The Debate on Trafficking

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Image by: Piero Zagami

In February 2021, in the United States, a civil lawsuit has been brought against the world’s largest confectionery manufacturers in the United States by eight people who alleged that they were who claim that they were forced to work as child slaves on cocoa farms in the West African country of Cote d’Ivoire. 

If the plaintiffs are successful, the class action will likely result in substantial damages paid out by the companies involved, all of whom have pledged to eradicate child labour from their supply chains.

It also brings to the fore some of the challenges when reporting human trafficking and the debate that surrounds it.

The evidence of human trafficking

There is little doubt that the evidence in this case includes elements of human trafficking. As the article about the case says: 

The lawsuit claims one plaintiff was only 11 years old when a local man in his home town of Kouroussandougou, Mali, promised him work in Ivory Coast for 25,000 CFA francs (£34) a month. The legal documents allege that the boy worked for two years without ever being paid, often applying pesticides and herbicides without protective clothing.

All the hallmarks of human trafficking are there. A vulnerable child from a poor area, taken across a border and forced to work without pay, in an unsafe environment. The article cites “trickery and deception” used as recruiting tools.

The debate around human trafficking

This case raises many difficult questions about the normalisation of trafficking.

Take a few moments to think about these questions:

  1. Child labour is common across Africa. Many families support their children working in unsafe conditions if they receive some form of income. How can we challenge this?
  2. The problem has been known for many years. In 2005, chocolate makers agreed to phase out child labour in their supply chains within a 20 year period. Why would it take so long to phase out something obviously illegal?
  3. If the problem has been known about for so long, why is law enforcement not stricter? Are cases such as these investigated properly when children go missing?
  4. Are national governments knowingly lax on enforcement because cocoa farms are important part of the economy?

As we shall see in the next lesson, all too often law enforcement agencies often don’t want to deal with trafficking issues because of bribery, because they don’t see the severity of the issue due to cultural norms, or simply because they are over-burdened and under-resourced.

Myths about human trafficking

Helping readers to understand the severity of human trafficking when it has been normalised can be difficult, and it means tackling myths that have built up around it. Here are some common myths you may need to confront.

Human trafficking involves crossing international borders

As we have seen, more often than not trafficking takes place within a region or ethnic community.

All human trafficking involves sex work

Some common reports put forced labour on an equal scale to forced sex work. 

Forced labour only happens in agricultural sectors

Evidence of human trafficking has been found in every industry, from hospitality and hotel work, to mining and industrial and domestic work.

If a person, or their legal guardian, consented to the trafficking, it’s OK

Consent may not have been given with a full understanding of all the facts – and even if it was that doesn’t change the legality of exploitative practices.

Most people who are trafficked are imprisoned or physically unable to leave

Often, people are forced to stay captive not by physical barriers, but by practical ones. Having no money, or knowledge of the local language, for example. Or they may feel their families are in danger. As anti-trafficking charity Polaris puts it: “Some have been so effectively manipulated that they do not identify at that point as being under the control of another person.” 

For more myths about trafficking, see this page.