Tag Archive | "human trafficking"

Miller Article Picture

Gaps in International Law Surrounding Human Trafficking and Natural Disasters

Photo Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Most of the modern world has concerned itself with both the atrocity of human trafficking and the devastation of natural disasters. These events leave human pain and suffering in their wake Water trampoline Canada at outstanding levels. A large international effort to create transnational standards of law has been constructed to mitigate and respond to these catastrophes, however, there is a shocking gap in understanding the connection and correlation between the two. Though international law has made commendable strides toward globally cooperative solutions in the respective areas of human trafficking and natural disasters, little legal action has been crafted to reduce the overlap between these two. Scholars have scratched the surface of this issue, beginning to acknowledge vulnerability natural disasters create that contributes to increased human trafficking, but international law must be further developed to match this ever-increasing cross-section of human suffering.

Human trafficking is a 150-billion-dollar industry that reaches every corner of the world and impacts every country.[1] Generally, human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable and desperate, specifically targeting defenseless young women and children.[2] Characterized by three elements; act, means, and purpose, the ability to execute the act of human trafficking is influenced by a series of factors at the individual, state, trafficker, and international level.[3] The individual factors generally relate to the lack of economic or social opportunities that lead people in poverty to trust traffickers for job opportunities.[4] In contrast, the remaining deal with the opportunity for trafficking at the trafficker, state, and international levels.[5] Natural disasters exacerbate the following factors at every level: victim’s unawareness of potential risk, inadequate social safety nets, inadequate law enforcement, low risk of getting caught, border regulations, and lack of international coordination.[6] Natural disasters further marginalize and perpetuate the vulnerability of the most at-risk people groups. Economic damage caused by natural disasters will lead more people to take risks for better economic opportunity that lead to being trafficked, but the most detrimental impact of natural disasters occurs due to the crumbling infrastructure. Personal interviews with anti-human trafficking workers on the ground of natural disasters, such as the Nepal earthquake, describe how traffickers purposefully enter disaster zones, impersonate relief workers, and lure an outstanding number of vulnerable people to a lifetime of slavery. One worker commented on this phenomenon to a popular news outlet saying, “this is the time when the brokers go in the name of relief to kidnap or lure women.”[7] Human traffickers capitalize on the lack of coordination, government infrastructure, and general communication to pose as relief workers, from well-known organizations, in order to lure victims and sell them as slaves.

Children separated from their families due to natural disasters are especially at risk to the lure of predators. Special Rapporteur, Najat Maalla M’jid, stated at the United Nations Human Rights Council, “children’s vulnerability is significantly increased when they are separated from their families, unaccompanied, orphaned or displaced following humanitarian crisis.”[8] M’jid went further to say in her report that the United Nations has found, “some people exploit the chaotic environment that follows a natural disaster to engage in criminal activities, such as selling children for the purpose of illegal adoption, forced labor or sexual exploitation.”[9] The chaos of a natural disaster presents more opportunity to lure and fraud vulnerable survivors than the impoverished economic state alone. Again, though poverty and a lack of economic opportunities is a major factor for human trafficking, the disorder and lack of communication caused by natural disasters creates far more opportunity for traffickers to build up their supply of free labor.

Substantial international law has been created in the United Nations to prevent human trafficking, and many countries have created corresponding domestic law. There has also been an overwhelming effort for nations to develop a cooperative relief effort after natural disasters. Though these efforts are noble, they are incomplete. Neither problem will be solved until the prevalence of the other is recognized. In its most basic form, international law surrounding human trafficking is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).[10] This document establishes the most basic freedoms and rights of human beings, regardless of race, nationality, gender, political preference, or any other self-identifying category.[11] Though it doesn’t mention human trafficking, article four specifically mentions that slavery in all forms shall be eliminated across all nations.[12] Shortly after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created, the UN created a resolution, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, that specifically called for the end of human trafficking.[13] The entire document focuses on calling nations, “to punish any person who, to gratify the passions of another: (1) [p]rocures, entices or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, another person, even with the consent of that person; (2) [e]xploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person.”[14] Two decades later, the UN ratified another international standard, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which promoted the rights of all individuals throughout the world.[15] This document affirms the international communities’ desire that “the slave-trade in all their forms shall be eliminated.”[16] From the early stages of the United Nations, the international community decided that slavery and human trafficking are offenses that cannot be tolerated in any form. The twentieth century spurred the battle against trafficking and set the standard of freedom deserved by every citizen of the world, which the remaining international law attempts to achieve.

At the turn of the century, the United Nations ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women And Children, supplementing The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which called every nation to criminalize human trafficking, protect human trafficking victims, and coordinate to prevent future cases of human trafficking.[17] A few years later, a supplemental resolution was created, The United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air, to further outline the measures by which countries are called to stop the actual smuggling of people into their borders.[18] The final major piece of international law is the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, which again further criminalizes the sale of children and calls for nations to work together to stop the expansion of child slavery.[19]

Though these laws are great efforts by the international community, they come with many gaps when trying to actually solve the devastating problems. On a general note, these laws contain gaps in enforceability by deferring each state to create their own law based on the guidelines of the resolution.[20] These international laws act as a high standard, encouraging countries to try their best to meet it.[21] This inevitable nature of international law undoubtedly creates space for traffickers to operate. However, the greater failure of these laws is the lack of awareness natural disasters, and other crisis, play in the operations of human trafficking. All the stated laws call nations to work together to prevent the spread of trafficking, outlining the important factors of trafficking to be weary of, and yet, not a single one mentions how natural disasters play into the expansion of human supply. It would be like an exterminator, trying to rid a house of a termite infection, not attempting to address the termite nest, but rather killing termites as he sees them. This is clearly an inefficient solution, and will only perpetuate the cost and toll on the homeowners. If the international community wants to truly address the issue of modern slavery, at bare minimum, they must consider one of the greatest sources of supply of vulnerable people. Until the international community sets a standard of law for each nation to base their domestic policies on which addresses the connection between natural disasters and human trafficking, modern slavery will never end.

In a similar manner, the international effort to mitigate the suffering from natural disasters will never truly be effective, until the coordinated effort acknowledges the prevalence of human trafficking in disaster zones. The international community has, in recent years, dramatically increased its effort to help nations recover from unpredictable natural disasters. Wealthy nations provide aid and support to developing states in an effort to stabilize their societies and lessen the suffering of their citizens. Furthermore, the United Nations has held many conventions which are aimed at understanding the damage caused by past disasters and looking to create more effective future disaster responses. The UN started addressing the issue of international disaster relief in the late twentieth century with the International Decade for Disaster Risk Reduction as more nations began to coordinate disaster relief.[22] This resolution places natural disaster response as a central issue for the UN to address.[23] In an effort to create effective relief, the UN created several initiatives, such as the Office of Disaster Risk Reduction, The YokoHama Strategy, and several World Conferences on Disaster Reduction that produced documents such as Hyogo Framework and the Sendai Framework.[24] Furthermore, outside of the United Nations, the International Federation of Red Cross Societies has attempted to address the lack of binding international law or plan of action for disaster response. They created the International Disaster Response Laws, which were ratified and adopted by thirty-eight nations.[25] The Sendai Framework was established to replace the Hyogo Framework and will remain the most pervasive international standard in response to disasters until 2030.[26] It aims to “guide the multi-hazard management of disaster risk” as a transnational cooperative effort to mitigate the damages of high mortality, economic loss, personal suffering, spread of disaster zone, and international cost.[27] The International Federation of Red Cross Societies has attempted to supplement the UN framework, by providing more specific guidance for best practices in disaster relief in order to prevent the most suffering possible.

Though these actions are admirable, and it is important to continue the effort towards more effective disaster response, not a single document produced by the UN or Red Cross considers the impact of human trafficking on the victims of the disaster. If the goal of the international community is to prevent the suffering of innocent humans after a natural disaster, they must take into consideration the vulnerability to slavery these innocent humans will face. Modern slavery affects every category of suffering the UN Sendai Framework seeks to stop. High mortality, economic loss, personal suffering, spread of the suffering of disaster, and international cost are all consistently effected by human trafficking.[28] If the international community really wants to address these issues in preparation for response to natural disasters, they must take into consideration how vulnerability, chaos, and crisis create huge opportunities for traffickers to easily perpetrate horrendous acts of slavery. International law and efforts in response to natural disasters will be incomplete and ineffective in achieving their own outlined goals until action is taken to include an understanding of the connection between human trafficking and natural disasters.

The international community is exerting a remarkable effort to prevent human trafficking and to respond to the suffering of natural disasters, and yet both of these endeavors will continually be insufficient until the community fully understands the connection between the two. Furthermore, an analysis of the overlap must be included in international law, acting as a guideline for countries to create their own domestic policies that reflect the need to combat human trafficking and respond to natural disasters while acknowledging the other. An effective understanding of the connection between these inevitable atrocities of life is crucial to developing productive and successful policies. There is no doubt the international community desires to uphold basic human rights and prevent unneeded suffering caused by human trafficking and natural disasters, however, currently, its actions to achieve these goals are incredibly insufficient.

Mallory Miller is a Staff Editor with the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy, and a 1L at the Sturm College of Law.


[1] Human Trafficking by the Numbers, Hum. Rts. First (Jan. 7, 2017), http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers.

[2] Human Trafficking, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html (last visited Sept. 2, 2017).

[3] U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, supra note 2.

[4] Manuel Brülisauer, Hum. Trafficking in Post-Earthquake Nepal (2015), https://www.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/nadel-dam/documents/mas/mas-essays/MAS%20Cycle%202014%20-%202016/Essay_Manuela%20Bruelisauer.pdf.

[5] Manuel Brülisauer, supra C2040-407 dumps note 4.

[6] Manuel Brülisauer, supra 1Z0-468 dumpsnote 4.

[7] Jason Burke, Nepal Quake Survivors Face Threat from Human Traffickers Supplying Sex Trade, The Guardian, (May 5, 2015, 9:00 AM), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/05/nepal-quake-survivors-face-threat-from-human-traffickers-supplying-sex-trade.

[8] David Singh, Child Traffickers Thrive on Disasters, U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, (Mar. 26, 2012), https://www.unisdr.org/archive/25934.

[9] Singh, supra note 8.

[10] Lindsey King, International Law and Human Trafficking, Topical Res. Dig.: Hum. Rts. & Hum. Trafficking, https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/trafficking/InternationalLaw.pdf (last visited Sept. 2, 2017).

[11] G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10, 1948).

[12] G.A. Res. 217 (III), A, supra note 9.

[13] King, supra note 10.

[14] G.A. Res. 317 (IV), Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (Dec. 2, 1949).

[15] King, supra note 10.

[16] G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Dec. 16, 1966).

[17] G.A. Res. 55/25, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (Dec. 25, 2003).

[18] G.A. Res. 55/25, The United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air (Jan. 28, 2004).

[19] G.A. Res. A/RES/54/263, Optional Protocol to The Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (May 25, 2000).

[20] Lindsey King, International Law and Human Trafficking, Topical Res. Dig.: Hum. Rts. & Hum. Trafficking, https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/trafficking/InternationalLaw.pdf (last visited Sept. 2, 2017).

[21] King, supra note 16.

[22] United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction, International Decade for Disaster Risk Reduction (1999), http://www.unisdr.org/files/31468_programmeforumproceedings.pdf.

[23] International Decade for Disaster Risk Reduction, supra note 18.

[24] Arielle Tozier de la Poterie & Marie-Ange Baudoin, From Yokohama to Sendai: Approaches to Participation in International Disaster Risk Reduction Framework, 6 Int’l J. Disaster Risk Sci. 128 (2015).

[25] U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Chart of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, U.N. Office for Risk Reduction, http://www.unisdr.org/files/44983_sendaiframeworksimplifiedchart.pdf.

[26] G.A. Res. 69/283, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, (June 3, 2015).

[27] G.A. Res. 60/283, supra note 18

[28] Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, (2010).

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The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Slavery

If “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and if our own hands are not idle when we use machines and other property to do our work for us, then does the resulting prosperity guarantee our salvation? Though the title of this blog is not an entirely fair play on Max Weber’s, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the ownership of human beings as commodities certainly relates to the drive for profit because there is little doubt that unfettered capitalism itself is the result of slavery. However, the intention of this blog is not to point out the good and bad aspects of capitalism; rather, the intention is to point out the prevalence of modern day slavery and how easily we can end it by changing our views on what “success” entails, and by increasing racial and gender equality. We can accomplish this by simply becoming aware of what is happening and how we are each contributing to its continuance.

December 2nd is the United Nations’ International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, and this blog is in observance of that day. The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery is significant because people throughout the world are encouraged to publish material on slavery to raise awareness and combat its continuance.

Modern slavery is defined within International Law as: “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.” In plain English, the person is held against their will under the constant threat of injury or death and is forced to work without pay. Slavery exists in every country in the world and includes: sex trafficking, domestic servitude, bonded labor, child labor, and forced labor, among others. Today, it is estimated that there are 35.8 million people held in slavery worldwide, although the actual number is likely much higher.

Increased globalization amplified the profitability of slavery through cheap labor in various parts of the world. Many of the items we use daily, such as cotton, sugar, cocoa, rugs, and bricks are likely to have connection to slavery. Once these items reach the global market, it is difficult to track their source.

The people held in slavery are themselves are viewed as investments and are42418-front-new cheaper today than at any other time in history. They are usually young because the elderly and very young cost more to maintain and cut into revenue. Experts on modern slavery, such as Kevin Bales, describe them as “Disposable People” because they are merely thrown away or killed when they no longer produce enough profit for the owner.

Despite numerous treaties and law abolishing slavery throughout the world, slavery remains. Because of this, we must go beyond the anti-slavery laws themselves and pay closer attention to laws which prohibit discrimination based on race and gender. This is because these are the groups at the most risk of poverty due to discrimination, thereby placing them at increased danger of being taken into slavery.

There are many things we can do to help end slavery as individuals. For instance, we must be aware that it may be happening right next door to us, that we may be purchasing products that are connected to slavery, and we must be willing to pay more for certain products since “low prices” can be deceptive. For instance, with chocolate, low prices make slavery more prevalent because the farmers cannot pay for the labor and the company either goes under or the owners begin enslaving people to produce the cocoa. This is one reason why boycotting certain products can actually contribute to slavery. In other cases, such as carpets and rugs, boycotting is a viable solution as is paying extra for rug labels which provide some assurance that the carpets were not produced through the use of slave labor.

If we remain locked in the iron cage and continue placing profit above all else, believing that “whoever dies with the most toys wins,” we will eventually be unable to continue blinding ourselves to the actual cost.

Bernadette Shetrone is a 3L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: The U.S. Should Suspend Adoptions from China

China, like the U.S., has a website that is dedicated to finding missing and exploited children called, “Baby Come Home.” Unlike the U.S., a large percentage of those children have probably been kidnapped for adoption by unsuspecting American parents. Since China opened its doors to international adoption in 1991, over 83,000 Chinese children have received American parents, the largest number worldwide.[1]

In 2006, the Chinese police uncovered six Hunan orphanages that had paid kidnappers anywhere from $400 to $538 for each child acquired. The operation had been going on for four years, so at least a thousand children had been stolen from their birth families and sent to the orphanages for international adoption. The children were usually taken from another province in China and moved to Hunan to avoid detection. It would be naïve to assume that these problems are all in the past. In June of 2012, the Chinese police arrested 76 suspects for infant abductions acquired for resale in the Yunnan province. The infants went for as high as $1,582.

Parents hold on to hope of finding their missing children. Image Source: AP

Parents hold on to hope of finding their missing children. Image Source: AP

In 2010, parents of missing children protested in Beijing about the lack of investigation by the Chinese police. China claims that only 10,000 of its children are abducted each year; however, the State Department has conceded that the numbers may be as high as 20,000 annually. Every year, approximately 30,000 to 60,000 missing children are reported to Chinese police. A child is usually taken from migrant workers because of the parents’ lack of clout with police.

Once an orphanage decides to put a child up for international adoption, it must publish an ad in the local newspaper to notify potential claimants about the lost child. Since most of the kidnapped children are routed from their homes to other provinces, it is unlikely that the local paper of the orphanage would inform searching parents of their children’s whereabouts. Sixty days after the post, the child is available for adoption to the US.

The media has often portrayed China as a land full of abandoned, healthy baby girls, but the current lack of supply and the subsequent need to refill that supply has been glossed over. In 2007, China admitted that it “lacked available babies to meet the spike in demand.” In 1991, the one-child policy (“policy”) may have contributed to the surplus of female infants in Chinese orphanages but oversupply is no longer a problem. Abortions and other forms of birth control are readily available in China. The policy has been effective at reducing China’s population from 5.81 children per family in 1970 to an average of 2.31 in 1990.[2] At 2.31, the population will no longer grow but simply replace the current generation. Moreover, with China’s increasing economic wealth, families are able to pay the penalties for having more than one child if the province strictly enforces the policy.

In an informal survey conducted by Stuy, 227 out of 259 Chinese orphanages claimed that they did not have any healthy infants available for domestic adoption even though the children were conveniently available for Americans. American parents must pay the orphanage a fee of $3,000 to $5,000 for each child adopted. Assuming the minimum fee of $3,000, almost $252 million has been transferred from the U.S. to China in exchange for children since 1991.

In the U.S., the birth parents’ rights to a child tend to supercede the adoptive parents’, even if the child has been with the adoptive parents for years. However, when it comes to international adoptions, the U.S. does not give the same amount of deference to Chinese parents’ rights to their children. As a ratifying country to the Hague Convention, the U.S. should attempt to uphold the principles of the Convention even if the treaty is not self-executing. The U.S. should suspend adoptions from China because the practice is feeding into the kidnapping of children and corruption within the country. The “best interests of the children” are not being taken into account when encouraging adoptions from China. China is more than capable of absorbing any healthy, abandoned children within the country. U.S. suspension of adoptions from China would force the country to take kidnappings more seriously, especially with the amount of Chinese parents that have lost children.

Helen Lee is a 3L at the University of Denver and a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

[1] See, Elizabeth Bartholet, Int’l Adoption: Thoughts on the Human Rights Issues, 13 Buff. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 151, app. B (2007). See also, Significant Source Countries of International Adoptions (Totals of IR-3, IR-4, IH-3, and IH-4 Immigrant Visas Issued): Fiscal Years 2003-2012, U.S. Department of State, http://travel.state.gov/visa/statistics/ivstats/ivstats_4581.html

[2] Sharon K. Hom, Female Infanticide in China: The Human Rights Specter & Thoughts Towards (An) Other Vision, 23 Colum. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 249, 266 n.59 (1992).

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members of polaris project

Technology Takes on Trafficking: How Data Collection is Changing the International Fight Against Modern Slavery (Part 3 of 3)

This is the final blog of a series of three blog posts addressing technological solutions to combat human trafficking. This post analyzes the efforts private partnerships to encourage the application of technology to create anti-trafficking solutions. The first blog in this series discussed the scope of human trafficking worldwide, and domestic and international instruments designed to address it. The second blog in this series discussed the importance of the increased use of technology in the fight against human trafficking, and provided an overview of the scope of current research on technology.

“[W]e must take action, on the basis of solid information. Having dissected the human trafficking drama by the type of exploitation, the age and gender of the victims, the profiles of perpetrators, and the source/transit/destination of human cargos, we will soon be able to describe the problem, its time trends and space patterns. The goal is to facilitate implementation of the [U.N. Trafficking] Protocol’s ‘3 Ps’: prevention of the crime, prosecution of the traffickers, and protection of the victims. Everyone has a role to play.” – UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa[i]

 Part III: Emerging Partnerships

The first blog in this series discussed the scope of the human trafficking epidemic worldwide—an estimated 27 million men, women, and children are victims of trafficking at any given time.[ii] While international and domestic laws prohibit all forms of enslavement, meaningful efforts to truly eradicate the plague of human trafficking are stymied by a critical problem: a lack of meaningful data on the size, scope, and nature of trafficking. As the second blog revealed, a variety of groups are beginning to compile research and consider the issue of how to incorporate technology into
human trafficking solutions.

columbian sex worker

A columbian sex worker. Sexual exploitation accounts for roughly 80 percent of human trafficking. (UNICEF)

Recently, technology companies have been stepping in to fill this void, providing both material and intellectual support for the cause. The United States government has taken notice, and is praising the involvement of private enterprise in the fight against human trafficking.

The U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report includes a brief section discussing the important strides being made to connect anti-human trafficking initiatives with technology.[iii] After discussing innovations in prevention, protection, and prosecution already taking place through the use of mobile devices and computers, the report lists several examples of “technology giants” that have joined the fight against human trafficking. Two of these giants—Google and Palantir Technologies—are working to provide the anti-trafficking movement exactly what it needs most—comprehensive data.


Google – Connecting Anti-Trafficking Hotlines

Google funded a new global data sharing collaboration by granting a $3 million Global Impact Award to anti-trafficking organizations Polaris Project, Liberty Asia, and La Strada International. Google’s Global Impact Awards are given to “support nonprofits using technology and innovation to tackle tough human challenges.” All three recipients of this particular Global Impact Award are involved in addressing human trafficking on separate continents:

  • The Polaris Project, named for the North Star “Polaris” that guided slaves to freedom before the United States abolished slavery, is a leading anti-slavery organization based in Washington, D.C. It focuses on advocating for stronger federal and state anti-trafficking laws, operating the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, conducting trainings, and providing vital services to victims of trafficking. The Polaris Project strives to “create long-term solutions that move our society closer to a world without slavery.”
  • Liberty Asia is a relatively new non-governmental organization formed in 2011 to unite the hundreds of groups working independently on the issue of human trafficking in Asia. Liberty Asia aims to unite these groups by making online resources available to enable information sharing and coordination. Its mission includes: “coordinat[ing] activities, particularly across-borders; shar[ing] information, expertise, evidence, case studies and operations; provid[ing] a regional contact point for those threatened and victimised; creat[ing] and shar[ing] education programmes and awareness campaigns to broaden knowledge of slavery in Asia; and creat[ing] a powerful network across Asia to introduce and collaborate on strategies and future actions.”
  • La Strada International (“LSI”) is a network of eight European non-governmental organizations in Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, The Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine. LSI aims to prevent trafficking, especially of women, throughout Europe. The mission of LSI is “to improve the position of women and to promote their universal rights, including the right to choose to emigrate and work abroad and to be protected from violence and abuse.”

What do these three non-governmental organizations have in common, besides their aim of abolition? Each organization independently operates its own human trafficking hotline, receiving hundreds of calls from victims and from individuals who want to report suspected trafficking. Connecting these helplines is one of the first steps toward identifying illicit patterns and providing victims with more effective support worldwide.  Through this Google-funded initiative, the organizations will begin to compile and analyze data from each of their call centers, no longer taking in information in isolation. It is the first step in tracking global trafficking trends.

Since its inception in 2004, Polaris’ hotline alone has received 72,000 trafficking-related calls, reported more than 3,000 trafficking cases to law enforcement officials and assisted nearly 8,300 trafficking victims. This three-minute video highlights how the project will use analysis of data from these incoming calls to combat trafficking.



Notably, the video describes how, as more and more data are collected and shared, researchers will be able to locate “hot spots,” or risk areas, and track patterns of trafficking. Armed with this information, anti-trafficking advocates can begin to construct comprehensive global solutions that are responsive to the realities of trafficking, rather than mere guesswork.

As the second blog in this series noted, there is currently a lack of clarity surrounding what the characteristics of a useful international instrument to combat technology-facilitated trafficking should look like, and a debate regarding whether the current Protocol, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, provides adequate legal scaffolding to encompass the burgeoning use of technology to facilitate trafficking. The data that will become available as a result of the collaboration between Polaris Project, Liberty Asia, and La Strada International will shed more light on where and how technology is used to facilitate trafficking. At that point, both international and domestic lawmakers will be better equipped to assess the current laws and propose changes if they are necessary.


Palantir Technologies – Making Sense of Raw Data

Palantir Technologies is the second technology giant involved in helping this project succeed. The company describes its overall business’ purpose as “working to radically change how groups analyze information.” Its primary business is offering software applications “for integrating, visualizing and analyzing the world’s information,” software that is used by a variety of industries including intelligence, defense, and law enforcement.

Using this expertise, Palantir partnered with Polaris to provide an analytical platform, engineering, training, and support resources to Polaris’ National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Palantir’s platform and assistance are enabling the study and application of the data derived from calls to the hotline.

members of polaris project

Members of the Polaris Project visit DC (Polaris Project)

As mentioned above, the United States government encourages the development of such partnerships to make use of the tools private companies already have at their disposal. Not only is this phenomenon filling a void in a problem too large and nebulous for the criminal justice system to tackle alone, but it also attacks the problem from an angle that is inherently not available to government entities because of their intimidating status as law enforcement.

Bradley Myles, executive director of the Polaris Project, highlights the unique ability of private groups such as nonprofits and businesses to serve as a resource for trafficking victims. “We’re not the government and we’re not law enforcement, so people generally give us very direct information about what they’re experiencing,” Mr. Myles said in this interview with the Huffington Post. In the interview, he also mentions the need for these private groups to serve as a “fulcrum,” connecting law enforcement with perpetrators while at the same time connecting victims with the resources they need to recover.

Currently, the legal community is equipped with what appears to be a relatively robust set of international and domestic laws tailored to criminalizing human trafficking. The anti-trafficking movement’s present focus on incorporating business and technology into evidence-based solutions has the potential to provide the long-missing piece to the human trafficking puzzle—not necessarily more laws, but better information leading to increased enforcement of the existing laws. As more complete information is compiled and analyzed with the help of technology and innovation, more lives can be saved from the suffering of human trafficking.

P.S. – The U.S. Department of State published the following list of 20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking, and Polaris Project compiled this list of international resources. You don’t need to be Google to make an impact.

Whitney Denning is a 3L and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

[i] Antonio Maria Costa, Exec. Dir. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Human Trafficking: A Crime that Shames Us All (Feb. 13, 2008), available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/about-unodc/speeches/2008-02-13.html (emphasis omitted).

[ii] U.S. Dep’t of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 7 (2013).

[iii] Id. at 14-15.


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Technology Takes on Trafficking: How Data Collection is Changing the International Fight Against Modern Slavery (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second blog of a series of three blog posts addressing technological solutions to combat human trafficking. This post discusses the importance of the increased use of technology in the fight against human trafficking and provides an overview of the scope of current research on technology and trafficking. The first blog in this series discussed the scope of human trafficking worldwide, and domestic international instruments designed to address it. The final blog in this series will analyze the efforts private partnerships to apply technology to create anti-trafficking solutions.

“Our understanding of technology’s role in human trafficking, while improving, is still in its infancy. Technology, while clearly facilitating trafficking, also can be used as an effective tool to combat it. Evidence-based research that examines the two sides of this issue is imperative for leveraging technology and policy approaches to benefit the vulnerable populations being exploited through trafficking.” – Mark Latonero, The Rise of Mobile and the Diffusion of Technology-Facilitated Trafficking[i]

Part II: Technology’s Conflicting Roles in Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has increased in intensity in the past few decades, likely facilitated by globalization and the availability of modern communication techniques. Just as modern technology enabled legal businesses to span oceans and cross borders, it also assisted criminal endeavors such as trafficking in persons. In a speech at the 2008 Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said:

antonio maria costa

Executive Director Antonio Cost at the Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking (antoniomariacosta.com)

In the past quarter century, the opening up of world markets has facilitated the movement of people, goods, capital and services–commerce has benefited, and so has illicit activity, including the trade of human beings. The ease of travel, the speed of the internet, and global competition have rendered the exploitation of humans by humans easier, broader and more efficient.[ii]

Mr. Costa references “the speed of the internet,” which global citizens appreciate and utilize on a daily basis to connect in seconds with like-minded people, regardless of geographic location. His statement is a reminder that this instant connectivity has bred exploitation and abuse even as it has produced camaraderie and business success.

Speedy and discrete, the worldwide web has played perhaps the most significant role in hiding exploitation from the average person, while simultaneously making it ubiquitous everywhere. This is precisely why activists are beginning to focus on understanding the power the internet and other evolving technologies have to eradicate the very problems they have allowed to prosper.

As the role of technology in facilitating human trafficking continues to expand, anti-trafficking advocates across all sectors—government, nonprofits, private enterprise—are attempting to keep up with traffickers by learning how to analyze data and track electronic activity in a way that makes it easier to locate and punish traffickers, and to rescue their victims. The first step toward finding a comprehensive solution to human trafficking, as Mr. Costa stated, is figuring out a way to quantify the problem at hand with statistical data:

In order to fight this monster [of human trafficking], we must know more about it. Lack of information, statistical and otherwise, have left us looking at footprints of a creature whose shape, size and ferocity we can only guess. It lurks in the shadows. The profiles of its cronies and their networks are sketchy. Its victims are too afraid to run away and speak up, their number unknown.[iii]

Mr. Costa’s pleas from 2008 have not gone unheeded, but neither have leaps and bounds been made in this area. A July 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service reiterates the necessity for data on the global scope and severity of human trafficking in order to begin forming effective solutions. According to the report, the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report is “among the most cost-intensive in terms of personnel resources both at U.S. diplomatic posts abroad and at headquarters in Washington, DC.”[iv] A single embassy reported that approximately 200 hours of work were required to resolve questions and differences in information for a TIP Report.[v]

Increasing the utilization of technology, especially data mining services, may eventually be able to alleviate the cost-intensive nature of data collection by making the necessary information easier to spot. Meaningful data, the report states, are essential both to measuring and reporting the scope of the problem in reports such as the TIP Report, and for assessing how anti-trafficking aid programs have improved the situation.[vi]

A group of academics has been called upon to lead the way in understanding and utilizing technology to develop trafficking solutions. Researchers at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership & Policy have completed some of the most comprehensive, relevant reporting on the intersection of technology and human trafficking. This video provides an overview of their project’s inception and some of the most relevant findings to date:



The USC Center compiled a report in November 2012, discussing how human traffickers are “taking advantage of technology to reach larger audiences and to do illicit business more quickly and efficiently across greater distances.”[vii] Asserting that technology must respond to this phenomenon by becoming a “central tool within a comprehensive strategy”[viii] against trafficking, the report mentions the following research efforts already underway:[ix]

Fears and anxieties emerge out of concern that things will get worse as a result of technology. Yet, new opportunities also present themselves. Before we wholeheartedly dismiss—or embrace—technology, it’s important to understand how the challenges and opportunities are entangled.[xiii]

  • Researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center have mined data to find victim information such as age ranges, gender disparities, treatment by police, and independent or group structures. They have also used data to identify perpetrator characteristics for different groups, and the effects of reporting suspected human trafficking, among other issues.[xiv]

Finally, the report discusses a 2010 article by Erin I. Kunze, who conducted an assessment of laws, international agreements, and other policies relating to Internet-facilitated sex trafficking. Kunze suggests that international laws are not sufficiently keeping pace with advancing technology. The article argues that, “[I]t is vital that the international community adopt both domestic legislation and international treaty provisions to target sexual predators and human traffickers who use technology and the Internet to enslave minors and adults alike.”[xv]

Kunze’s article highlights a debate within the international legal community over whether the language of current instruments sufficiently encompasses and criminalizes the technological facilitation of trafficking. For example, while the members of the Council of Europe argue that the term “recruitment” as it is used to define trafficking in the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (“2000 Protocol”) is sufficiently broad enough to include recruitment via online technology, Kunze retorts that even a broad interpretation of the word does not go far enough to cover specific acts of exploitation occurring online.[xvi]

UN special operation

UN carries out a special operation targeting human trafficking in Indonesia (UN Photo)

At this stage, Kunze’s pronouncements appear premature. As the United Nations suggested in a 2005 statement, attempts to create and refine technology-specific laws will remain premature as long as governments have not perfected their ability to enforce laws already in existence. This is especially true given the fact that, as the first blog in this series noted, international instruments criminalizing trafficking have existed since at least 1926. That first convention, the Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery, prohibits all acts of slavery and every act of trade or transport of people, seemingly encompassing the acts that take place in virtual spaces today. The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women likewise encompasses all forms of traffic in women. Finally, the 2000 Protocol uses words of direction including “prevent,” “combat,” “protect,” “assist,” and “promote cooperation,” all of which can be done in virtual spaces as well as physical ones.

Slavery does not persist because of a dearth of legal instruments with the capacity to combat it – it persists because it is difficult to track and understand. The international community should refrain from drafting premature legal instruments until it has gained a more thorough, comprehensive understanding of how human traffickers operate. Technology-specific language at the international level may eventually prove necessary to adequately address the increased use of the internet in perpetrating trafficking. However, it is more likely that as more information becomes available through the increased use of data mining and analysis, the existing language will prove adequate.

Arguably, this debate will not be resolved conclusively until more signatories to the Protocol actually begin to carry out its mandate by locating and prosecuting more cases of human trafficking within their borders. To do this, advocates must focus on compiling enough information on the problem to take decisive action against perpetrators. Only when trafficking cases reach the courtroom will we be able to test the functionality of the 2000 Protocol, and the domestic legal instruments based on the 2000 Protocol, as they are written.

Existing instruments may be sufficient to encompass violations that take place across digital spaces. What advocates lack is sufficient information to make this possible. As the third blog in this series discusses, several private partnerships are conspiring to change that.


Whitney Denning is a 3L and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.


[i] Mark Latonero et al., The Rise of Mobile and the Diffusion of Technology-Facilitated Trafficking 8 (2012), available at https://technologyandtrafficking.usc.edu/files/2011/08/HumanTrafficking2012.pdf.

[ii] Antonio Maria Costa, Exec. Dir. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Human Trafficking: A Crime that Shames Us All (Feb. 13, 2008), available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/about-unodc/speeches/2008-02-13.html.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Liana Sun Wyler, Cong. Research Serv., R42497, Trafficking in Persons: International Dimensions and Foreign Policy Issues for Congress 10 (2013).

[v] Id. at 11.

[vi] Id. at 14.

[vii] Latonero et al., supra note 1, at iv.

[viii] Latonero et al.,, supra note 1, at vi.

[ix] Latonero et al.,, supra note 1, at 11.

[x] Amy Farrell et al., Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases 41 (2012).

[xi] Michael Shively et al., A National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts, Final Report 47 (2012).

[xii] U.S. Dep’t of Justice, The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction 4 (2010).

[xiii] Danah Boyd et al., Human Trafficking and Technology: A Framework for Understanding the Role of Technology in the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S. 3 (2011).

[xiv] Latonero et al., supra note 1, at 13.

[xv] Erin I. Kunze, Sex Trafficking Via The Internet: How International Agreements Address The Problem And Fail To Go Far Enough, 10 J. High Tech. L. 241, 253 (2010).

[xvi] Id. at 272.


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Violent Against Women Act

Technology Takes on Trafficking: How Data Collection is Changing the International Fight Against Modern Slavery (Part 1 of 3)

This is the first in a series of three blog posts addressing technological solutions to combat human trafficking. This post provides context on the issue of human trafficking, including a brief summary of the existing domestic and international legal instruments addressing it. The second blog will discuss the importance of the increased use of technology in the fight against human trafficking, and will provide an overview of the scope of current research on technology and trafficking. The final blog will analyze the efforts of private partnerships to apply technology to create anti-trafficking solutions.

 Part I: The State of the Law

 “It ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.” – President Barack Obama

The issue of child trafficking launched into the public eye this summer with news that, in a single weekend, the FBI rescued more than 100 children who were trafficked for sex in more than 70 cities across the country. The youngest victim rescued during the raids was just 13 years old. About 160 pimps were arrested for exploiting the children, and the criminal charges against them will include charges for human trafficking.

Operation cross country

Police arrest a pimp during Operation Cross Country in the U.S.

The roughly 100 children rescued in these raids represent only a tiny sliver of the global human trafficking epidemic. The U.S. Department of State’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report (“TIP Report”) estimates that about 40,000 trafficking victims were identified worldwide in the last year, and the undiscovered victims are even more numerous: social scientists estimate that as many as 27 million men, women, and children are victims of trafficking at any given time.

Defining Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is modern day slavery—forcing an individual to perform work against his or her will. As the TIP Report explains, human trafficking does not necessarily require movement. Victims may be born into servitude or transported for exploitation. They may even give consent to work for the trafficker, and subsequently become victimized.

In the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), most recently reauthorized in March 2013 as part of the Violence Against Women Act, the United States established statutory definitions for this crime, which affects victims across all labor sectors. Under the TVPA, sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act.” Sex trafficking is a severe form of trafficking in persons when “the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” Likewise, labor trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”

International Human Trafficking Laws

Modern domestic laws such as the TVPA are heavily influenced by the many international instruments created throughout the past century to address the continuing scourge of slavery. While most of them are not accompanied by any enforcement mechanism, the following instruments all address trafficking directly or indirectly:

Modern Application

As demonstrated by the preceding list, attempts to eradicate slavery through international law stretch back almost 100 years. We know from our own nation’s history that domestic abolition movements were taking place well before this. Yet, the most recent convention and its accompanying protocol have set the course for how to define, prevent, and prosecute human trafficking in the modern era.

While many of the earlier instruments are purely aspirational and contain few, if any, actual punishments for offending nations, the 2000 Trafficking Protocol is actually a law enforcement instrument. It directs member states to take action to penalize trafficking by aggressively prosecuting it as a separate criminal offense within their borders. It also instructs countries to protect victims of trafficking in a number of ways, including protecting their privacy and security, providing resources for recovery, and offering the opportunity for non-citizens to remain in the country. Finally, it prescribes comprehensive policies aimed at prevention, including research, media campaigns, and updates to public policy where appropriate.

Violent Against Women Act

President Obama signs the Violence Against Women addition

The TVPA, discussed above, was enacted after the United States signed on to the 2000 Trafficking Protocol. The TVPA complied with the Protocol’s prosecution mandate by establishing human trafficking as a federal crime with severe penalties, and creating new crimes of forced labor and sex trafficking, and unlawful conduct laws with respect to using documents in furtherance of trafficking. It also mandates that traffickers pay their victims restitution.

The TVPA complied with the protection mandate by offering federal protections to victims, including eligibility for continued presence in the country in order to assist law enforcement, and the creation of the T Visa, which allows victims to become temporary residents if certain criteria are met.

Finally, the TVPA facilitated prevention by creating the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, which is required to produce the TIP Report, reporting on and ranking countries’ efforts to combat trafficking. The President may impose sanctions on countries that do not meet the minimum standards established in the statute for combating trafficking, and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Modern Solutions to a Modern Crisis

The language in the TVPA, inspired by the 2000 Trafficking Protocol, is not drastically different from the language of prohibition in the very first international instrument, the Slavery Convention of 1926, which prohibited enslavement in the form of “the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him.” The real difference between these instruments is the historical context. Whereas the earliest prohibitions addressed the open sale of human beings on a visible market, the new slavery takes place in a different domain.

Today, almost all elements of our statutory definition of slavery—the “recruitment,” the “harboring,” the “force, fraud, or coercion”—are inextricably entwined with modern technology. In place of open sales in public squares, traffickers employ social networks to locate and market women and girls, use difficult-to-trace no-contract cell phones for themselves and their victims, and frequent illicit websites such as Backpage.com to carry out many trafficking business exchanges.

Google and other companies have addressed the role that technology may play in combatting human trafficking

Google and other companies have addressed the role that technology may play in combatting human trafficking

According to Ronald Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, social media platforms were one resource the investigators utilized to uncover victims and exploiters in its most recent raid. Social media stands as the lone “virtual” space among the other locations—motels, casinos, streets—where the FBI investigated to track down this group of victims and exploiters.

As online sites, cell phones, and other evolving technologies become the go-to resources for exploiting trafficking victims, anti-trafficking advocates are beginning to see the necessity to harness the power of technology for their own purposes. In order to satisfy the mandates of both international and U.S. law, anti-trafficking advocates are learning to utilize the internet, cell phones, data processing services, and more, to turn technology against the traffickers who have learned to use it as a tool for exploitation.

Whitney Denning is a 3L and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law