Five Key Elements of Effective Prevention Strategies to Combat Human Trafficking

Posted by Susan Coppedge
June 30, 2016
A child, as seen in the International Organization of Migration's “Deeper Scars” video. [IOM Manila, “Deeper Scars” / Veejay Villafranca]

Human trafficking, sometimes referred to as modern slavery, is the exploitation of an individual for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. It affects every demographic, exists in virtually every country in the world, and reaps an estimated $150 billion in illicit profits for human traffickers globally. 

The response to human trafficking has gained momentum since 2000, when the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Protocol).  Most governments around the world have ratified and implemented elements of the Palermo Protocol using the 3P framework -- protection, prosecution, and prevention -- to fight human trafficking. Most countries also now have laws that criminalize all forms of human trafficking. Over the last two decades, promising practices have emerged in victim identification, law enforcement, and victim care, such as incorporating survivor voices in all aspects of anti-trafficking policy development and implementation.   

Despite these efforts, millions of victims remain trapped in human trafficking today. The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report pays special attention to the importance of prevention and encourages governments to work with local communities, law enforcement, and civil society to help identify those who may be especially vulnerable to human trafficking, and take preventive action. Here are five critical areas where governments and local communities can act to prevent human trafficking:

1. Increase Data Collection and Research

Human trafficking is a hidden and complex crime. As a result, it is difficult to gather reliable data, especially about local, regional, and global prevalence. To improve prevention measures, governments and civil society need to encourage and fund research that provides baseline data to illuminate the causes, characteristics, trends, and consequences of all forms of human trafficking. In addition, research that explores unique vulnerabilities to human trafficking is critical to the development of effective prevention strategies.

2. Raise Public Awareness

Raising public awareness about the risks and signs of human trafficking is an important piece of any anti-trafficking strategy. Governments, civil society, and the private sector can collaborate to develop awareness campaigns that have clear objectives, whether intended for general audiences or targeted to vulnerable populations or officials with responsibility for preventing the crime. It is vital that anti-trafficking messaging accurately and responsibly depict the nature of the crime, its victims, and the perpetrators.

3. Create Policies and Programs for At-Risk Individuals

Governments and other stakeholders should develop policies and programs to prevent trafficking and keep at-risk individuals safe. For example, when governments allow workers to form and join trade unions, it makes those workers less vulnerable to exploitation. Governments and the private sector should work together to end fraudulent recruitment practices by monitoring recruitment agencies, training labor inspectors, and holding recruiters civilly and criminally liable in cases of fraud. In addition, governments can work with civil society to integrate anti-trafficking elements into other programs, including those that focus on health or economic development, and to reduce the demand for forced labor and commercial sex.

4. Enhance Multilateral Collaboration

Because human trafficking occurs in virtually every country in the world, multilateral engagement presents unique opportunities for prevention.  Governments are addressing trafficking through multiple avenues by integrating their efforts with actions on human rights and national security concerns, as well as migration management and supply chain accountability.  Multilateral collaboration also provides a means for governments, civil society, academia, the private sector, and survivors to exchange information on experiences, challenges, best practices, and emerging issues related to human trafficking. Governments should engage at the multilateral level and adhere to and enforce international obligations related to human trafficking.

5. Build Partnerships

Trafficking survivors, NGOs, faith groups, donors, academics, and businesses have skills and perspectives that, when combined, will drive innovation and bring sustained progress to the fight against human trafficking. Governments have a vital role in bringing together stakeholders and creating partnerships. 

How You Can Help:

No one person or government can fight human trafficking alone -- this is a global effort.

You can help by learning more about human trafficking. You can find your Slavery Footprint to better understand how your consumer habits are connected to modern slavery. You can also help spread awareness, join a local anti-trafficking organization, or create a movement on your own. No matter how large or small the effort, we all have a role to play in ending the scourge of trafficking.

About the Author: Susan Coppedge serves as Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State.

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