LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Law enforcement’s focus on the people who run the modern slave trade should expand to include those who stoke demand and buy the cheap sex, stuff and services they offer, campaigners say.
Two recipients of a new prize that marks the fight against human trafficking said authorities should actively target the customers, not just the controllers, of a thriving global trade.
“Anyone who willingly endorses any form of slavery should be held liable,” said Triveni Acharya, whose Indian charity the Rescue Foundation supports sex trafficking victims.
Acharya is hopeful that prosecutors might soon use India’s proposed new Trafficking of Persons Bill, which could jail human traffickers for life, to target the customers who used slaves for sex, as well as the pimps who run the brothels.
“The next frontier is to work toward curbing demand and targeting customers, who are the biggest reasons why sex slavery exists,” said Acharya.
She was speaking ahead of the annual Trust Conference, where she was named on Wednesday as one of two winners of an inaugural Thomson Reuters Foundation Hero Award.
Globally, modern slavery is believed to generate illicit profits of $150 billion a year, says the International Labour Organization. It estimates 40 million-plus people are trapped as slaves in sex work and forced labor and marriages.
U.S.-based prosecutor Rochelle Keyhan, who won a Hero Award for her work at the anti-trafficking charity Polaris, agreed that authorities should do more to target demand, saying: “The best approach is to ... focus on both traffickers and demand.”
But some experts argue that modern slavery will not end with legal action alone, and say countries should instead back a workers’ rights “revolution” to protect people.
Keyhan said campaigners should work more closely together and use better technology to further their fight.
To that end, Keyhan on Wednesday launched Collective Liberty to connect anti-trafficking groups through a digital platform, since they often work in isolation even within their own U.S. jurisdiction.
“We need to be as united and networked as the trafficking operations themselves ... because at the moment, they are a few steps ahead of us,” she said.
Tackling slavery is considered a global priority yet experts say the world is unlikely to meet a United Nations goal to end the crime by 2030 without access to reliable and uniform data.
A global agreement backed by 147 nations in October to map and count the victims of forced labor marked the first time that dots might be joined between countries.
Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories