Labor trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking. Men, women, and children are forced to work in industries as varied as agriculture, mining, manufacturing, restaurants, nail and massage parlors, hotels, as cleaners or childcare providers in private homes, and more.
Sex trafficking has been the focus of much media attention and may be the most recognizable form of human trafficking. It may be considered a subcategory of labor trafficking (forced “sex work”) or a separate trafficking category. Like labor trafficking, sex trafficking affects men, women, and children.
Child labor and child sex trafficking are frequently treated as special categories of human trafficking. Child labor is considered by many to be exploitative by definition, regardless of force, fraud, coercion, or compensation, and children are often seen as unable to “voluntarily” engage in sex work or consent to sex for pay, period.
Organ trafficking (sometimes referred to as organ harvesting) is another lucrative form of human trafficking which may or may not result in death for the individual whose organs are taken.
Conflict drives or underlies many forms of trafficking. Young people are recruited as child soldiers. Soldiers who fight wars far from homes and families fuel a demand for sex trafficking. International arms trafficking routes can be readily utilized by human traffickers, and indeed, many traffickers trade in arms, drugs, and human beings.
Migration is tied to global human trafficking in complex ways. Global wealth grows inequitably, leaving large segments of the world population without the opportunities to live dignified lives, enjoy reasonable standards of living, and avoid ethnic, racial, gender, political, or religious discrimination in their own countries. In many cases, they seek these opportunities in richer countries. Restrictive migration laws encourage people to pay or borrow money to cross heavily guarded borders, or to enter destination countries legally and overstay their visas. Smuggling does not necessarily lead to trafficking, and undocumented work does not necessarily constitute trafficking. However, traffickers are adept at using undocumented migrants’ “illegal” status and fear of deportation to ensure their continued exploitation.
Traffickers trade human beings as commodities, for a profit. All ages, genders, and races are traded, and the trade may be domestic, international, or even global in scope. Individuals most vulnerable to trafficking live in poverty and have less than average education, but individuals who are better off economically or have higher degrees of education can be tricked by traffickers as well. People with a history of abuse have a higher risk of being trafficked. Regardless of background, trafficked individuals—adults and children alike—are deceived or coerced into their situation. Many are promised paid employment, marriage, or educational opportunities. Human “trafficking” does not necessarily involve transport. A restaurant employee may be held in debt bondage and treated as a commodity, and a wife may be turned into a sex slave or domestic servant.
Demand for cheap labor is the driving force behind the global trade in human beings. The underlying root cause—or the meta cause—of human trafficking is the global maldistribution of wealth. Trafficking routes commonly follow paths from the global south to the global north; from impoverished and unstable nations to richer, more stable ones; and from the rural countryside and impoverished suburbs to wealthier urban centers. Consumers living in rich countries and global cities create ever-increasing demand for goods and services, and human traffickers profit when they can control human resources at the supply end of the chain.