October 3, 2007 / 5:26 PM / 12 years ago

U.N. says tackle human trafficking with economics

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Millions of humans trafficked around the world will keep falling victim to an insatiable demand for cheap labour unless countries put an end to the “darker side” of globalisation, a U.N. agency said on Wednesday.

In this file photo a German police officer stands guard after a raid in Munich April 3, 2007. German federal police arrested nine people suspected of human trafficking.. Millions of humans trafficked around the world will keep falling victim to an insatiable demand for cheap labour unless countries put an end to the "darker side" of globalisation, a U.N. agency said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

“It is no coincidence that most victims are from developing countries,” said Jeffrey Avina, director of operations at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“They are the most vulnerable to predators who exploit the dreams of poor and vulnerable people who are seeking a better life.”

The victims, mostly women and children, have high hopes working as domestic servants or in factories will open new opportunities. But many are coerced into forced labour or prostitution, unable to break out of a cycle of exploitation.

More than 110 nations have signed and ratified a U.N. protocol against human trafficking since December 2003 but governments and their criminal justice systems have not curbed the practice.

Avina said relying solely on a moral approach to tackle the multibillion-dollar trade would fail to ease the suffering.

Speaking at an interfaith forum on fighting human trafficking co-hosted by the UNODC and the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, he said economic leverage should be used to undermine the networks.

“Criminals will not be stopped by moral outrage. ... We therefore need to lower their incentives to trade,” Avina said.

The industry would continue to thrive as long as criminals benefit from high profit margins and relentless demand.

Human trafficking affects virtually every region of the world and U.N. estimates say the trade could be worth some $32 billion if both “sales” of individuals and the value of their exploited labour is taken into account.

The traffic sees the young and vulnerable, particularly in developing regions such as Africa, sold into sexual servitude, child soldiers are drugged and forced into combat, and women enslaved as indentured labour.

Avina said UNODC wanted to secure $100 million (49 million pounds) from private sector donors and philanthropists to help fund a global drive against human trafficking.

“The recognition is that there is insufficient resources to deal with this problem,” said Avina.

Statistics on trafficking vary widely. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates 12.3 million people are in forced labour while Free the Slaves, a non-governmental organisation based in the United States, says some 27 million people are in slavery.

The problem is acute in Africa, where experts say organised criminal syndicates using false identification documents take advantage of porous borders and widespread poverty.

Cape Town Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane described human trafficking as a modern form of slavery and the most “heinous” of all organised crime.

“It is a crime against humanity,” Ndungane told delegates.

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