An Overview of Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery |

An Overview of Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery

20110916_Siddharth_Kar_02tOn September 16th 2011, Mr. Siddharth Kara, Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, gave a lunchtime talk entitled “An Overview of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery” at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Kara examined past and modern forms of slavery and addressed the failure of nations to tackle the issue.

According to Kara, human trafficking and slavery have been going on for centuries and is not a new phenomenon. He cited the example of 600,000 Africans who were shipped to the Americas by the Western colonial powers. The fundamental difference between old and modern human trafficking is that in the past people were trafficked to work primarily in the agricultural sector. Today, people are trafficked to work in various industries ranging from agriculture to mining to sex, etc. Kara highlighted three typical steps of human trafficking: “acquisition” (abduction, deceit, seduction and sale by family); “movement” (given the ease in transporting people); and “exploitation” (location and industry specific). On the supply side of human trafficking, Kara cited rural poverty in developing countries, social instability and wars as factors driving human trafficking.

In Kara’s words, in the old world the average cost of a “slave”, including acquisition and transportation, was close to $ 6,000. According to estimates, the enslaved then generated between 15-20 per cent of profit per year and were bound to their owners and land for the rest of their lives. These days, a person can be acquired for as little as $425 and produce 300-500 per cent or more profit per year. Unlike in the past, the exploited are treated as disposables. Indeed, the ability and potential to make immense profits accounts for why human trafficking and slavery persists in modern times.

Kara believes that the general public can fight human trafficking and forced labour by spreading knowledge so that more people are aware of these issues. Internet and social networks present a good opportunity to mobilise grassroots support and make voices heard. Equally, people should demand that companies certify their products to ensure that no child labour was used in the production chain.

Unfortunately, even though the world had agreed to eliminate the slave trade over 150 years ago, the problem remains a sticky one. Some countries lack appropriate legislation to punish human traffickers and exploiters, enabling perpetrators to get away by paying a small fine. Kara emphasised the need for governments to enact tough laws and undertake vigorous enforcement. Compounding the problem, organized crimes are cooperating with one another more closely while governments have been rather slow to collaborate. The onus lies with individual governments, Kara argues, to take a more active role in the fight against human trafficking and slavery.


By Uran Bolush, a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the LKY School.


Mr. Kara will provide a general overview of human trafficking and contemporary forms of servitude. He will discuss the broader economic functioning of slavery in the modern world, as well as legal and human rights paradigms with which to understand the crime. Specific policy, legal, and tactical interventions that are designed to attack the fundamental logic of human trafficking will also be presented.

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Siddharth Kara, Fellow on Human Trafficking, Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

Friday, 16 September 2011
12.15 p.m. - 1.30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-5
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
469C Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259772

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