The oil that fuels the human trafficking machine
11 November 2010
“Corruption is the oil that fuels the human trafficking machine,” remarked Danish anti-human-trafficking NGO Hope Now’s head Ms. Anne Brandt Christensen during this morning’s workshop “Corruption and Human Trafficking: Unraveling the Undistinguishable for a Better Fight.”
She’s right. Despite the fact that almost every country has passed laws against slavery, National Geographic recently reported that there are still over 27 million slaves today—toiling in locations as diverse as the brick kilns of South India and piaçaba plantations of Brazil, the brothels of Svey Pak and Sonagachi, and in the agricultural industries of California and Florida that put food on the plates of millions of Americans daily.
It’s impossible to explain this discrepancy without acknowledging the inextricable link between corruption and human trafficking, and that’s precisely what this morning’s panelists set out to do.
Photo: Ricardo Valdes discusses Peru’s efforts to empower and motivate government officials to take sex trafficking seriously
University of Melbourne Professor Leslie Holmes began the session by explaining the concept of “quadruple victimization,” the four institutions that utilize an “asymmetrical power relationship” to victimize those vulnerable to trafficking. While most of us are familiar with the all-too-common scenario of friends and family members betraying their companions for some form of compensation, what’s less often acknowledged is the role that corrupt officials, corrupt media, and corrupt states and international organizations often play in the process.
Michelle Mildwater and Anne Brandt Christensen of Danish NGO HopeNow helped elucidate the role of corruption in the human trafficking process by sharing their clients’ testimonies (Jessica from Nigeria lamented the fact that in her estimation, her country exports more oil than all but three other nations, yet her village has yet to receive electricity) and an incredibly moving mock advert you can view here that depicts an average-looking Danish man checking out at the supermarket and carting home his purchases: milk, eggs, wine and a trafficked African woman.
Brilliant lawyer Nicole Barrett gave an insightful glimpse into her experience uncovering corruption in the United States and Canada, especially regarding corruption among US Customs and Border patrol officers trafficking across the US’s border with Mexico, while the most revealing moment of the session came from Peru’s Ricardo Valdes who transposed Transparency’s Corruption Perception Index map with findings of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. The result: a direct and striking visual connection between corruption and trafficking, with a majority of the most corrupt states also falling on the State Department’s list of states with severe trafficking crises.
While it’s clear that a correlation exists between incidences of corruption and trafficking, I believe that the two share a mutual causation: the abuse of asymmetrical power relationships. Whether it’s the exploitation of highly entrenched caste dynamics between a rice mill owner and a scheduled caste laborer in Bangalore or the embezzlement of public funds by a corrupt leader in Bolivia, power unchecked by a functioning criminal justice system and reliable rule of law will continue to produce cases of corruption like those we’ve discussed thus far in the conference.
As Victor Boutros of the US Department of Justice and Gary Haugen of anti-human-trafficking NGO International Justice Mission put it, “Without functioning public justice systems we will never make human rights meaningful and international development sustainable.”
Tags: Brazil • Canada • Corruption • Denmark • Forced Labor • Forced Prostitution • Gary Haugen • HopeNow • human trafficking • IACC • India • International Justice Mission • Peru • Sex Trafficking • Slavery • Transparency • USA