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National Human Trafficking Awareness Day: What will it take to thwart trafficking in 2022 and beyond?

Heather C. Fischer  Senior Advisor, Social Impact and Human Rights, Thomson Reuters Special Services

· 5 minute read

Heather C. Fischer  Senior Advisor, Social Impact and Human Rights, Thomson Reuters Special Services

· 5 minute read

It will take a combined, long-term effort of planning, strategic coordination, and global collaboration to battle back human trafficking and eliminate the damage it causes

In honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, we pause today and evaluate how best to thwart human trafficking. In sum, we need to accomplish three objectives: first, create country-specific action plans to counter human trafficking; second, coordinate a strategic global vision that will serve us well for 2022 and beyond, and third, adjust how we are combating this crime by breaking down the barriers among us and act in concert.

Only through a strategic focus and united effort will we abolish the ever-present threat of human trafficking globally.

In 2000, the U.S. government and the global community put traffickers on notice with the landmark passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act and Palermo Protocol. Since then, governments, international organizations, and civil society have taken up concerted efforts to protect survivors of human trafficking and prosecute perpetrators involved. Yet, the extent of the crime has soared — the International Labor Organization now estimates that the illicit profits in the shadow economy stemming from human trafficking are now in excess of $150 billion.

Indeed, human trafficking is big business and an economically motivated crime that is growing and thriving. Whether for forced labor or sex trafficking, traffickers exploit people because it is profitable; and for the most part, they do so with impunity. Combatting this crime will require a new paradigm and a commitment to change with a time horizon that reaches out beyond the next few months or years.

Crafting a global strategy & fostering collaboration

To counter human trafficking, the world needs a winning strategy, a culture shift, and major investment from the global community — but where do we go from here after 20 years of anti-trafficking work?

First, we would do well if each nation developed a country-specific strategy, like the United States National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, first issued in 2020. A new strategy to leverage a whole-of-government approach must also include promising practices coupled with durable solutions and benchmarks for implementation. Nations would not have to start with a blank slate, in fact, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) provides such a toolkit for member nations and states to develop their own action plan. Then, regions of the world could compare notes from their action plan and take a coordinated, complementary approach, allowing each to act as a force-multiplier to stave off traffickers who operate within transnational organized crime syndicates.

Second, we need a culture change resulting in a fundamental paradigm shift that currently allows communities to be exploited within their own ecosystem. Indeed, efforts to educate community members to recognize the genuine signs of human trafficking should continue and expand. Informing the public of the social, economic, and national security impact human trafficking has on society is important, but we must do more. We must empower children, youth, parents, and caregivers with the critical knowledge to keep themselves and others safe from exploitation.

We need to go beyond awareness-raising and implore citizens to take a stand against the exploitation of people. Further, we should commit to not enabling human trafficking by avoiding the tough questions about labor in global supply chains associated with industries such as electronics, textiles, and food. Consumers deserve to know whether the goods they purchase have been produced through forced labor, and what their financial institutions are doing to ensure they are not facilitating profits from human trafficking to be laundered through their company.

Lastly, to make a significant impact on human trafficking, it is essential that we go upstream and enhance institutional capacity to stop traffickers in a more powerful way. Investment in dedicated personnel, data, and technology tools, as well as financial forensic capabilities can also act as critical resources for law enforcement and service providers. To be sure, these capabilities must be accompanied by a significant financial investment from both the government and the philanthropic sector that is equal to the magnitude of the problem.

There are no easy fixes or quick wins that will stem the activities and profits from these crimes of exploitation. However, a cohesive and focused strategy, coupled with sustained global efforts, can and will turn the tide against traffickers and make a significant dent in the problem over the next years and decades.

As Gary Haugen, a global justice leader of the International Justice Mission, once said, “The victims of injustice in our world do not need our spasms of passion. They need our long obedience in the same direction – our legs and lungs of endurance.” Haugen is correct — we must coordinate and implement substantive solutions together but then resolve ourselves to combating human trafficking for the long haul, for our commitment to do so is the key to our success in our shared pursuit of justice for survivors.

If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888, or text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733.