small percentage of cases compared to the number of victims they identify.

The team is examining in particular how different portions of supply chains in various industries can be prone to human trafficking. The surveys include many countries and all kinds of supply chains, including food, natural resources (like timber, gold, or fish), weapons, and more. I’m completing the survey on natural resource management and extraction in Ghana. In some cases like mining or timber the connection to human trafficking is clear, because large companies want to minimize labor costs. In other cases, however, the connection is much less obvious! Reading through fishing laws, I have to look for key words like “international” or “immigrant” to find where their legislators may have been thinking about international laborers.

This is a sad project, but it’s incredibly important to learn the legal framework for prosecuting human trafficking around the world. What we are doing is only a small portion of an even bigger effort to combat human trafficking, and I am glad to be a part of it.