Efforts to combat human trafficking around the world have advanced steadily over the past 15 years, since the
adoption of the Palermo Protocol and the passage of the TVPA in 2000. Scores of countries have expanded
implementation of the “3P” paradigm enshrined in these instruments, as governments investigate and prosecute
trafficking cases, provide protection and services to victims, and put improved measures in place to prevent the
crime from happening in the first place. Progress over this period of time has been nothing short of profound.
Yet, while the fight against human trafficking intensifies, millions of people continue to toil in compelled
service, exploited for the enrichment of others in virtually every country in the world.
As the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated in 2014, forced labor in the private economy reaps some
$150 billion in illicit profits each year; most instances of what the Trafficking in Persons Report refers to as
human trafficking are covered by ILO’s definition of forced labor. These billions flood the formal marketplace,
corrupt the global economy, and taint purchases made by unwitting consumers. Long and complex supply chains that
cross multiple borders and rely on an array of subcontractors impede traceability and make it challenging to verify
that the goods and services bought and sold every day are untouched by modern-day slaves.
This means consumers of goods and services may be connected to human trafficking more closely than they
imagine—connected, however indirectly, to the man in the Amazon compelled to mine for gold and to the woman forced
into prostitution in that same mining camp; linked to the construction worker in the Gulf who is unable to leave an
exploitative situation and to the woman in Indonesia who accepts a job as a caregiver and is instead made to work
in a brothel; tied to the child in West African cocoa fields who is compelled to work instead of going to school;
and to the Native American teenager who runs away from home and ends up a victim of sex trafficking near the oil
fields in North America.
Governments, the private sector, and individuals can all make a difference when it comes to addressing human
trafficking in supply chains. Each has the unique ability to leverage economic power to influence existing markets,
and create new ones, where workers can enjoy decent work and human dignity, and are free from coercion and the
exploitation associated with human trafficking.
THE RISK OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN SUPPLY CHAINS
Human trafficking has no boundaries and respects no laws. It exists in formal and informal labor markets of both
lawful and illicit industries, affecting skilled and unskilled workers from a spectrum of educational backgrounds.
Victims include adults and children, foreign nationals and citizens, those who travel far—whether through legal or
illegal channels—only to be subjected to exploitation, and those who have been exploited without ever leaving their
The fluid nature of the crime means traffickers can target vulnerable workers anywhere to fill labor shortages
everywhere along a supply chain. In the electronics sector, for example, human trafficking may exist in the
extractive stages (mining for raw material), in the component manufacturing stage (where separate pieces are
produced or combined), and in the production stage (where a good is assembled and packaged in a factory).
Risks are present in the service sector, as well as in the production of goods. The sheets in a hotel may be made
with cotton harvested by forced labor, the housekeeper cleaning the room may be exploited in labor trafficking, and
the room itself may be used as a temporary brothel by sex traffickers. The international community must both
understand the supply chains of the products used to provide a service (hotel sheets, airplane parts, medical
equipment) and also examine the risks to those workers who provide them (house cleaners, caregivers,
PREVENTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS 13
Although human trafficking is found in many trades, the risk is more pronounced in industries that rely upon
low-skilled or unskilled labor. This includes jobs that are dirty, dangerous, and difficult—those that are
typically low-paying and undervalued by society and are often filled by socially marginalized groups including
migrants, people with disabilities, or minorities.
Risks may also be higher in industries of a seasonal nature or where the turn-around time for production is
extremely short. In these industries, the demand for labor increases drastically at the time of harvest or when a
new product—be it a smartphone or a roadway—must be manufactured within a strict timeframe. For example, East and
South Asian migrant workers in the garment sector are vulnerable to forced labor and labor exploitation, including
long working hours and forced overtime, especially during periods of high consumer demand.
The urgency to hire employees can also result in a dependence on labor recruiters and their agents, which in turn
creates layers of separation between the employer and the worker. This disconnect means that employers can be
unaware of bad practices related to hiring within their operations, leaving workers exposed to exploitation.
Finally, in industries where fierce competition leads to constant downward pressure on prices, some employers
respond by taking cost-cutting measures to survive commercially, from reducing wages or ignoring safety protocols,
to holding workers in compelled service through debt bondage or the retention of identity documents.
As we grow, we have to do it responsibly, and stay true to our values and uphold basic standards and rule of
law. We have to keep striving to protect the
rights of our workers; to make sure that our supply chains are sourced responsibly.
- President Barack Obama
14 2015 TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT
LABOR RECRUITMENT IN GLOBAL MARKETS
Practices that lead to human trafficking often occur in the recruitment process before employment begins, whether
through misrepresentation of contract terms, the imposition of recruitment fees, the confiscation of identity
documents, or a combination of these. The involvement of intermediaries (for example, labor brokers, middlemen,
employment agencies, or recruiters) creates additional layers in the supply chain and positions these individuals
to either assist or exploit.
Labor brokers function as a bridge between worker and employer and can provide helpful guidance and assistance in
matching workers with jobs and arranging visas and documentation, medical checkups, pre-departure orientation,
training, and travel. In many cases, labor brokers are both legitimate and important to connect readily available
laborers to employers in need of a workforce. A worker’s dependence on intermediaries, however, can also increase
their risk of being subjected to trafficking. Recruiters sometimes promise individuals a high-paying job, good
benefits, and reasonable working conditions to induce them into taking employment. Thereafter, when the nature or
location of the job is not as promised, workers may find themselves in situations they cannot leave, either because
they are held against their will or because they are indebted to their recruiters.
It is possible to identify areas of increased vulnerability in supply chains, including fraudulent practices in the
recruitment process. Indicators of such recruitment typically include deception about job terms, living conditions,
location, legal status, and wages, or more forceful methods such as document confiscation, debt bondage, isolation,
or violence. Fraudulent recruitment practices can lead to exploitation at the place of employment, as an
unsuspecting worker may endure excessive hours, poor living conditions, and wage theft. When workers are put or
held in such situations through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, it constitutes human