Part 1~MENA Region’s Human Trafficking: Labor, Migration & Demand

By: Melina Olmo
Edited by: Mehrunisa Qayyum

On September 23rd, The Woodrow Wilson Center, based in Washington, DC, hosted an event reviewing human trafficking trends in Dubai. Ethnographer, Pardis Mahdavi, described the Middle East & North Africa region’s human trafficking patterns by way of Dubai in Gridlock: Labor, Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai. Mahdavi is a former Fellow of Woodrow Wilson Center and Associate Professor at Pomona College. Although Dubai serves as one case study, the larger issue relates to supply and demand. PITAPOLICY Contributor, Melina Olmo, explores the dilemma of human trafficking in the MENA region in three parts. Part one describes the nuances of human trafficking through gender, labor, and touches upon “supply” issues, which will be explored more in the second part.

Part 1

“When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.” ~Mother Teresa

These famous words spoken by Mother Theresa, continue to echo in the 21st century as we address the modern day version of slavery: human trafficking. Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings for the purpose of a) reproductive slavery, b) commercial sexual exploitation, or c) forced labor. Since human trafficking manifests in different forms depending on the socio-economic and socio-cultural trends in various countries, this three part article will utilize a framework that reviews the “supply” and the “demand” side of the illegal trading of human capital. Overall, how have existing trafficking practices and regulations taxed society to produce other externalities?

In recent years, pop culture has tackled the subject of human trafficking through films like Dirty Pretty Things, Taken, Biutiful and CNN’s Freedom Project. When we hear about human trafficking, our minds immediately visualize images of sex trade and prostitutes—images that seem far from our homes and lives. Nonetheless, human trafficking comprises a large industry in the global black market, or “informal economy” and extends beyond urban environments. Specifically, human trafficking represents an industry that has profited more than $30 billion USD (International Labor Organization 2005). Human trafficking “services” expand throughout more than 127 countries.

As global citizens, and consumers, we cannot deny a direct correlation with the industry. If we are to combat and abolish modern day slavery, we must step away from the philosophical moralistic debates; we must look at this for what it is: a business. All the controversy, international policy and regulations can be reduced to the most basic economic formula for markets: supply and demand. The more we, as individuals and society demand the goods and services provided by the traffickers, the higher the demand of people. In terms of human capital, we have divested potential labor from the formal economy into the informal economy. At the same time, this “divestment’ translates into social costs: more victims—most of whom are young women and children. Thus, in terms of human development, we are facilitating stunted growth.

The questions I continue to explore in the next parts include the following: Where we do as individuals stand within this industry? Are we more focused on regulating the demand side, or the supply side: protecting people from becoming the raw material for the trafficking industry? Or are we increasing the demand for services brought by human trafficking? What are we doing unconsciously to directly increase the demand for human trafficking around the world?

Listed below are some categories of human trafficking.
Sex Trafficking: when a person is made to perform commercial sexual acts through force, fraud, and/or coercion

Debt Bondage: when a person provides a loan to another and uses his or her labor or services to repay the debt; the services are not usually enough to repay the debt and the bondage is passed on to other generations.

Labor Trafficking: the purchase of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

Child Soldiers: children under the age of 18 are forced to join in a national army or rebel militia.

Organ Trafficking: forced removal of organs for sale on the black market.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude: forced domestic labor connected to victim’s off-duty living quarters. Usually this kind of trafficking is difficult to be investigated because victims are in private homes, isolated from the world, including other workers.

The International Labor Organization has estimated profits of US$ 31.5 billion from people trafficked, inclusive of US$1.5 billion in the MENA region with the majority of victims falling into labor and sexual trafficking. The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking reports that MENA is accountable for 9.2% of the 2.5 million victims trafficked. Countries like Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates, have passed laws to fight this criminal industry, but that is not enough to end the practice of modern day slavery. Are these laws being enforced by the government? By society? Given that human trafficking is a business, we as individuals/consumers have a direct impact on promoting or condemning this industry.

In part two of this article, I will use the MENA region as a case study to explore the interaction between the economy, policies and culture that allow human trafficking to continue.

For more updates and commentary on this issue, follow Melina Olmo on Twitter @mundorerum …

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Filed under Analysis, Interests, PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics)

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