New Report Estimates Nearly 25 Million Victims of Trafficking Worldwide

Human Rights First said that the September release by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), of new estimates on the number of victims of modern slavery across the globe demonstrate the need for the U.S. government to redouble its efforts to disrupt the business. The numbers released today examine human trafficking across sectors, economies, and geographical regions, and are critical for human trafficking advocates who depend on this prevalence estimate to exemplify the pervasiveness of this crime and the need for additional resources to combat it globally.

“This new report is essential to understanding the depth of the problem and to developing strategic approaches to combat this thriving and lucrative business,” said Human Rights First’s Annick Febrey. “Human traffickers operate with near-impunity both across the globe and here in the United States. Knowing where trafficking occurs allows the government and law enforcement to target efforts to combat this pervasive crime. Bolstering training and investigative capabilities in targeted geographic regions and in specific sectors is critical to hold traffickers accountable for their crimes and to begin to lower the number of exploited persons.”

According to the new estimate, human traffickers enslave approximately 24.9 million victims worldwide in forced labor and sexual exploitation, and state-imposed forced labor. The ILO and Walk Free Foundation piloted a new methodology to more accurately assess the number of people currently living in modern slavery. However, whether this number is the result of an increase in the prevalence of human trafficking or an increase in the ability to identify enslaved individuals, this number continues to present a massive human rights problem.

“These numbers dispel the myth that slavery is an historical problem that has been eradicated,” added Febrey. “American leadership is needed now more than ever if we want slavery to be an issue of the past.”

Human Rights First notes that holding traffickers accountable can be challenging as trafficking cases can be difficult to identify, investigate and prosecute and therefore only a small fraction of reported cases are prosecuted. In 2016, there were 9,071 trafficking convictions globally—an improvement over the previous year’s 6,615, but still a drop in the bucket when considering the estimated 25 million individuals suffering at the hands of traffickers annually. Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to lead globally on increasing the prosecution of traffickers, decreasing markets for slave labor, and prioritizing this serious problem in all bilateral relations.

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