Economic, political and social strategies to prevent human trafficking

To some degree it matters who’s in office, but it matters more how much pressure they’re under from the public.

 – Noam Chomsky

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

 – Martin Luther King Jr.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.

 – Confucius

It seems obvious that any genuine solution to human trafficking in Thailand and throughout the world must include the Thai government and the many governments worldwide. This enterprise demands, I think, a mass collaboration encompassing the world’s states and the panoply of organizations dedicated to working against human trafficking. Further, this collaboration can’t be restricted to designing laws which then aren’t enforced, economic programs which aren’t promoted, espousing principles which’re only embraced in rhetoric, and announcing to publics what’ll be done rather than engaging them with how they can be involved. Instead, we need authentic changes that benefit suffering people, since the mere appearance of progress isn’t enough.

I believe that to achieve this objective, the collaboration itself needs to be the consequence not just of relatively small attaches of experts and politicians, but of popular organizations which mobilize and direct public support to fight against human trafficking. In this way, initiatives will be at the behest of the people, vetted by the people and implemented for the people, as opposed to leadership from the states and corporations which have hitherto proven at best inconsistently committed to combating human trafficking and addressing its root causes. Thus, the task is to organize individuals and the publics of which they’re parts so that they can harness the democratic fact that leaders are legitimised by the consent of the people, and force governments to follow the people’s demands or be replaced by another that will. This is no doubt a meticulous and, at times, seemingly intractable task due to the increasing speed, multiplying responsibilities, dwindling freedom and growing atomization of life. However, assuming, as I choose to do, that people are inherently moral and would become involved in seeing human suffering rectified if they knew the realities of human trafficking, the task is to raise awareness of human rights violations, and capture the unsummoned goodness of which people are capable and translate it into the kind of popular movements by which all of history’s great victories for justice have been won.

However, this is by no means the end, as the programs which people ought to aspire for once these movements are forged are just as important as the movements themselves. Indeed, the particular details of the programs required and the movements by which they’re conceived and implemented are both essential in accomplishing significant ends, since neither can attain the achievements we need without the other. Hence the question beyond how to build movements for change is precisely what policies should those movements pursue? Such policies, in my view, should concentrate on two broad areas: reducing poverty, and increasing the policing and prosecution of human rights violations, including human trafficking. In others words, prevention and punishment.

As regards prevention, reducing poverty prevents human rights violations such as human trafficking from ever taking place by eliminating the circumstances which place people at risk of having their rights violated. This means that by developing the economy on which at-risk people depend, their life prospects will naturally improve, which reduces their vulnerability to traffickers. For instance, providing greater financial stability reduces people’s vulnerability to traffickers by enabling them to afford secure homes, basic necessities or to simply move to less dangerous areas, all of which provide protection from traffickers or at least reduce the attraction of the offers they make by increasing people’s ability to look after themselves. Therefore, reducing poverty is perhaps the most important means by which we can address human trafficking, since it makes all other initiatives superfluous.

Any serious policy for reducing poverty begins with providing affordable (ideally free) education to all people, while instituting economic policies which nurture domestic industries on the local, regional and national levels. This, I feel, necessarily precludes neoliberal policies as an outright economic approach, at least until nations’ industries are mature enough to enter and compete within the global market. However, as Noam Chomsky points out, these policies have a damaging effect on ordinary people while they benefit the wealthy, meaning it might be best to simply exclude them altogether. Further, governments must adopt protectionist and interventionist policies to enable nascent industries to develop, as Ha-Joon Chang, Professor of Economics at Cambridge University, points out was done by virtually every one of today’s wealthy nations, including the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Belgium, Japan and South Korea, to name a few. Governments ought also to recognize that different industries and regions will have various desires, needs and rates of development. As such, economic policies need to be flexible enough to enable people from disparate circumstances to decide upon and pursue their own pathways for development, while at the same time retaining a general nationwide plan for economic development and a central mission shared by the population across differing locations and industries. Although this may likely require assiduous monitoring by a large bureaucracy at many levels, which will undoubtedly at times appear stifling, irritating and cumbersome, its virtues outweigh its detriments for the purpose of sustainable, long-term growth and development, as evinced by the recent economic histories of the world’s wealthy nations.

As regards punishment, it needs no discussion that monitoring and prosecuting human rights violations is one of the foremost disincentives at our disposal for combating human trafficking. For this to occur, we need laws to define crimes and convict offenders, both of which we possess. However, the laws around human trafficking are necessarily broad and at times poorly defined due to the multifarious nature of human trafficking itself. Further, jurisdiction can be poorly defined and easily shirked when high-traffic regions surround borders between neighbouring countries, as with Thailand and its abutting neighbours Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Nevertheless, the framework of laws, though it could certainly be improved, is adequate to prosecute human traffickers. Thus, any meaningful approach to eliminating, or at least reducing, human trafficking entails the simple enforcement of existing laws and conventions, both domestic and international.

Where this becomes difficult, however, isn’t as much with the laws themselves or with knowing that they ought to be enforced, but with actually ensuring that the laws are genuinely applied. Mere enforcement, simple though it seems, isn’t a straightforward issue. This is because there’re many people with vested interests in trafficking who profit from the industry and would prefer to see it continue. Unfortunately, some of these individuals include corrupt police, lawyers, judges, officials and politicians who are in positions to confront the ongoing travesties, but are not inclined to make use of their tools, but rather actively work to block their employment. Indeed, such corruption is a substantial obstacle in identifying and convicting traffickers. Therefore, addressing this corruption is an important aspect of any viable policy for addressing human trafficking, because it’ll enhance the capacity of governments, organizations and legal bodies around the world to place pressure on human traffickers and their clients, diminishing, if not one day eradicating, the industry as a whole.

With these approaches – popular mobilization, reducing poverty and monitoring and prosecuting crimes, as well as others I personally can’t now think of – human trafficking can be radically reduced in its scope and appeal to traffickers. Moreover, developing nations and their people will benefit from the same foundational economic development which made wealthy nations the dominant financial powers they are today, and which has the direct ability to improve the lives of people around the globe. I believe that all we require is public awareness and organization, as the necessary support will naturally follow from the intrinsic moral decency of human beings who prefer to see their fellow people live in peace and comfort rather than toil in danger and poverty.


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