Tag Archive | "slavery"


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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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