Human Trafficking: Causes, Effects, Control

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 13
Words: 3344
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: College


Human trafficking is a form of organized crime that involves trade in human beings for purposes that include forced labor, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and organ harvesting (Aronowitz, 2009). Internationally, trafficking is recognized as a crime because of the severe violation of human rights experienced by victims. Women and children are the most common victims because they are highly vulnerable and in high demand. Trafficking is a type of organized crime that represents approximately $31.6 billion of the revenue generated from international trade annually (Jonsson, 2012). Trading in persons is a critical issue experienced around the world that has grown rapidly in the last twenty years. It has resulted in the emergence and growth of trans-national criminal organizations that have created illegal avenues for wealth creation. In 2013, the trade was estimated to generate approximately USD $32 billion (Lee, 2013). A review of human trafficking is important because of its severity and the rate at which it is growing around the world. It is a shameful trade because it violates the dignity and the human rights of victims. All countries possess constitutional statutes that guarantee the protection of the rights of their citizens. However, trafficking downplays the importance of human life by encouraging trade in people that violates their rights. The main causes of the expansion of the illegal trade include globalization, increase in the rate of unemployment, poverty, and rise in demand for domestic services in developed countries (Aronowitz, 2009). The problem is relevant for review because human trafficking is a widespread criminal enterprise that encourages violation of human rights and international law as well as the loss of the dignity associated with human life.

Literature review

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the use of force or trickery to recruit and trade in persons for purposes of exploiting them and benefiting financially from their services (Jonsson, 2012). According to the UN, exploitation includes the use of persons for sexual exploitation, extraction of body organs, forced labor, and any other form of coercive service such as domestic servitude. Little research has been conducted on the issue of human trafficking including its severity, forms, consequences, and the various methods used by different countries to combat it. Therefore, available knowledge focuses on the phenomenon, practices, involved players, effects, and the means of combating the crime. Many authors focus on pursuing the mechanisms used by different countries to combat human trafficking. According to Aronowitz (2009) there are six major approaches that could be applied in the study of the topic. They include trafficking for prostitution, forced labor, trafficking in children, violation of human rights, violation of migration laws, and proliferation of human trafficking as an organized crime (Jonsson, 2012). In exploring the problem, the approach chosen determines the strategies used to combat human trafficking. Other authors have studied the crime from moral, criminal, human rights, and labor perspectives. In many cases, the evaluation of the problem from a moral or criminal perspective involves the use of strategies that are aimed at either controlling the spread of trafficking or punishing offenders. On the other hand, when evaluated from a human rights or labor perspective, strategies that are aimed at improving the lives of citizens are devised (Aronowitz, 2009).

Causes of human trafficking

The most important factor in the rapid rise and prevalence of human trafficking is globalization. According to Jonsson (2012), capitalist production has undergone a rapid shift in its structure in the past three centuries. In contemporary society, capital is concentrated in areas that provide cheap labor, establishments whose labor laws favor employers and exploit workers, and where unions are weak and therefore ineffective in protecting workers. This has resulted in unemployment especially in developing countries. Local governments have been rendered weak by the stringent laws enacted by international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Poor national economies have led to increased poverty and lower wages that cannot support families (Shelley, 2010). Increased poverty and unemployment forces people to undertake actions that are aimed at improving their economic situations. On the other hand, the need by different organizations to compete internationally has led to high demand for cheap labor from developing countries (Jonsson, 2012).

As a result, international criminal enterprises traffic people to work in the manufacturing, services, construction, and tourism industries. The issue has been made worse by political instability, wars, and corruption that are prevalent in many countries. One of the most important factors in the study of globalization is the demand, supply, and transportation of commodities and capital. Human trafficking is prevalent because of current global conditions that facilitate the transportation of persons across the globe. Discriminatory labor markets, scarcity of economic opportunities, political restructuring, and proliferation of human rights violations are examples of factors that promote trafficking (Shelley, 2010). Criminal gangs take advantage of the rapid expansion of the global culture that has emanated from globalization and technological advancements. Other factors that are responsible for the proliferation of human trafficking include corruption, lack of public awareness, weak migration and labor legislation, high demand for cheap labor, and inconsistent implementation of public policies (Aronowitz, 2009).

The eradication of trade barriers between countries as well as the emergence of innumerable global markets has resulted in an increase in the demand for cheap labor especially in the manufacturing and services industries (Shelley, 2010). On the other hand, a rapidly growing sex tourism industry has also contributed in the expansion of the human trafficking market. Recruitment and retention of labor force are important factor in the maintenance of competitive edge in the global economy. Cheap labor is an effective strategy used in cushioning businesses against poor financial times that result from high costs of production and market fluctuations. Increasing globalization creates the need for great focus on providing human capital for sustainable economic growth. Low labor costs enable businesses to produce goods and services cheaply and thus make high profits. This phenomenon has been reported in Florida’s orange industry. The industry enjoys cheap labor from workers who are trafficked from Mexico and Central America (Shelley, 2010). Many international organizations have been accused of using running their operations at the expense of workers who are poorly paid and who are subjected to poor working conditions. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), approximately 2.5 million victims of human trafficking work in poor working conditions in different countries across the globe (Jonsson, 2012). Young children are the majority of victims of forced labor who work in hazardous conditions for little or no pay.

According to Aronowitz (2009), the main reasons responsible for the rapid growth in human trafficking in today’s society include globalization, high rates of unemployment especially in developing countries, high demand for domestic labor in developed countries, and poor regulations to monitor the movement of human capital that is facilitated by technological advancements. The most common forms of human trafficking include the transportation of women and children for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor (Jonsson, 2012). According to the United Nations, more than one million women and children are transported from their countries to foreign countries every year through complex networks created by human trafficking criminal groups (Jonsson, 2012). Human trafficking is an appealing business because it has high financial returns and can be conducted in secret without the knowledge of law enforcement agencies. According to a report released by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations, the human trafficking business in the U.S. is controlled by more than 3,000 criminal gangs in different cities (Shelley, 2010).

Coca is among the most popular agricultural products that are produced using trafficked labor. The United State’s chocolate industry depends on imported cocoa for the sustenance of the industry. For instance, in 2005, the U.S. imported cocoa beans worth over $870 million from West African countries that produce the raw material (Jonsson, 2012). 58% of cocoa used in the U.S was imported from West African countries that are famous for using trafficked children in its production (Jonsson, 2012). Child slaves are forced to work long hours under poor working conditions. For instance, they are forced to use pesticides and other chemicals without protective gear. On the other hand, they have no access to health care. Organizations that use cocoa as a raw material hold down prices in order to compete effectively with other organizations in international markets. This is done at the expense of child slaves who are paid poorly and overworked. This problem has aggravated over the years because governments have shown little interest in combating human trafficking and other activities associated with the crime. Involved organizations suppress the prices of cocoa in order to avoid giving fair remuneration to workers.

The majority of human trafficking victims fall prey to criminals because of their desire to improve the quality of their personal and economic situations. Human traffickers take advantage of the victims’ desires and offer to help them migrate to other countries that have better economies (Jonsson, 2012). However, they transport and sell them to second and third parties who use them for financial gains. Many people become victims of traffickers especially during periods of political restructuring in their countries. The anxiety and fear generated by economic, political, and social changes prompt many people to migrate to other countries to seek economic opportunities (Jonsson, 2012). In Europe, human trafficking grew rapidly after the collapse of communism that resulted in the need for economic, social, and political stability.

Forms of human trafficking

Human trafficking can be divided into four major categories that include sexual exploitation, forced labor, domestic servitude, and organ harvesting (Shelley, 2010). Trafficking in women is rampant because the female gender is vulnerable and regarded lowly in many societies. Different countries act as sources, transit points, or destinations of trafficked persons. Majority of the victims comprise vulnerable groups such as women and children from poor families and unprivileged backgrounds. They are usually lured by promises of employment opportunities and better lives in developed countries. Victims are awarded illegal documents and then transported to foreign countries where they are forced into sexual slavery and forced labor (Shelley, 2010). One of the strategies used by traffickers to promote the sexual exploitation of victims is the use of debt bondage. Many exploiters hold victims by requiring them to pay off their purchase costs before they can be set free. Child trafficking can be divided into several categories that include child sex trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), and child sex tourism (CST) (Lee, 2013). CSEC refers to the exploitation of children for financial gains through acts such as pornography and prostitution. CST refers to the use of children for sex tourism and related forms of commercial purposes.

The largest percentage of trafficking victims is subjected to forced labor either in commercial establishments or homesteads. Forced labor involves the exploitation of vulnerable workers for financial gains. Victims are usually paid little money and work under hazardous working conditions that compromise their health (Shelley, 2010). Many of them have no access to health care services. High rates of unemployment and poverty are the major causes of these practices that violate the basic human rights. Women and children who are subjected to forced labor also undergo sexual exploitation. Forced labor is a form of human trafficking that is difficult to identify and combat because in certain cases, victims undergo legal recruitment and migration processes (Jonsson, 2012). Involuntary domestic labor is a form of forced labor that is very prevalent because of the privacy enjoyed by employers. Law enforcement officers cannot inspect private property thus making it easy for employers to exploit their workers. Domestic workers and victims of forced labor are usually trafficked from countries that register high rates of poverty and unemployment. According to the International Labor Organization, forced labor is characterized by six main elements that include debt-bondage, physical harm to workers, confinement of workers and restriction of movement, withholding of wages and unfair deductions and fines, retention of travel documents by employers, and threats of denunciation to authorities (Lee, 2013). Finally, organ harvesting refers to the trafficking of persons for the purpose of obtaining their body organs for sale. The major organ that is under high demand among traffickers is the kidney because of the low risk associated with its transplant.

Effects and consequences

Human trafficking has adverse economic, psychological, and health effects on victims. Trafficked women are subjected to serious health risks that affect their physical, reproductive, emotional, and psychological wellbeing (Shelley, 2010). Victims usually suffer from serious physical problems that result from forced labor either in homesteads or commercial establishments. Examples of physical injuries that victims encounter include burns, broken bones, concussions, and bruises. These injuries emanate from the physical assault meted on them by employers and traffickers. Certain injuries cause health problems that last for long periods because victims do not get access to health care services. Sexual exploitation of women and children results in physical and emotional damages (Kara, 2013). In many cases, victims are coerced to engage in sexual activities against their will. The use of force is a common factor in such experiences. Women who are forced to engage in sexual activities without their consent suffer emotional and psychological disturbances that have long-term effects such as depression and severe stress (Lee, 2013). Women who participate in prostitution expose themselves to sexual and reproductive health complications that affect their wellbeing adversely (Kara, 2013).

For instance, they are subjected to high risks of contracting diseases that could affect their reproductive health. In addition, they are subjected to high risks of unwanted pregnancies. As a result, they perform abortions in order to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. In some cases, abortion results in irreversible medical complications such as infertility. Physical and sexual abuse results in mental complications such as anxiety, excessive guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder, and abuse of drugs and alcohol (Kara, 2013). In severe cases, these effects lead to suicide. Children are the most adversely affected by trafficking because of the negative effects of the experiences on their physical, emotional, and psychological development. Finally, trafficking victims face legal consequences in case they are reported to authorities. Persons who refuse to cooperate with their employers are reported to authorities for being in foreign countries illegally and for violating local law.

Prevention and control

Several approaches are applied by different nations to combat human trafficking. In many countries, anti-trafficking initiatives focus on enacting new legislation and spearheading legal reforms that introduce stringent immigration and anti-trafficking laws. Many anti-trafficking laws are ineffective internationally because they are bent more towards post-trafficking criminal prosecutions rather than the prevention of human trafficking (Lee, 2013). It is important for governments and non-governmental organizations to work together in order to ensure effective implementation of mitigation strategies. Education and awareness raising are effective strategies of combating human trafficking that are directed towards the public. Vulnerable groups such as women and children are offered information regarding trafficking, its dangers, risk factors, and consequences. Information is disseminated through the media, press conferences, public service announcements, documentaries, and through the internet (Lee, 2013). Another strategy to combat human trafficking is through promotion of the human rights of workers and vulnerable groups. For instance, governments should implement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

In addition, they should implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. It is also important for all countries to adopt the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families in order to protect the wellbeing of trafficked persons who are subjected to forced labor (Shelley, 2010). Other approaches include the enactment of anti-trafficking legislation, creation of special law enforcement groups to fight trafficking, and commissioning of thorough research on the severity of the crime globally. It is important for governments to adopt joint legislation that regulate the transportation of persons across borders for easier monitoring and identification of illegal activities.

Analysis significance

The foregoing topic evaluation is an important aspect in the comprehension of human trafficking in efforts to find lasting solutions to the problem. Human trafficking is a serious legal and moral problem that needs to be solved through cooperation between governments and non-governmental organizations. Currently available research regarding the extent and severity of human trafficking is inadequate. Therefore, it is important to conduct further research in order to fully comprehend the severity of the issue and thus improve the process of identifying the best preventive measures. The enjoyment of the basic human rights is a privilege that is provided by the constitutions of all countries in the world. However, human trafficking denies those rights to victims of trafficking. The existence of modern slavery in the form of human trafficking is a violation of human rights and the dignity of life. The use of force, debt bondage, violence, threats, and other manipulative tactics to exploit persons is unethical and illegal. The sheer size of the trafficking industry ($150 billion) is an indication of the extent of the problem. This shows that governments are not doing enough to combat human trafficking hence the need for further research and action.

The main victims of human trafficking are women and children who are more vulnerable when compared to men. Women and children deserve protection because they form an integral part of society. Other targets of human traffickers include victims of domestic violence, war, sexual assault, and homeless persons. The vulnerabilities of the people in these groups are issues that can be addressed by local governments and thus mitigate the trafficking problem. It is the responsibility of any government to protect the vulnerable members of society from any form of exploitation. According to the rational choice theory, people commit crime after performing an evaluation of the risks and rewards associated with a certain crime. An individual makes a choice to either commit or not commit a crime based on their thinking about the costs and benefits as well as the risks and rewards of their actions. As mentioned earlier, human trafficking is a low risk and high return venture. This explains why the trafficking business has been growing rapidly over the last decade. Lax ant-trafficking legislation and high returns are the main motivating factors for the rapid expansion of trafficking across the world.


Human trafficking is the act of luring, recruiting, transporting, and using persons for financial gains against their will. Major forms of human trafficking include forced labor, sex tourism, prostitution, and domestic servitude. The foregoing topic evaluation has revealed that human trafficking is a very severe form of organized crime that is rapidly growing due to lax anti-trafficking legislation that encourages the formation of international criminal networks that are difficult to dissolve. In addition, the crime expanding because traffickers enjoy high financial gains and they can operate without the knowledge of law enforcement agencies. These factors make it difficult to combat it. Trafficking in persons is a critical issue that has been taken up by the major international non-governmental and governmental organizations because of its severity. Traffickers use force, violence, fraud, and other forms of manipulative antics to lure unsuspecting victims into situations that involve sexual and other forms of exploitation. The main causes of human trafficking include poverty, globalization, high demand for cheap labor, and high rates of unemployment.

Victims undergo mental, health, and physical trauma that affects their wellbeing. For instance, women are exposed to the risk of contracting diseases that could affect their reproductive health while children undergo psychological disturbances hat affect their proper growth and development. It is important for governments to enact stringent anti-trafficking laws in order to mitigate the problem. Future evaluations and research should be conducted to identify other forms of human trafficking, the extent of each form, and the best possible solutions to combat them. Traffickers target vulnerable groups such as women, children, and victims of wars, terrorism, and sexual assault. Governments should put measures in place to cater for the emotional, economic, and physical needs of vulnerable groups in order to lower the risk of falling prey to traffickers.


Aronowitz, A. (2009). Human trafficking, Human Misery: The Global Trade in Human Beings. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Jonsson, A. (2012). Human trafficking and Human Security. New York: Routledge.

Kara, S. (2013). Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. New York: Columbia University.

Lee, M. (2013). Human Trafficking. New York: Routledge.

Shelley, L. (2010). Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.