Slavery and Human Trafficking

woman hiding behind her hand with Stop written on it

Online platforms are increasingly being used by criminals to recruit, exploit, and control victims of human trafficking. Technology allows traffickers to operate internationally across jurisdictions and evade detection with more ease. As technology is frequently misused to facilitate trafficking, the crime prevention and criminal justice systems must step up efforts to also make use of technology to detect, rescue and support victims. This year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (30 July) focuses on the role of technology as a tool that can both enable and impede human trafficking.

a woman, seen from the back, walking through a market

In 2018, Chinara travelled to Mali, in the hope of bettering the livelihood of her family. She was deceived by an acquaintance she met at the market, and was convinced to migrate irregularly to Mali, with the promise of making up to approximately USD 360 a month by cleaning houses. When she arrived in Mali, she did not find a house to clean but instead a female sex workers house. “They were treating us like animals. It was like hell.” Thankfully, she met two other migrants outside the house who had established contact with IOM and helped her escape.

woman hiding behind her hand with Stop written on it

Manuela is a survivor of human trafficking, traded and exploited for profit. Minutes after her arrival from Venezuela, Manuela, who had been promised a decent job, was forced into a van by Trinidadian men and driven to a secret location where other women were held.  “Some people kept us in captivity for about a month. They forced us to work (as sexual workers),” Manuela says. “In trying to escape, I ended up getting arrested. I was in prison.” The International Organization for Migration (IOM) advocated on Manuela’s behalf to free her from prison.  

A man visits the memorial.

For over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the tragic transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history. This legacy of racism continues to impact us, most recently spurring a global movement to end injustices. The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (25 March) aims to honour the victims and to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today. Join us in an online cultural event with musical performances, mini-documentaries, and a multilingual poetry reading.

A woman covers her face with flowers.

The work of the UN and its partners never stops against human traffickers in West and Central Africa, who force people to risk their lives on dangerous journeys across the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea. 

A group of people carrying loads along with donkeys.

According to the ILO more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term covering practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power. The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (2 December) focuses the eradication of slavery, as it has evolved and manifested itself throughout history.

A set of sculptures depicting people with heads bowed and shoulders hunched, face the sea.

The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition intends to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples. On 23 August, UNESCO leads us in honouring the memory of the men and women, who revolted in Haiti in 1791 and paved the way for the end of slavery and dehumanization. The Remember Slavery campaign underscores the lasting effects of the transatlantic slave trade, including racism, that continue to divide societies and hamper our advancement towards a world that respects human rights and enables sustainable development for all.

Organized crime thrives in times of crisis. We must ensure COVID-19 does not provide new opportunities for human traffickers. During lockdowns, those in domestic or sex work are more exposed to violence and abuse. Migrants and seasonal workers face more precarious working conditions.

Nadia Murad details her fight against ISIL as part of a panel discussion on trafficking in persons organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). New York, 20 November 2017. UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Nadia Murad is a Nobel Laureate and Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. In this article she sheds light on sexual violence—an important issue on which she has been working to raise awareness for several years and by which she has been personally affected. "Perpetrators use sexual violence in an attempt to assert dominance and power over entire communities. The consequences are far-reaching and long-term; families and communities experience collective, generational trauma, which can destroy them from within."

Woman from Morocco trapped in forced labour.

The focus of the Day, marked on 2 December, is to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery. According to the  International Labour Organisation (ILO) more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. Modern slavery covers practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking. It refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

We see a dark room with laundry hung to dry in one corner, while a girl stands facing away from the camera and looks out towards the light that is shining through a shuttered glass door.

Slavery is perpetuated by traditional practices such as child and forced marriage, and by the fact that almost 1/2 the countries in the world have yet to criminalize it. According to the latest UN figures, 40 million people were living in a state of modern slavery in 2016.