Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery. An estimated twenty-five million people worldwide are victims—a number only growing in the face of vulnerabilities fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other global challenges, such as the migration crisis and persistent conflict, also increase its prevalence. The practice yields perpetrators an estimated $150 billion annually, making it one of the world’s most profitable crimes.
Not only is human trafficking a grave violation of human rights, but it also poses a strategic threat to U.S. interests in national security by bankrolling operations for transnational crime syndicates and extremist groups; undermining economic growth by undervaluing labor; and impeding sustainable development by retarding human potential.
Over the past two decades, human rights and labor leaders developed a comprehensive international framework defining the crime of human trafficking, most notably in 2000 with the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
That same year, the U.S. government enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, reauthorized in the George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump administrations, and emulated in countries around the world. Twenty years after these standards were enacted, however, human trafficking persists unabated.
To reverse the growth of human trafficking, new tools—and partners—are needed in order to better implement global and national anti-trafficking standards. Private industry should be held accountable for due diligence to ensure that supply chains are free from forced labor, and the financial sector should do more to identify and report traffickers’ illegal profits.
Leaders in the security and development sectors need to recognize that trafficking undermines economic growth and fuels instability, and they should expand their policies to address this crime, including within their ranks. Governments should deter traffickers and decrease prevalence by using sustainable development approaches that address root causes and pairing them with reliable apprehension and punishment efforts.
Originally published at CFR.org