The UN Palermo Protocol defines human trafficking as: 

The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

This can be broken down into three essential elements: 

  1. The acquisition of a person; 
  2. By means of deception or coercion;
  3. For the purpose of exploitation 

Human trafficking is a flexible practice which is shaped by the rules of supply and demand. It adapts to the particular circumstances and so the trafficking we see in the UK will look quite different from that in other parts of the world. At its core, however, all forms of trafficking have in common the control and exploitation of the vulnerable for the profit and gain of their traffickers.  


Facts and Figures

It is very difficult to know exactly how many people have been subjected to trafficking due to the secretive nature of the crime. However, the Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 35.8 million people held in modern slavery around the world. That means that there are more people held in slavery today than at any other point in history, including during the peak of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

Trafficking in human beings is a global business and the source of lucrative profits for traffickers and organised crime networks. It is the fastest growing international crime and the second largest source of illegal income worldwide. In 2014, the International Labour Office estimated the total profit obtained from the use of forced labour to be $150.2 billion per year. 


Distinction between Human Trafficking and Smuggling

Human trafficking and smuggling are often confused and sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably.  The two, however, are legally distinct issues and should be recognised as such.

Smuggling involves facilitating an individual's illegal passage over an international border. It is a criminal commercial transation between two willing parties, and once they reach the final destination the 'cuctomer' is generally left to their own devices. As such there is no victim in the traditional sense, other than the State whose immigration rules have been broken. 

Human trafficking, by contrast, involves force, threats and deception and specifically targets the trafficked person as an object of criminal exploitation for labour or services.  There is, therefore, an identifiable victim who is subject to involuntary servitude. Human trafficking does not require an illegal border crossing, nor is it necessarily transnational, as there are many instances of internal trafficking.