I am part of an incredible organization “Rock Against Trafficking” headed up by Gary Miller, legendary producer whose credits include George Michael, David Bowie, Donna Summer, Kylie Minogue , Cliff Richard , Katy Perry , Lionel Richie , Simply Red and others. Rock Against Trafficking involves a number of high profile artists. If you would like to know more, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday was the U.N.’s World Day Against People Trafficking. After nearly two decades of international commitment to end modern slavery, one thing is clear: States are simply not doing enough. It is estimated that there are 40.3 million victims of modern slavery, including sex trafficking and forced marriage. Eighty percent are victims of forced labor — a problem that is poorly understood by the general public. Twenty-five percent of trafficking victims worldwide are children.
Human trafficking is an epidemic in and of itself. Caused by deeply-rooted, international challenges, the refugee crisis, civil conflict, poverty, and more. This is a generally accepted truth. But there’s another root cause that is rarely, if ever, discussed: authoritarianism.
Each year, the U.S. State Department releases a trafficking report that categorizes countries according to the strength of their anti-trafficking efforts. There are four categories: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watchlist, and Tier 3. For a country to be categorized as Tier 1, its government should have gone above and beyond in prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, preventing new trafficking cases, and partnering with civil society to come up with new solutions. In this year’s report, published in June, 94% of Tier 1 countries have democratic governments. Meanwhile, just 6% of ranked authoritarian states make it into that category. Tier 3’s list is 90% authoritarian and 10% democratic.
The correlation is clear, and persists from year to year. This year’s trafficking report urges governments to “look inward” to address trafficking. Doing so requires transparency, accountability, the rule of law, and free and public discourse. All rare resources under authoritarian regimes. Yet the words “democracy” and “authoritarianism” are never even mentioned in the State Department’s report. Year after year, the report fails to discuss how authoritarianism contributes to human trafficking.
Take Thailand, for example. This year’s trafficking report ranks Thailand in Tier 2, among authoritarian states like Zimbabwe and Tajikistan, as well as democracies like Germany and Denmark. But even as Thailand has “increased efforts” in anti-trafficking, its military junta has increased repression as well, shutting down opposition media outlets, expanding censorship, and prosecuting hundreds of dissidents.
In a climate where advocates are ruthlessly silenced, anti-trafficking reforms have been implemented top down, without consultation from the community. As the rule of law weakens, the country has convicted fewer traffickers and launched a paltry number of investigations. And with recent mass arrests of protesters and ongoing criminal trials against activists, it’s unlikely that victims or their advocates feel able to push for the full implementation of reforms.
In the absence of systemic reform, slavery continues to be rampant in the Thai fishing industry, and recent government-run investigations into trafficking are no more than a “theatrical exercise for international consumption,” according to Human Rights Watch. Why would we expect a country ranked “Not Free” by Freedom House for the last five years to do right by its citizens?
According to the Human Rights Foundation’s research, 25 of the 30 poorest countries are ruled by authoritarian regimes; 96% of the world’s refugees in 2017 came from countries with authoritarian regimes; and of the 20 countries in the world with the worst access to basic drinking water, 18 are ruled by authoritarian regimes. Promoting democracy can pave the way to change.
If we don’t unite, if we don’t recognize the connection between issues like trafficking and authoritarianism we will never have the strength within the movement, to overcome the dangers that exist before us.
Every year on this day we talk about what we’re doing to end modern slavery. But clearly, we’re not doing enough. If we really want to end human trafficking, we need to work together to empower its victims by advocating fundamental rights. Democracy must be a part of the conversation.
Don’t worry about old age; it doesn’t last