Image Source: Ira Gelb
March 2018
REGION: Global

In Decentering the Prosecution-Oriented Approach: Tackling Both Supply and Demand in the Struggle against Human Trafficking, Shahrzad Fouladvand offers an extensive analysis of international efforts to combat human trafficking before moving on to argue for an approach that centers on diminishing the demand for illicit labor. In her analysis, Fouladvand argues that punitive approaches have been unsuccessful in eliminating human trafficking, providing evidence that the volume of human trafficking has not declined since the implementation of punitive legislation. Fouladvand argues that a more effective approach would rely on a holistic understanding of human trafficking with regulations centered around human rights, economic factors, and labor standards.

Providing the historical context for contemporary action on human trafficking, Fouladvand states that at the turn of the century, key policy makers understood human trafficking as an element of organized crime rather than a piece of the global supply chain. According to Fouladvand, this ideology is written into the UN Human Trafficking Protocol of 2000, which focuses primarily on punishment and prosecution without providing a mandate for the protection of human trafficking victims’ rights. While the strategy outlined in the UN Protocol was effective in generating greater legislative interest in human trafficking, Fouladvand argues that it failed in its goal of prosecuting those who perpetuate this illicit activity. As evidence of this failure, Fouladvand cites the 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons by UNODC, which states that while more than 90% of countries have legislation criminalizing human trafficking, roughly 40% of countries reported fewer than 10 convictions per year and 15% of countries did not report a single conviction.

Despite these low conviction rates, the crime control approach has expanded with the adoption of policy such as the EU Council Framework Decision on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings and the EU Council Directive on short term residence permits for victims of human trafficking. According to Fouladvand, the Framework Decision and the Council Directive bolstered the obligations to criminalize human trafficking found within the UN Protocol while also expanding the focus of the policy to include protections for victims. In 2011, the Framework Decision was updated with legislation claiming to take “an integrated, holistic, and human rights approach to the fight against trafficking in human beings.” Fouladvand, however, sees continually low prosecution rates as evidence that this policy has still been largely unsuccessful.

Fouladvand attributes such lack of success to a deficiency of engagement with the causal factors of human trafficking. Fundamental to this poor engagement is a failure to recognize human trafficking as a social ailment that goes beyond organized crime and exists as an element of an ever growing globalized economy. In addressing these factors, Fouladvand argues for a “responsibilization” approach in which the governance of labor recruitment is employed to hold global supply chains and private business accountable for their part in sustaining human trafficking. Rather than focusing on the prosecution of a few, obvious offenders, argues Fouladvand, greater emphasis should be placed on reducing the demand for illicit labor, which drives trafficking. Fouladvand argues this can be done by following the lead of the International Labor Organization (ILO), whose 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labor Convention goes far beyond the UN Human Trafficking protocol in actively preventing and remedying issues of human trafficking. Through greater regulation such as those implemented by the members of the ILO, non-compliance can be made so costly that employers discontinue their use of trafficked labor, ultimately reducing the demand and profitability of human trafficking.


NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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