After consulting with the team about this, and it being a subject that is out of the norm for us to write about, we decided to dive into an otherwise controversial subject.
Human trafficking is as old as the ages itself, meaning that it has been around since the beginning of time, and yet to this day, continues at a rampant pace that is astounding for anyone that has read about it in anyway or in any of the headlines.
It is estimated that over a billion people have been trafficked, with the global average income from human trafficking exceeding far north of $200 billion per year.
Unfortunately, 94% of the cases involving human trafficking are never brought to light. That is what this writing hopes to bring forth; why is it not in the news on a daily basis?
One might think “well I saw the news about Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell – to which the “client list” has yet to be revealed – ex-USA gymnastics coach John Geddert, as well as Canadian clothing designer Peter Nygard.”
Epstein died in a prison by hanging in a cell that had nothing for him to hang himself with, Maxwell is currently serving a 20 year sentence in FCI Tallahassee, Geddert committed suicide in 2021 in Detroit and Nygard has been in custody since December of 2020 where he faces a number of charges in Canada as well as in the US and has agreed to be extradited, if he makes it that long as he is 81 years old.
In the grand scheme of this and all such things life, that is merely a drop in the bucket of a vast world-wide problem that persist by the thousands on a daily basis.
In Southeast Asia and the Middle East, it is an astounding problem that authorities combat on a daily basis – by all means, this does not exclude the USA – from traffickers that are looking for easy prey.
The most common way traffickers are able to lure-in their victims is social media. Facebook alone has is one of the highest recruiting rates of all of them. Many times, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been brought before the US Congress to answer the question of WTF! and why is this going on, on your network?
At one point, it became so absurd that Apple’s CEO Tim Cook threatened to remove and disable the Facebook app over the lack of care and/or response from Zuckerberg.
So why exactly is it so easy to lure the unsuspecting victims and what happens to the ones that make it to their meeting place?
The answer is also as old as time itself. Humans are humans.
In countries that have low wages and living conditions, it’s easy to figure out that the number one reason is money.
In Southeast Asia, there is also the distinction that separates it from most of the western countries’ culture. In Southeast Asia, children grow up in households that usually consist of 3-4 siblings. Those siblings are not only very thankful for everything that their parents have done to make their lives as best as possible, but they are born into a life of “I must show my parents my worth,” as well as “I must give back to my parents.”
This thought process produces a high level of social stress amongst their peers as well as self inflicted stress. That kind of stress creates large amounts of depression, coupled with the feeling of being worthless while dealing with the self inflicted pressure of wanting to show the family that you are capable.
All of this combined creates a huge vulnerability of the victim.
In the USA, a vast majority of trafficked victims are recruited, drugged and set out on the street as sex slaves. The ten US states with the highest level of trafficked victims are:
Mississippi – 6.32 per 100k
Nevada – 5.77 per 100k
District of Columbia – 5.73 per 100k
Missouri – 4.30 per 100k
Nebraska – 3.60 per 100k
California – 3.32 per 100k
Florida – 3.30 per 100k
Arkansas – 3.26 per 100k
Texas – 3.25 per 100k
Oregon – 3.19 per 100k
In Southeast Asia, the victims are recruited to work in scam call centers, (boiler rooms as they used to called) Chinese owned casinos, some are made sex slaves or house keepers or are trafficked even further to the middle east as house keepers/sex slaves. Sadly, a lot of them are found chopped-up in old freezers. Not a pleasant way to go.
So how is it so easy for these traffickers to get their victims to be where they want them to be?
Despite the constant capturing of intended victims at airports as they attempt to leave their home country with fake and/or altered documents that the traffickers give to them – usually right out front of the airport, there are still vast amounts of landscape and not enough boarder patrol personnel to cover that landscape.
Geography has helped Thailand and Vietnam compete for a large share of investment flowing out of China. But it has also thrown a wrench in their plans as trafficking persists along Southeast Asia’s porous borders, especially in their shared neighbor Cambodia.
In its latest Trafficking in Persons report, the US State Department downgraded Vietnam and Cambodia to its bottom tier and put Indonesia on a watch list. Governments fearful of losing US investment and economic aid are typically motivated to aim for the first or second tiers. At risk of falling into the third tier, Thailand spent the past year improving agency coordination and prosecuting officials complicit in human trafficking.
“Whenever the US talks about this, there will be feedback to the Thai government and they want to work harder,” said Jaruwat Jinmonca, vice president of Immanuel Foundation, an anti-trafficking NGO based in Chiang Mai. “If the ranking’s too low, the government will speed up their work.”
While this is a noble thought, what about when the ranking is high? Why wait till your ranking tanks to do something about it. This is the other problem that the vulnerable face as they enter into a life of hell that they know nothing about till it’s to late, finding themselves in the thick of things.
So how does a trafficked victim get out of the mess that they got themselves into? The answer in simple terms is: It’s not pretty.
I’ve read thousands of recounts from trafficked victims that have made their way home and it usually happens from paying off their captors and running like hell till they can get help from the police or an embassy. Ging, 26, borrowed money to pay her way out of a trafficked labor camp in Poipet, Cambodia.
“The law in each country is different,” said Surachate Hakparn, assistant commissioner in charge of anti-trafficking for the Royal Thai Police. “We can help people who were trafficked into Thailand more easily than getting Thais back from overseas.”
As corporate interest in environmental, social and governance issues grows, developed countries have been monitoring human rights violations. In the US, a law that allows for import injunctions on products made with forced labor has been in effect since 2016. The European Union is expected to announce a similar ban this year.
“Business and human rights issues are recognized as a common challenge among developed countries,” said Susumu Tanaka, senior economist and leader of the business and human rights unit of the Japan External Trade Organization. As long as cases of human trafficking continue to exist, “those countries will have to consider the possibility of being left out of the global supply chain.”
In Thailand, trafficking of migrants from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia is rampant in sectors such as agriculture, food processing, fishing, tourism and entertainment. A major step forward was enforcing rules against forced labor as anti-trafficking laws. Prosecutions and convictions slowed last year, which police attribute to the COVID-19 pandemic, but investigations increased from 133 in 2020 to 188 in 2021, and are expected to double this year.
Surachate’s division received a 73 million-baht ($2 million) budget this fiscal year to address migrant labor and human trafficking. This was part of the Royal Thai Police’s 32.8 billion baht annual budget, and allocations for anti-trafficking efforts to other agencies.
In downgrading Vietnam in the TIP report, the US said the country didn’t do enough to identify and help victims, while convictions of traffickers declined for five straight years. The report said some officials allegedly facilitated forced labor in Saudi Arabia, while others allegedly harassed accusers in efforts to silence them.
Vietnam said the report “contained certain inaccurate information that has not fully reflected its increased efforts,” including the enforcement of a law on guest workers, protecting children online and cooperating internationally on safe migration.
“Vietnam has been following with keen attention the situation pertaining to domestic and cross-border human trafficking, so as to come up with suitable countermeasures,” said Le Thi Thu Hang, a foreign ministry spokeswoman.
Remember Ging from earlier? The one that paid her way out. She shows us a job posting in a Facebook page run by traffickers. The page has more than 18,000 followers.
Victims have reported that they witnessed patrols on both sides of the Thai-Cambodian border accepting bribes from traffickers for safe passage. Syndicate bosses would brag to victims about how much they paid the police for each head, the victims said.
Corruption also helps explain the situation in Sihanoukville, Cambodia which has a special economic zone, in which around 100 casinos and numerous property developments are financed and operated by Chinese businessmen. Victims could easily find where they were held on a map. Large compounds with high walls and barbed wire, containing dormitories and casinos. These are often in or near urban centers, as they require high-speed internet to conduct financial scams and traffic more people.
It should be noted that it is illegal for a Cambodian citizen to gamble at a casinos, while it is legal for foreigners to gamble, as well, most, if not all of the casinos have large floor space dedicated to on-line gambling.
“In the past, trafficking was done person to person. But online, you can trick a hundred people at the same time,” said Surachate. Cambodia National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said in December that the force is committed to its crackdown on groups kidnapping workers.
In Vietnam, the ads beckoning people to work overseas are as diverse as the destination countries, from Facebook posts and handwritten posters near the woods of Dalat touting Kuwait to printed banners for Japan on a narrow road outside Hanoi.
Some that have chanced it end up being tricked into slave labor. Nam Thuy says it was a steamed bun laced with sedatives that did him in.
In May, facing an avalanche of medical bills, he decided on a last resort. Selling an organ. Thuy told us that he jumped into a vehicle with strangers thinking they’d broker the procedure. On the drive, he ate the bun, only to wake up hours later on the road to Cambodia, where he remained for months.
He and dozens of other Vietnamese were forced to adopt fake online identities to con people, he said. With a target of about $4,000, he used chats to get people to invest in fraudulent get-rich-quick schemes.
“If you didn’t meet the target, they shocked you, beat you or let you starve,” he said.
More people became vulnerable to exploitation during the pandemic and have been trafficked to a greater variety of places, but “the root cause is still poverty,” said Nguyen Tra My, an anti-trafficking officer at Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which rescues Vietnamese trapped in China. “The trafficking landscape changed,” she said.
Namtip, the 15-year-old, thought she was signing up for a summer job between school terms to help her grandmother with expenses. It didn’t work out that way in the end.
Sua, who was desperate for work after losing his job at a bank during the height of the pandemic, was trafficked to a casino in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. “The amount of money they were offering should have been a red flag,” he said. “It was too much.”
Sua now works with the Pavena Foundation for Children and Women, a nonprofit group for trafficked and abused women and children. Part of his work is encouraging victims to provide testimony to the police as most fear being charged for illegal acts committed forcibly, or for crossing borders illegally.
“If any country is weak on trafficking, we need to have some kind of sanction,” said Pavena Hongsakul, a former Thai politician who runs her eponymous foundation.
In the US, there are dozens of foundations that are supposed to be there for trafficking victims, but in reality, almost all of them are non-profit 501(c)(3) corporations. This brings on another problem that is rarely, if ever talked about. The profit of a non-profit. As anyone knows, non-profits are big business, with the CEO’s of those non-profits making insane amounts of money. Case in point would be Goodwill. The CEO received total compensation of $1,188,733.00
So when will this all end?
Not likely ever.
As long as humans have emotions and there is money involved, you can best bet that human trafficking will continue at a pace that far exceeds the amount of people needed to stop it.