Exploitation Can Be Hidden In Plain Sight

What is trafficking and how can you spot it?

Thanks for scanning to find out more about human trafficking and modern slavery. Knowing what the risks are, and how to spot potential exploitation is a huge first step in preventing trafficking.

Remember: if you or someone you know is in immediate danger always call 999.

What is trafficking?

Human trafficking and modern slavery are thought to be amongst the most widespread crimes in the world, affecting millions of men, women and children each day.

Human trafficking is made up of three elements:

  • Movement or recruitment by
  • Deception or coercion for
  • The purpose of exploitation

What is Modern Slavery?

This acts as an umbrella term, which covers a number of human rights issues, of which human trafficking is one.

Modern slavery encompasses:

  • Slavery
  • Human trafficking
  • Servitude
  • Forced or compulsory labour

Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude, and inhumane treatment.

What's the scale of the issue?

Given the hidden nature of human trafficking, it is almost impossible to understand the full scope and scale of the issue.

Amongst the most trusted sources for understanding the global situation is the research by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

According to the latest report on forced labour by the ILO:

An estimated 40.3 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery.

Of these:

  • 24.9 million were exploited for labour.
  • 15.4 million were in forced marriage.

There are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world.

How does this break down?

By gender:

71% of trafficking victims around the world are women and girls and 29% are men and boys.

By Age:

30.2 million victims (75%) are aged 18 or older, with the number of children under the age of 18 estimated at 10.1 million (25%).

  • 37% victims of trafficking in forced marriage were children.
  • 21% victims of sexual exploitation were children. 

By Industry:

Forced labour takes place in many different industries.

While every industry is susceptible, those highlighted in the report are broken down as follows:

  • 16 million (64%) forced labour victims work in domestic work, construction or agriculture.
  • 4.8 million (19%) persons in forced sexual exploitation.
  • 4 million (16%) persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities.

Debt Bondage:

Debt bondage affected half of all victims of forced labour imposed by private actors. Debt bondage is used as a method of control and prevents trafficking victims from escaping.

Types of exploitation

There are many forms of exploitation into which people can be trafficked and held in slavery. 

These crimes are happening in every corner of the world and can include any person, regardless of age, socio-economic background or location.

As a result, each case can look very different. Below are some of the most commonly reported forms of human trafficking and modern slavery.

Sexual exploitation illustration showing neon sign and cash

This is when someone is deceived, coerced or forced to take part in sexual activity. Places where someone could be sexually exploited:

  • Prostitution
  • Brothels – massage/sauna
  • Escort agencies
  • Pole/lap dancing
  • Forced marriage
  • Stripping on a web cam
  • Phone sex lines
  • Internet chat rooms
  • Pornography
  • Mail order brides
  • Sex tourism

Labour exploitation illustration showing mining equipment, coffee sacks and tinned fish

This refers to situations where people are coerced to work for little or no remuneration, often under threat of punishment. There are a number of means through which a person can be coerced, including:

  • Use of violence or intimidation
  • Accumulated debt
  • Retention of identity papers
  • Threat of exposure to immigration authorities

All types of labour, within every industry, are susceptible to labour exploitation. Some common sectors and industries that are identified as vulnerable include:

  • Manufacturing
  • Factory work
  • Hospitality
  • Construction
  • Agriculture
  • Fishing
  • Car washes
  • Nail bars

A domestic worker or helper is a person who works within their employer’s home, performing a variety of tasks. This arrangement becomes exploitative when there are restrictions on the domestic worker’s movement, and they are forced to work long hours for little pay. They may also suffer physical and sexual abuse.

Domestic servitude can be particularly hard to identify as it happens in private households but it is estimated that 16 million people are exploited in the private sector which includes domestic work.

Forced marriage illustration showing wedding rings and sad thought bubble

This is when a person is put under pressure to marry someone. They may be threatened with physical or sexual violence or placed under emotional or psychological distress to achieve these aims.

Situations where you may find forced marriage used:

  • To gain access into a country
  • To gain access to benefits

Drug trade illustration showing various types of narcotics

Forced criminality illustration showing fake DVD, benefits paperwork and begging sign

This is when somebody is forced to carry out criminal activity through coercion or deception. Forced criminality can take many forms, including:

  • Drug trade, e.g. cannabis cultivation, drug distribution
  • Begging
  • Pick-pocketing
  • Bag snatching
  • ATM theft
  • Selling of counterfeit goods

We have seen a significant rise in the trafficking of children into forced criminality (sometimes referred to as Child Criminal Exploitation or CCE). The most prevalent form of CCE is related to ‘County Lines’ gangs who coerce children into participating in the movement and sale of drugs. Children can be coerced with gifts, money or perceived status, or they can be threatened with violence or blackmailed.

Forced criminality also encompasses social welfare fraud. This takes place when exploiters falsely apply for tax credits and other welfare benefits using the victims’ details. It is not only the state that is the victim of social welfare fraud, there is often horrific abuse used against the individual in order to coerce them into falsely applying for benefits.

Organ harvesting illustration showing a kidney with a price tag

The trafficking in organs involves removing a part of the body, commonly the kidneys or a lobe of the liver, to sell often as an illegal trade. Organs can be taken in a number of ways:

  • Trade – a victim formally or informally agrees to sell an organ, but are then cheated because they are not paid for the organ, or are paid less than the promised price
  • Ailments – a vulnerable person is treated for an ailment, which may or may not exist, and the organs are removed without the victim’s knowledge
  • Extortion – a victim may be kidnapped from their family and organs removed without consent

What to do...

If you are concerned that you have witnessed human trafficking, it is essential you report this to the appropriate organisation in your country.

Every country is different, the appropriate organisation may be:

  • Your local or national police
  • A national trafficking hotline
  • A local or national non-governmental organisation (NGO) or civil society organisation (CSO)

We have put together a list of organisations to whom you can report suspected incidents of trafficking. After you have reported it to them, you can also share the information with us. The information you provide will be used by our Centre for Intelligence-Led Prevention to help build a global picture of trafficking.

Here's a 1 min video on child exploitation

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