The Global Effort Against Trafficking in Persons

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    Post by: The UN-ACT Team. You can contact us at

    UN-ACT was created to ensure greater coordination in the counter-trafficking sector across the Greater Mekong Sub-region and beyond. The 30th of July is World Day against Trafficking in Persons, an opportunity to raise awareness of this phenomenon, and reflect on what has been achieved in the sector. It is also a time to focus our efforts on what more needs to be done, if we are ever to achieve the goal of successfully combating trafficking in persons.

    Much progress has been made in raising awareness and in furthering our understanding of human trafficking, which has continued to evolve over the years since the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocols were adopted and defined the phenomenon. The scale of trafficking in persons, closely related to forced labour, has become increasingly understood as a result of the analysis and action to counter trafficking. It has many manifestations in exploitative outcomes, from forced labour in low-skilled sectors, forced sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and forced criminal activity. This can take the form of debt bondage, excessive working hours and restricted freedom of movement in a factory or plantation for example, in which the worker does not know when they will get paid for their work, if ever.

    In 2012, the ILO estimated that more than 20 million people were in forced labour globally, over half of them in the Asia-Pacific region, and others have since estimated an even higher magnitude. Publications such as the Anti-Trafficking Review have helped build the conceptual understanding of the issue and efforts to combat the problem.

    To address this grave phenomenon, the ‘Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons‘ was agreed at the UN General Assembly in 2010, and action against it has increased globally. In 2013, the General Assembly sought to “(…) improve coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons,” and further adopted World Day Against Trafficking in Persons to raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights. In Southeast Asia, UN-ACT works closely with the ILO, IOM, UNHCR, UNODC and other agencies to coordinate our efforts around these goals.

    We recognize, however, that there has arguably been more learning from these efforts than measurable impact against trafficking in persons. While this learning is important given the entrenched nature of some of the trends, dynamics and vulnerabilities, counter-trafficking interventions have not been sufficiently consistent, informed, or coordinated to date. Well-informed strategies are needed from the global to the regional, national, and local levels; from the policy to the operational levels. It will require more effective collaboration between governments, international organisations, civil society, media, and the private sector to bring about measurable change to the profiles of trafficking patterns.

    It should be more broadly understood that the political economy of trafficking in persons, the drivers and root causes of particular trends, and the vulnerabilities to trafficking, are diverse and complex. They include: social and economic disparities within and between countries; the supply and demand of labour between countries; lack of regulation and monitoring of vulnerable work sectors and recruitment of migrant workers; weak governance, rule of law and access to justice with regards to specific populations; discrimination and cultural factors; and, the political will to protect and support those vulnerable to trafficking, often the most disenfranchised and marginalised populations. While gender, age and socio-economic status affect vulnerability in different sectors, this can be exacerbated by statelessness, refugee and irregular migrant status.

    Since late 2015, the ‘Sustainable Development Goals‘ and ‘Agenda 2030‘ have put the issue firmly on the global development agenda. World leaders have committed to eradicating forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking, and understand that these phenomena are inextricably linked to other development challenges. As the agenda unfolds and efforts are made towards these interlinked goals and targets, there will be measurements established to determine progress against these. With regards to combating human trafficking, this will require much greater resources than are currently provided to the sector – human, technical and financial – as well as the understanding and political will to address those drivers and root causes of human trafficking and vulnerabilities to it. It will require efforts to better understand the scale and dynamics, as well as how to have a sustainable impact on the problem. It will also require greater investment in prevention interventions, assistance to trafficked persons, and changes to the policy frameworks that allow for the vulnerabilities.

    Ultimately, only when the political will, coordination and investment exist as envisaged with the adoption of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, will it be possible to meet the vision of eradicating human trafficking, and the related exploitation it involves.

    The United Nations Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT) is a UNDP-managed project to counter human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) and beyond. It seeks to facilitate a coordinated and strengthened counter-trafficking response among stakeholders, including governments, international organisations, civil society, and the private sector.


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