A Human Rights Approach to Human Trafficking

Maybe you’re familiar with the image of the beautiful, young, Eastern European woman who is the victim of brutal sex trafficking. But do you recognize the Bangladeshi construction worker in the United Arab Emirates who must work for a minimal wage until he repays his recruitment fee because his employer has confiscated his passport? What about the eight-year-old Malian boy working without pay on a cacao farm in Cote d’Ivoire?

The Western media has brought vital attention to sex trafficking, but in doing so it has perpetuated a sensationalized depiction of female victims by narrowing the focus to sexual exploitation. (Take this example of how to spot a sex trafficking victim at a hotel. ) Such popular narratives exclude the other victims of trafficking and often fail to acknowledge the underlying socioeconomic factors that make people vulnerable to it. This can have a detrimental impact when it comes to anti-trafficking policies. In order to better protect victims and prevent future trafficking, it is necessary to approach trafficking through the lens of human rights.

Questioning the distinction between sex trafficking and labour trafficking

In discourses on human trafficking, trafficking is frequently categorized as either sex trafficking or labour trafficking. Although it is impossible to have completely accurate statistics, the International Labour Organization estimates that there are 14.2 million victims of forced labour, and 4.5 million victims of forced sexual exploitation. However, the two categories often overlap, such as in the case of a person trafficked to work in a restaurant who is also forced to do sex work, rendering such a dichotomy counterproductive to protecting the rights of victims.

Trafficking in persons is defined by the UN as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”. Although this is a single definition of human trafficking, it does identify prostitution and forced labour as two distinct forms of exploitation.

Source: united nation university:


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