Today is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which aims to raise awareness of human trafficking and its victims across the globe.
Trafficking is a complex issue which Rose Partners has first-hand experience of from training police services to writing the new Libyan police strategy to help combat illegal migration and organised crime in North Africa. Better policing is important, but we recognise it is only one of many things needed to tackle this huge global problem. According to the United Nations, 50,000 human trafficking victims were detected and reported by 148 countries in 2018. However, the likelihood is that there will be a far greater number of victims, according to Specialist Policing Consultant Colin Carswell.
‘There is a horrific level of exploitation of people and the scale of the problem is probably frighteningly more than any estimate,’ Colin said. ‘There is a general assumption, certainly here in the UK, that this is in the sex setting. While this is absolutely true, it extends far wider than that.
Colin served in the Metropolitan Police for 31 years and became involved in human trafficking investigations from 2008. One particular investigation he was involved with resulted in the conviction of more than 100 gang members who had been responsible for trafficking more than 1,000 Romanian children across Europe for things like begging, stealing, benefit fraud and sexual exploitation.
Colin has also held a capacity-building role with the Met and UK government, before going on to advisory and consultancy roles, including delivering training in Kazakhstan on behalf of the UN. He believes that raising awareness is the key to tackling the problem across the world.
‘Globally there is a lack of awareness of what human trafficking is, what it looks like and how it manifests itself in societies. Victims can get pulled into it by the draw of a better life – not to make millions, but to live a reasonable existence – some of the work might not be seen as a better life, but if you’ve got no work then you’ll take it.
‘Then there’s the push factors such as poverty, corruption, crime and conflict, whereby people are seeking to leave the area they live in. Lifting people out of poverty, as well as recognising and helping people distressed in areas of conflict would all have a significant impact in reducing global exploitation.
‘In Romania, the kids and their families had no choice – we raided 34 houses linked to the gangs and found military-grade weaponry like AK47s and armour-piercing ammunition. The gangs have control over their lives as nobody can resist that kind of coercion.
‘There’s also horrific exploitation which takes place in North Africa, with people travelling from sub-Saharan Africa in search of a better life. Young men and women can be sold in slave markets and put to work on things like building projects in order to fund the next leg of their journey.’
Knock-on benefits of tackling human trafficking
Preventing or taking people out of these situations is the right thing to do by any measure of morality. By tackling the organised criminal gangs who perpetrate these crimes, there is a knock-on benefit to wider society, including identifying further criminal activity and mitigating the billions of pounds lost from the economy to these activities.
Colin has been involved in investigating county lines gangs and sees parallels between trafficking domestically and internationally.
‘The gangs involved in human trafficking don’t care what they do or who they do it to,’ Colin added. ‘It’s very often the case they’ll also be involved in drugs trafficking and sometimes tax evasion, cigarette smuggling and benefit fraud.
‘Using county lines as a drug trafficking example, it’s the same method as trafficking girls into the country from eastern Europe. You’ll have a young, vulnerable person, looking to better themselves, who gets sucked into the gang but is being duped the whole time. They’ll be selling drugs for the gang and then be subjected to a set-up ‘robbery’, culminating in them owing a debt to the gang.’
How far have we come?
Much of the progress in combating human trafficking has been made in the past 10-20 years. It was in 2000 that the UN codified human trafficking in the Palermo protocol, and only 10 years ago the EU recognised criminal exploitation as a form of human trafficking.
‘There’s talk about eradicating it, but that’s unlikely to happen because ultimately humans can sometimes be bad and greedy people. However, simply having these conversations is a sign of progress – recognising there’s a problem, understanding the problem and government bodies doing something about the problem.’