LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The campaign to end human trafficking is comparable to that of the campaign for the emancipation of women and like that campaign, it will not succeed until people pressure their governments to take action, a global expert on human trafficking said.
Anne Gallagher, a former UN adviser on human trafficking, spoke to Thomson Reuters Foundation this week following her keynote address on the first day of the Trust Women conference in London.
Q What do you think the major road blocks to tackling human trafficking are?
A I worry that too many of us imagine that there’s a magic bullet out there for the problem of human exploitation. I think that what we have to understand is that this kind of exploitation has built our world and is woven into the fabric of our global economy, our communities and even our individual lives. Until we start to unravel that and face the very hard choices that are actually in front of us in terms of addressing this honestly and openly, then I think we’re stuck and it’s going to be a difficult road.
Q So what are some of the hard questions that those in developed countries need to face when thinking about this issue?
A Well I think one of them is to start looking at how the decisions that we make, how the extent to which the things we wear, the things we eat, the things we text with, the things we use – the extent to which they have, somewhere along their supply chains, been tainted with this kind of exploitation. That’s one of the questions because I think that improving the transparency of supply chains is critical because then we can start to make real choices. We really can’t opt out of modern-day slavery now.
Q But it’s so complex and challenging for the average person to deal with that, that even if they want to act, they may not know how to do so.
A Well it is very difficult. I often talk to students who have so much commitment and so much energy for change. I try and encourage them to understand that things in many senses are better, that the glass really is half full and that we’ve improved our understanding of what’s happened and we know what we need to do to fix things. I think it’s very important not to feel disempowered, not to feel like things are too difficult, because that’s really a recipe for throwing up our hands and deciding we can’t do anything.
Q What is it that keeps you going and motivated?
A Well perhaps the fact that I have been working on these issues for so long, much longer perhaps than many other people. I can see change. I’m an international lawyer, so often I measure change in terms of treaties and government commitments and that’s where a lot of progress has been made. I’ve seen change in relationship to how much we know. These issues were just off the table 15 years ago. We didn’t really know what was happening back then. Now we may choose to look the other way, but we may never again say that we did not know. Those are not my words, they’re the words of William Wilberforce who stood up in the British Parliament not very far away from here – I think it was 212 years ago – and said that. I think we can take inspiration and courage from that.
Q What changes would you like to see in terms of the ability of criminal justice systems to act internationally?
A I think we have to accept that criminal justice systems operate nationally and they’re comfortable operating nationally. It’s really only been in the last 15 to 20 years that there’s been a recognition that that’s just not good enough and that traffickers are taking advantage of the weaknesses of national criminal justice agencies by operating across borders and cooperating with each other. It’s very clear that there needs to be much more cooperation, much more trust, much more collaboration between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to ensure that the exploiters are actually investigated and prosecuted. All countries have an obligation to deal with this effectively and to do something, but it’s in countries of destination where the evidence is and where the real profits from exploitation are generated and often retained. All these countries that are points of destination – this includes Australia, the U.S., the UK, Western Europe and the Middle East – they’re the ones that need to be leading these high level prosecutions and they need to get cooperation from the countries of origin to do that effectively.
Q What can civil society and other groups do to push governments in that direction?
A Like every other great social movement, whether it’s the emancipation of women or the end of the transatlantic slave trade, we need pressure. Governments don’t tend to change without pressure. And the pressure needs to be generated from below. That’s the great role of civil society, to force governments to see what’s happening and to force them to take action. And I do believe that governments have a huge responsibility. They need to see it very clearly as a crime against human beings and to act accordingly. Civil society has its own responsibilities as well, to raise awareness about the kinds of choices people can make, to ensure that it’s more difficult for exploiters, for modern day slave traders to actually make a profit.