Existing knowledge of human trafficking remains fragmented, and may be context-sensitive; however, the most cited definition of human trafficking is in the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. Many experts are calling it “modern day slavery” and sum it up as any and all work or services that one is forced to perform involuntarily or under threat, coercion, abduction, fraud, deceit, deception, or abuse of power. This can be in the form of sex, labor or servitude. (ILO’s Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) (ILO C.29, Art. 1).

The U.S. Department of State created a chart that extrapolates the 2000 UN Protocol. To view this chart, please click here.

While the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that "21 million men, women, and children are in forced labour, trafficked, held in debt bondage or work in slave-like conditions" around the world (ILO. 2014. "Profits and Poverty The Economics of Forced Labour" Pg. 1), Kevin Bales, economist and co-founder and former president of Free the Slaves, estimated it at 27 million. The findings were published in his book Disposable People. This number is now used by the U.S. Department of State in its Trafficking in Persons Report to establish the scope of trafficking worldwide. Free the Slaves suggests the 21 to 30 million estimate is still a conservative one.

The ILO estimates that human trafficking, forced labor, and slavery is a  $150.2 billion a year industry, with the share from commercial sexual exploitation alone equal to $99 billion. (ILO. 2014. "Profits and Poverty The Economics of Forced Labour" Pg. 13, 15). 

“Profits per victim are highest in forced sexual exploitation, which can be explained by the demand for such services and the prices that clients are willing to pay, and by the low capital investments and low operating costs associated with this activity. With a global average profit of US$21,800 per year per victim, this sector is six times more profitable than all other forms of forced labour.” (ILO. 2014. “Profits and Poverty, The Economics of Forced Labour” Pg. 15)

“Human trafficking is, quite simply, the exploitation of human beings for profit. It is a scourge that is not defeated by barriers of wealth and influence—trafficking is an immense problem for developed and developing nations alike”  –Anne T. Gallagher, Officer of the Order of Australia, former Advisor on Trafficking to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2013 (U.S. Department of State. 2014. “Trafficking in Persons Report 2014”, Pg. 28)

For more information about the various forms of enslavement, please click here.

For more information about the signs to look for, please click here.

For ways to help, please click here.