Notes from the Field

Expanding the Global Anti-Trafficking ‘Tool Box’

November 7, 2012

In President Obama’s speech at the Clinton Global Initiative this year, he called on all Americans and the world to take a broader, more comprehensive view of combating human trafficking of all kinds. He outlined how the U.S. is strengthening law enforcement through improved training, and providing better services to victims through improved coordination across federal agencies. And he didn’t stop there. He also recognized the U.S. government’s influential position as the world’s largest buyer of services and goods, promising to remove slavery from government supply chains and declaring that “American tax dollars must never, ever be used to support the trafficking of human beings.”

Mongolia passport line

A woman in Mongolia applies for a passport, which has an informational packet inserted into it that explains the risks of human trafficking and contact information on how to get in touch with authorities. Photo/Matthew Pendergast.

President Obama further challenged the global community to “recommit to addressing the underlying forces that push so many into bondage in the first place.”  Examining and challenging the economic, social, and cultural inequalities that create vulnerable conditions among marginalized groups is a critical, but often under appreciated, step toward a long-term trafficking prevention strategy. Adding that individual companies – and even individual consumers – can voluntarily take steps to rid their supply chains of exploitation and slavery, the president left no room for any of us to deny our stake in this fight.

The president’s speech resonated with those of us who work on these issues, not only because it catalyzed further awareness of human trafficking, but more importantly, it emphasized the complexity of the problem and the need for multifaceted solutions. Not very long ago, the discourse surrounding human trafficking (particularly in the U.S.) was dominated by issues associated with the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. Those issues were and continue to be critical and relevant to current trends, but trafficking for other purposes – forced labor, domestic work, organ transplants, and many others – was largely absent from the debate and, in many cases, from the on-the-ground work that aimed to stem the trade in human beings.

When The Asia Foundation began working to combat human trafficking in the late 1990s, our efforts hinged on the “3P” approach (prevention, protection, and prosecution), and focused on women victims of trafficking in the sex industry. Over the years, we and many others have transitioned to a more holistic and nuanced strategy that incorporates aspects of all forms of trafficking and increasingly addresses the needs of both male and female survivors. Recognizing that a thriving trafficking trade indicates a breakdown in the legal, economic, and social fabric of a society, we  have adapted to a governance-based approach in our anti-trafficking work, focusing on working politically to increase the ability of law enforcement, justice officials, social service providers, community leaders, and policymakers to combat this crime.

This evolution of thinking and approach was highlighted at a recent workshop we hosted in Nepal called, “Combating Trafficking in Persons: Capturing Lessons Learned, Charting the Way Forward.” The gathering brought together Asia Foundation staff from across the region, as well as international and regional experts, who discussed emerging issues related to law, technology, victim support, and research. Throughout the three-day meeting, participants explored new ways to expand our anti-trafficking work by creatively using the Foundation’s skills, assets, and networks to directly and indirectly contribute to the multi-faceted solution to this problem. For example, how can our community policing programs put victim support skills in the hands of local police officers?  What if we could engage our vast networks of faith communities to identify new ways to reach out to victims and at-risk groups?  Could our efforts to address conflict in fragile states also identify strategic ways to reduce vulnerability to human trafficking among displaced peoples?

Just as President Obama called on all of us to “speak up” and take initiative in new ways to end this crime against humanity, the Foundation and other organizations are expanding efforts to find creative, effective contributions to the global anti-trafficking “tool box.”  Over the coming months, we’ll be discussing some specific strategies that have worked in the past, as well as sharing our latest efforts to develop and test new approaches in the region.

Kate Francis is associate director of The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at kfrancis@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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