Human trafficking and the post-2015 development agenda

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    Post by: Erin Gregg, Consultant with the UN-ACT Regional Management Office. You can contact her at

    This September will see the Sustainable Development Goals replace the Millennium Development Goals as the new set of goals for international development. These goals, and their targets and indicators, will be used by governments and the global community to frame their agendas and policies over the next 15 years. The inclusion of targets under 2 of the goals that expressly state the aim to end human trafficking demonstrates the global commitment in this respect, and also provides an opportunity to address root causes of human trafficking as part of a broader development aim.


    Combating poverty is at the heart of development efforts and eradicating it “in all its forms everywhere” is the first Goal of the SDGs. Poverty and income inequality are primary contributing factors in increasing the vulnerability of individuals to human trafficking. Human trafficking flows in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) are heavily influenced by imbalances in the socio-economic development of neighbouring countries, with studies confirming that extreme inequality between and within states is one of the main barriers to human development. Achieving development goals that target poverty will in turn help efforts to prevent human trafficking.


    Migration has inherent risks, especially when it occurs in an irregular fashion. Goal 10 aims to reduce inequality within and among countries, with an associated target on the facilitation of “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration”. Much of the region’s labour migration occurs through undocumented, irregular channels, and such migration patterns increase the risks of migrants being exploited in their course. The declaration recognises the “positive contribution of migrants” in growth and development and the SDGs contain targets that outline very specific goals aimed at migrant workers, such as reforms to remittance transaction costs. Development goals improving migration opportunities will have a positive economic effect on both sending and receiving countries, while protecting and promoting the rights of those who choose to migrate.

    Climate Change and Environment

    The post-2015 development agenda, generally and under specific goals, aims to mitigate the effects of climate change and promote environmental responsibility. Climate change is increasingly impacting livelihoods and migration patterns, as are natural disasters. The region faces some of the world’s most drastic environmental challenges from natural disasters, pollution in urban areas, land degradation in the countryside, and the overharvesting of communal natural resources. The overfishing of the waters in Southeast Asia, for example, has dramatically reduced local fish stocks, forcing the fishing industry to fish waters far from any coast. Lengthier fishing voyages make it harder to find people willing to work on fishing boats, which has contributed to a rise in the number of men trafficked onto fishing vessels. Conservation and responsible use of the oceans is addressed in Goal 14, which includes as a target on ending illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Achieving this target would have a direct impact on human trafficking in the fishing industry; just one example where broader development goals crosscut counter trafficking efforts.

    Gender Inequality and Discrimination

    The SDG agenda acknowledges that sustainable development is not possible if women are not equal participants in the process, and that gender mainstreaming is crucial to the effective implementation of the SDGs. Women’s empowerment is affected by low participation in the work force, and women are disproportionately represented in the informal economy where unstable incomes and abusive work place practices are more common. The SDGs seek to “recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work” by improving public services available to women and improving social protection policies. Goal 5 contains a target aimed at eliminating violence against women, including trafficking and sexual exploitation and forced marriage. The MDGs sought to “promote” gender equality; the SDGs aim to achieve it.

    Governance and the Rule of Law

    Corruption and the weak application of the rule of law compounds and entrenches trafficking patterns. Goal 16 contains an ambitious 12 targets addressing corruption, rule of law, institution building and governance. Also included is a specific target to end trafficking in children. Human trafficking is a crime that is notoriously under-prosecuted in the GMS region and throughout the world. Prosecution and conviction rates are disconcertingly low in comparison with regional figures of exploitation. Development efforts to support efficient, inclusive forms of democratic governance, and aspirations to strengthen national human rights institutions, are essential to help combat human trafficking.

    The SDGs provide specific entry points to address and combat trafficking in persons, and UN-ACT is looking forward to working with its partners to help deliver on the commitments made.

    To read more about the Sustainable Development Goals, click here.

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