Time to focus on labor trafficking

Human trafficking most frequently evokes thoughts of the global sex trade. But a new World Vision report calls attention to labor trafficking, which is often hidden from view but is among the most damaging forms of child exploitation.

Published April 18, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

Human trafficking is often associated with the sex trade.  But a new report on human trafficking in Asia's Mekong region indicates that the sale of people into slavery in industries like fishing, food processing, and domestic work is the most common form of trafficking and needs increased public attention.

World Vision's report (pdf), "10 things you need to know about labor trafficking in the Greater Mekong sub-region," lays out 10 facts about trafficking in an effort to broaden dialogue, and raise awareness about who becomes enslaved, and where.

A bigger problem than meets the eye

The document is based on findings from other reports, as well as case studies collected by World Vision in the course of its efforts to fight trafficking across the region. It notes that, across the Asia Pacific region, there are an estimated three people trafficked for every 1,000 inhabitants. Globally, for every person forced into the sex trade, nine are forced to work.

"Trafficking for labor exploitation is generally not considered as severe a crime as trafficking for sexual exploitation, and there is a high level of impunity for offenders," the report says.

"Victims of labor trafficking are often not identified as such, and instead are detained and deported from the country where the exploitation took place. As a result, the majority of trafficked persons do not have access to assistance or justice, and the traffickers remain free to exploit others."

Little-known facts

Mai (not her real name) spent over a year doing forced labor at a home in Thailand. She was deceived into thinking that she was being offered a legitimate job. ©2010 Vanhlee Lattana/World VisionAmong the ten truths are the following:

  • Men and boys are often imprisoned on fishing boats.
  • "Legal" recruitment agencies are sometimes complicit in trafficking.
  • Some factories hold workers against their will with no pay.
  • Many victims of labor trafficking are exploited not in foreign countries, but on their home soil.

"Governments are slowly addressing the issue of trafficking for labor," says Abid Gulzar, trafficking program policy manager for the Greater Mekong region, who helped produce the report.

"But let's face it: This is the 21st century, and slavery of any form should be eradicated. Many of us are, for example, eating fish or shrimp that was caught or processed by the victims of trafficking."


The "10 things" report also comes with a list of recommendations about how to fight labor trafficking:

  • Urging the private sector to take responsibility for all labor within their supply chain, with ongoing monitoring for compliance
  • Banning the confiscation of workers' official documents by employers
  • Having governments target high-migration areas with vocational and skills training and safe migration information
  • Strengthen and enforce workplace safety and protection with enhanced training for labor inspectors
  • Regulate and monitor high-risk industries via codes of practice and heavy penalties for violators

The report also urges consumers to learn more about where the products they use or eat come and contribute to the fight against labor trafficking.

Salay, 13, had to quit school years ago to work at a brick factory to help pay off his family's debt. Photo: ©2011 Vichheka Sok/World Vision

Learn more

Download the full report (pdf), "10 things you need to know about labor trafficking in the Greater Mekong sub-region."

Three ways you can help

Pray for children and families who have been devastated by labor trafficking, and pray for the political will to effectively fight this tragic practice around the world.

Contact your members of Congress today. Urge them to support reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). This legislation provides key tools in the fight against global human trafficking, but it must be renewed every few years. The current version of TVPA expires on September 30, 2011.

Give monthly to support children affected by trafficking and exploitation. Your monthly gift will help provide assistance like safe shelter, food, education, trauma recovery counseling, and more.