First published in May 2019; additions related to the private sector published in July 2021
This module is a resource for lecturers
Members of the public also have a role in the fight against trafficking in persons. This includes being aware of the indicators of trafficking and alerting authorities to suspicious circumstances, calling NGO and state anti-trafficking hotlines, being a conscious consumer, engaging in awareness raising with peers and volunteering to assist victims of human trafficking. This can be referred to as "political consumerism", described by O'Brien (2018, p. 52) as "the decision by consumers to intentionally purchase, or refuse to purchase, certain products due to political motivations such as ethical or environmental concerns".
As Henriksen (2018, p. 20) observes, the "inclusion of consumers in the fight against trafficking reflects the contemporary political landscape of anti-trafficking, which by the Obama administration was called a whole-of-society-effort requiring law enforcement, NGOs, the private sector and consumers to act […] market-based anti-trafficking emerges in a humanitarian landscape of shifting relationships between state, market and civil society, in which consumers and corporations rather than states become responsible for global aid".
Human trafficking is a complex problem that is influenced by laws, policies, economics, private and public agencies and culture. There is not an easy fix, and consumer choices alone cannot change the plight of millions of victims. But many countries have begun looking at supply/demand economics as a source of influence. The hypothesis is that by reducing demand for trafficking (through a mixture of harsher penalties for the traffickers and increased awareness by consumers) the supply of trafficked victims will reduce over time.
How your consumer choices can help stop human trafficking
"Here is what you can do as a consumer to reduce United States demand for modern-day slaves:
- Know Your Sources. When possible, understand the sources of the products and services you enjoy. Products of Slavery features an interactive map that helps you understand which goods are most likely sourced by slaves, so you can find ways to avoid them. Examples include rice purchased from India, blueberries and strawberries from Argentina, and even fireworks from the Philippines.
- Reduce Risk. When you do not know your sources, you can at least reduce your risk. Avoid the industries associated with human trafficking, such as sexually-oriented businesses, internationally-sourced garments, and internationally-sourced precious metals. Most human trafficking victims are held for sexual exploitation, so industries that support the trafficking of victims for sexual purposes bear special attention. Consumers cannot always know if they're watching porn featuring minors, if they are watching strippers who were trafficked into the business, or if they're purchasing a sex act from a woman with a pimp who threatens her life. If you cannot know the source of your sexual gratification, then you can at least reduce your risk by not participating. Remember that the demand for purchased sexuality is what drives sex trafficking in the first place.
- Understand Your Slavery Footprint. If you live in the United States and consume goods and services, there's a strong likelihood that a modern-day slave has worked to produce the goods and services you enjoy. Slave labor is often in the supply chain for popular goods, such as internationally-sourced seafood, makeup, diamond jewelry, and fashionable garments. Go to Slavery Footprint to determine which of your habits and purchases are most likely tied to human trafficking. This knowledge, in turn, can influence your choices as you move forward.
- Boycott Goods Produced by Slaves. Although you likely can't know everything about your supply chain, take action on the items you can. Boycott those goods that you know are likely touched by slavery, and replace them with products that are certified Fair Trade. Not every industry uses the Fair Trade certification, but you can start with small purchases, such as coffee, body care, cocoa, and garments.
- Find Out More, and Act. There's a wealth of information about human trafficking, and many public and private agencies are taking strong action against this gross violation of human rights. Check out the Polaris Project for more information about human trafficking and how you can help prevent and rehabilitate victims in the United States. You can also look for local agencies that are doing the hard work of addressing the needs of victims as they exit the industry."
Mary McCoy, Money Crashers
The example below reflects the complementarity between different elements of civil society and government authorities.
Childsafe - Cambodia
ChildSafe is a non-governmental organization-operated campaign in Cambodia which brings various actors to the fight against sexual exploitation of children. By eliciting the help of taxi, tuk-tuk and motorcycle taxi drivers, staff of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants, and tourists in Cambodia, ChildSafe creates a network of key people who receive ongoing training in child protection. These persons are able to identify children at risk and suspicious behaviour of tourists in Cambodia so that appropriate action can be taken.
UNODC, Toolkit to Combat Trafficking in Persons , Chapter 9: Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (2008)