Economic Factors
last updated September 1, 2005


At its core, trafficking is a result of women's unequal economic status. Of the world's poor, the majority are women. The number of women living in poverty has also increased disproportionately to the number of men. Women, more frequently than men, have the additional economic burden of caring for children. Women also face discrimination that limits their educational and employment opportunities. In the employment setting, women are often the last hired and the first fired. Women also disproportionately experience sexual harassment in the workplace. This situation forces many women to look abroad for work and makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The economic status of women is worse in countries undergoing economic transition. All of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have experienced dramatic economic and political transitions as they move from centralized economies to free market systems. While there is tremendous variation in how individual countries in this region have experienced the transition, women have been negatively impacted by high unemployment rates and the loss of social programs that existed in the past. For many women in post-Soviet countries, the transition has meant they are less economically independent than they were previously.

Economic disparity both within and between countries is another factor that promotes trafficking. Trafficking takes place from low-income countries to high-income countries, where the demand for cheap and low status labor exists. Typically, traffickers target women and girls who are economically disadvantaged in their home country or region and transport them to wealthier countries or regions that can support the commercial sex industry.

Finally, trafficking in women has proven to be a lucrative business that has become a significant source of income for organized crime enterprises. By some estimates, trafficking is the fastest growing source of profits for organized crime rings. Citing Paul Holmes, author of the Regional Anti-Trafficking Law Enforcement Manual for South-Eastern Europe, the United Nations Development Program estimates that trafficking generates at least US$7 billion a year and, after drugs and weapons, has become the third largest criminal business worldwide. According to a 2000 report by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), "[i]n most of the major recent trafficking cases in the United States, the traffickers made anywhere from one to eight million [USD] in a period ranging from one to six years."

Traffickers profit from the "sale" of the trafficking victim and also exploit the women themselves. The CIA Report also notes: "Traffickers typically charge the women inflated prices for securing the alleged jobs, travel documentation, transportation, lodging, meals, and incidentals. To increase profits, the women are kept in poor, crowded conditions. It is also common for trafficked women to be charged to buy their passports back. The fee is usually around USD $900 for women from the Newly Independent States and Central Europe."