This earth has been populated with many species, mankind has evolved through time as being leaders and pioneers of many great subjects in life. Leading not only themselves but others, that’s why the concepts of masters and ownership have been introduced into this living reality. This article will examine the history of enslavement, its future and the forms it takes. To enslave a being, or being owned by another being is a simple way to describe human trafficking and the modern forms it takes.

The United Nations’ Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons (2000) defines trafficking as follows:

  • the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of 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 ownership over another person, for exploitation.

There are three different elements within the protocol of human trafficking:

The Act (What is done)

The recruitment procedures and transportation of the receipt of persons.

The Means (How it is done)

Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.

The Purpose (Why it is done)

For exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices e.g. the removal of organs.


Human trafficking and exploitation has been in existence from the ancient Greeks and Romans to medieval Britain, and persist up to today. People have been subject to various forms of physical and sexual slavery.  The Africa slave trade was led by the British in 1562 and the expansion of plantation colonies increased the volume of the slave trade. Throughout the 1600s countries such as Spain, North America, Holland, France, Sweden, and Denmark became more involved in the European Slave Trade (Agatucci, 2011). Slavery took a new form in the 1900s, white slavery in the 1900s was a reference to forcing or deceiving a white woman or girl into prostitution by bribery in most cases. Thus in 1904 the International Agreement for the Suppression of “White Slave Traffic” was signed and put into action. The agreement now stands as a moral human rights action against the trafficking of women (Agatucci, 2011).

In 1927, the League of Nations was founded after WWI and had the mission of maintaining world peace. The Suppression of White Slavery transformed in time into “traffic in women and children” so that everyone from any age was included with no regard to race. During WWII, Japan created a horrifying system where women across Asia were forced into sexual slavery. What were known as ‘comfort stations’ were forced imprisonment locations for women to live in. The conditions in these stations were appalling, with each woman detained in a small cubicle, and constantly physically abused and harmed if they were defiant (Rutgers University, 2017).

In 1995, the United Nations held the fourth World Conference to address the issue of trafficking of women. Trafficking was then fully acknowledged as an act of violence against women. Most importantly, actions to address trafficking were put in place. These included enforcing international conventions on trafficking and human slavery, setting up effective law enforcement and institutions who would work to eliminate trafficking both nationally and internationally, and implementing programs including educational and rehabilitation institutions to provide for the social, medical, and psychological needs of victims of trafficking to help rebuild their lives (Rutgers University, 2017).

Slavery today is a global business and a source of huge profits for traffickers. Modern slavery began to rise in the UK, in February 2004 when 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecombe Bay (Rutgers University, 2017) Since then, campaigners have exposed an adverse human trafficking problem across the UK. Support agencies, police and communities have identified thousands of victims. Victims from 54 different countries have been identified and are found in cities and towns across the UK. Traffickers also target the vulnerable within the UK, moving them from place to place and making a profit out of their exploitation. There are more people in slavery today than in the entire history of the transatlantic slave trade. The victims are in the world’s cuisines, fisheries, brothels, farms, and homes. The International Labour Organization (ILO, 2012) estimates that 20.9 million people are victims of forced labour globally, of which 1.5 million are to be found in the developed economies and the EU.

Human Trafficking can take different forms:

For Sexual Exploitation

Worldwide the sale of trafficking remains hidden as its very nature is very secretive and reliable statistics are therefore not documented in the public eye. In the UK, there are some clues as to its scale. For example, in a recent ACPO report, 2,212 brothels were identified in London alone, and the police estimate that up to 50% of those working in the brothels may have been trafficked. Traffickers take virtually all the earnings from their ‘slave’ and transport them around the country so they are not associated with any area.

For Domestic Servitude

Domestic workers have been particularly vulnerable to exploitation from employers. They work alone and are reliant on their employer for their work, accommodation and immigration status.  If the employer does not respect their rights, migrant domestic workers have little bargaining power and can find themselves trapped in this invisible form of slavery. Cases of domestic servitude in the UK include both adults and children, normally migrants.

For Forced Labour

Usually many people particularly boys and men who are forced to carry out tiresome work on farms in factories with little or pay are trafficked into the UK with their passports confiscated by their traffickers. They are often forced to live in atrocious conditions.

Child Trafficking

Children are trafficked for all types of exploitation. For example sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, forced marriage, illegal adoption and participation in criminal activities, for example, pick-pocketing, shoplifting, ATM theft, and cannabis cultivation. When trafficked children are abandoned, they are usually without money, identification and have nowhere to go. They are especially vulnerable to physical abuse and rape.

Victims are generally living in fear, often do not speak English thus do not fully comprehend what is happening around them and comply with their abusers in hiding the reality often because of threats of violence or fear of recrimination against their families back home. Overall human trafficking and modern slavery is nothing less than serious, international, organised crime.  It is now the second most lucrative organised criminal activity generating an estimated $32 billion per annum globally (ILO, 2008).

By Neelam Shah


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International Labour Organization (ILO). 2012. ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization (Geneva).

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