Human Trafficking Overview
Last updated April 9th, 2020

Human Trafficking Overview

Human trafficking involves the exploitation of another person to profit economically from the nonconsensual activities of that person.  The phrase “human trafficking” encompasses sex trafficking and labor trafficking, forced marriage, and organ trading.[1]  Human trafficking happens in almost every city and town in the world.  It can refer to either activities that happen in a certain location, or to the transportation of people to new locations.  Sex trafficking generally means that one person is economically benefitting from the commercial sex acts of another. Labor trafficking generally means that one person is economically benefitting from the forced labor of another. Forced marriage means that a person, whether an adult or a child, is considered “married” without their consent. The organ trade refers to the commercialization of organ transplants.

The term “trafficking” refers generally to the act of “selling,” or benefitting financially from the sex acts or forced labor of others.  Though some victims of trafficking have been transported or smuggled across state or country lines that is not always the case.

Leading organizations estimate that 40 million women, men, and children are trafficked each year.[2]  Women and girls are disproportionately affected.[3]  People who are trafficked tend to come from disadvantaged populations, living under various circumstances that make them vulnerable to exploitation.  Moreover, trafficking is a massive industry, earning more than US$150 billion each year for traffickers.[4]

Human trafficking is a grave violation of human rights and takes a terrible toll on its victims.  Survivors might experience psychological and emotional effects for many months or years. They might suffer physically from either injury or disease that they would not have experienced otherwise. Traffickers may have also removed survivors from their homes and families and may have taken their identification documents, making it difficult for survivors to return to safety.

Since the mid-2000s, many nations and U.S. States have increased their focus on the issue of human trafficking.  For example, The Advocates for Human Rights, a U.S.-based human rights organization, authored a report in 2008 that raised serious questions about sex trafficking in the State of Minnesota.[5]  Since then, efforts in Minnesota have lead U.S. and world efforts both to end sex and labor trafficking and to provide resources to its victims.

In recent decades, The United Nations (U.N.) has also increased its focus on human trafficking. In 2004, the U.N. appointed the first Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons.[6]  It launched the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (GIFT) in 2007.[7]  Additionally, more than 170 nations have signed The Special Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, known as The Palermo Protocol.[8]

Although the problem of human trafficking has existed for thousands of years, people around the world have begun to address it more seriously in recent decades. As with any social and criminal problem, efforts to address human trafficking must include prevention, eradication of inequalities that breed vulnerability, accountability for offenses, and stopping the demand.



[1] The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of the threat or the 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 the giving or receiving of payment 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 labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs." The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, Special Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

[2] Forced Labor and Forced Marriage, International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation, 2017.  https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf

[3] Forced Labor and Forced Marriage, International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation, 2017.  https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf

[4] Profits and Poverty:  The Economics of Forced Labour, The International Labor Organization, 2014.  https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---declaration/documents/publication/wcms_243391.pdf

[5] https://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/report_final_10_13_08.pdf

[6] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Trafficking/Pages/TraffickingIndex.aspx

[7]  http://www.ungift.org/

[8] https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/protocoltraffickinginpersons.aspx