UN Special Rapporteur's comments on the the use of Demand in THB

UN Special Rapporteur's comments on the the use of Demand in THB

December 2015

Dita Vogel reflects on the UN Special Rapporteur's talk at the EUI Meeting in November 2015

“I am not convinced that the comprehensive concept of “demand” has a value for something that really includes very different situations.” This was one of the opening remarks of a public lecture, given by UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Maria Grazia Giammarinaro on the occasion of the meeting of the EU research project DemandAT in Florence. Giammarinaro called for a differentiated approach, indicating that different situations are likely to require different approaches.

The call for context resonated well with us researchers in the project. We are now in the second phase in our joint project. Our empirical studies are investigating such diverse situations as domestic work in Italy, electronic production in Malaysia, begging in Kosovo, or the commercial sex sector in New Zealand. In all these situations, the focus is on gaining a better understanding of how final consumers can be involved in efforts to reduce trafficking in human beings. Such efforts are conventionally named ‘demand-side’ efforts, and we follow that conventional approach in the scope of our analysis.

I fully agree with the lecturer that different situations are likely to require different approaches. However, I do not agree that demand is not a helpful analytical concept. Good analytical concepts are often applicable in a wide range of situations and help us to see commonalities and differences. Demand in the understanding of the willingness and ability to purchase goods and services is such a concept, meaning virtually the same in different market situations. Having said that, this implies that it is less helpful in analysing issues such as the use of threats and violence in close personal relations or donations to beggars.

Giammarinaro sketched her ideas with regard to specific approaches in clear terms. With regard to the reduction of trafficking in the field of labour exploitation, she emphasized the authorisation and control of agencies, persecution of criminal groups that intimidate workers particularly in agriculture, and efforts to increase the risk of detection of forced labour in private households. She also emphasised that worker protection makes exploitation less probable. Regardless of criminal proceeding with regard to trafficking in human beings, procedures to ensure a back payment for exploited workers should be established.

With regard to trafficking for the purpose of removal of organs, she characterised the involvement of the medical community and better information for donors as more urgent than a focus on the demand-side – people desperate for an organ.

With regard to trafficking for sexual exploitation, she characterised the massive demand mainly by men for commercial sex as a cultural problem that should be dealt with in cultural terms. However, she noted the absence of a comprehensive cultural strategy, starting with education in schools, dealing with gender equality and respectful sexual relations. She recognises the criminalisation of clients sends a strong moral message, but is sceptical about its effects, with the cultural roots of demand being still active. There is a risk that the criminalisation of clients can make the situation of women worse, as they may continue to work in a more hidden situation, where they are more isolated and less accessible by people who reach out to help.

Trafficking in human beings, termed an “umbrella concept” by Giammarinaro, is problematic as an analytical concept, as it does not mean the same in all situations, so in my view Giammarinaro is right, even though for a different reason. With regard to the labour market, she said: “I speak of exploited and trafficked persons because I am aware that we should target more people than those who are currently identified as being trafficked, because their number is small, virtually nothing.”

To pick up her idea of trafficking as an umbrella concept: the concept may be broad in the sense that it potentially applies to many fields. However, if we look at its application in criminal proceedings, only a small number of people can find protection under this umbrella. Exploitation is an integral part of the trafficking definition. Without exploitation, there is no trafficking. If it is so difficult to investigate into the ways in which people are brought into exploitation, why not focus more on combatting exploitation, particularly the most severe forms?

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily express the views of the DemandAT project consortium as whole.