Human Trafficking as an Industry

A few days ago, I was discussing porn and sex trafficking with a friend and came to a seemingly fundamental realization about the true nature of human trafficking. It is an industry, subject to the laws of supply and demand. We have created this seemingly internationally- accepted culture in which if we crave something, all we need to do is buy it. If one has a sweet tooth and wants a candy bar, a candy store will shoot up to fill in that market. If one wants a car, a car dealership will be eager to serve. And if a man wants sex, sex will be supplied. In cultures which frown upon premarital sex, porn and prostitution are generally accepted alternatives. People have capitalized off of this universal demand, recognizing the sheer profitability of selling humans. Thus, sex trafficking. As long as we continue to demand easily accessible sex, pimps will continue to supply it, regardless of the desires of those being sold.

The same can be said for labor trafficking. We have created a demand for cheap products, products that should cost WAY more if everyone along the supply chain was compensated truly and fairly. If you think about it, it is impossible for a t-shirt to cost $3. How can it possibly be so cheap, if you calculate in the salary of the cotton picker, the cotton weaver, the fabric dyer, the factory truck driver, and the store employee, not to mention the factory-maintenance costs, the transportation costs, the fuel costs…? It all adds up to much more than $3. Yet as consumers, we are only willing to spend $3. So the cotton picker and the weaver and the dyer and all the factory workers and everyone else along the supply chain are underpaid. But even that may not equal $3. It may equal $5. And $5 is not a competitive price. So companies start to traffick workers, luring them in under false pretenses, holding them as slaves with concocted debts, ensuring that the total cost of production will be far under $3, so the corporation can still make a profit.

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Trafficking is a means to a profitable end. And quite a steep profit at that. It is an industry that nets $32 billion annually. And as CONSUMERS of its products, we are perpetuating it.

The Polaris Project acknowledges this reality as well. “To ultimately solve the problem of human trafficking, it is essential to address these demand-driven factors, as well as to alter the overall market incentives of high-profit and low-risk that traffickers currently exploit.”

They describe two the major drivers of the demand for human trafficking:

  1. “Low Risk: When the community is unaware of this issue, when government and community institutions are not trained to respond, when there are ineffective or dormant laws to address the crime, when safety nets for victims do not exist, and when law enforcement does not  investigate and prosecute the crime, human traffickers perceive little risk or deterrence to affect their criminal operations.
  2. High Profits: When individuals are willing to buy commercial sex, they create a market and make it profitable for traffickers to sexually exploit children and adults.
    When consumers are willing to buy goods and services from industries that rely on forced labor, they create a profit incentive for labor traffickers to maximize revenue with minimal production costs.”