January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, an increasingly crucial movement as modern slavery continues to be on the rise. Despite nineteenth century abolitionism, slavery is not over–– it has only adapted and evolved, continuing to exploit people around the world. A report by the New York Times estimates that there are 45 million people around the world in modern slavery. Modern slavery can take many different forms: children in sweatshops, women sold or coerced into prostitution, migrants forced to do agricultural work, or even children forced to marry.
At its roots, modern slavery exploits the poor, undocumented, or otherwise vulnerable people in our world. One example is Luiza Karimova, who left her home in Uzbekistan when she was 22 to pursue work in Kyrgyzstan. However, she struggled to find employment due to her lack of a Kyrgyz ID or a university degree, nearly impossible to obtain due to the persistent gender inequality in Uzbekistan. She was overjoyed when a woman offered her a waitressing job in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and was ready to begin work.
But the job was not as fortuitous as it sounded. Once she arrived, Karimova recalls that her supposed employers “held us in an apartment and took away our passports. They told us that we’d be photographed again for our new employment documents, to be registered as waitresses. It felt strange, but we believed them.” She, along with several other women, were then given fake passports and ushered onto a plane to Dubai. They were told that they were to become sex slaves and must do whatever the clients wanted.
For a year and a half, she worked at a nightclub, forced to work until she had earned over $10,000 per month. One night, however, she saw a police car and allowed them to arrest her for possessing fake documentation. She was deported back to Kyrgyzstan and spent a year in jail, eventually filing a police report that led to the capture of three of her traffickers. But once she was released, she had nowhere to go; she was unemployed and ashamed to tell anyone of her situation, so she went back to the sex trade. Eventually, she was approached by Podruga, an organization that assists people who have been subjected to trafficking. They offered her work, and, though hesitant at first, she now works in outreach, assisting other women who have had the same experiences as her.
Karimova’s story isn’t uncommon–– many previous trafficking victims, particularly those who have been subjected to structural inequalities that affect their socio-economic status, believe that there is no other option if they want to achieve economic stability. What is unique about her situation is that she was able to get out of the industry, prosecute her traffickers, and is now utilizing her position as a previous trafficking victim to stand up for others.
Only 1% of trafficking victims are ever rescued from modern slavery and even fewer attempt to prosecute their traffickers. Of the cases that are being prosecuted, a report by the United Nations found that although the number of identified victims is on the rise, the number of convictions for human trafficking have drastically fallen. The best way to reduce human trafficking is to create legislation that increases punishments for traffickers, expands resources for those who are exiting the industry, and dictate stricter laws surrounding the qualifications for human trafficking.
Some countries and states have already begun to implement these changes. California implemented legislation in 2010 requiring companies to be transparent in their actions to tackle modern slavery in their supply chain. Five years later, the UK introduced the Modern Act of 2015, requiring businesses making over $45 million per year to publish an annual statement on trafficking and slavery. Earlier this year, the Dutch senate approved a child due diligence law focused on supply chains.
This Human Trafficking Awareness Month, focusing on advocating for these measures can drastically improve the lives of many of the victims in the trafficking trade around the world. Although progress has been slow, it is gaining traction through the countries around the world taking a stance and pushing for stronger legislation surrounding human exploitation.
If you or somebody you know is being or at risk of being trafficked, call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 or your local police agency.