• Hellbender

For Sale: People - by Alexandra Aaron

Updated: Jul 24, 2019




Humans being trafficked is indicative of a rudimentary human issue: greed. When greed is left unchecked, it becomes insatiable and must be fed in a variety of ways. Greed by definition is a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money or power) than is needed; this principle has been adopted by many humans throughout history. In polite society, these people are often referred to as leaders in capitalism; in deviant societies, they would be referred to as something akin to mob- bosses. The simplest way to fulfill this ideology is to obtain cheap labor by any means necessary and turn as great a profit as possible. The philosophy of greed instigated the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism, and capitalism; it is what fuels modern-day slavery, or human trafficking today. Globally, colonialism is frowned upon and enslaving people is illegal, but capitalism is still embraced by most developed nations. Capitalism has been engrained into the world’s psyche as a marker of success. It is bolstered by the veil of hope that the myth of meritocracy, or bootstrap theory, creates and therefore its primal motive, greed, has been dismissed. The global problem of human trafficking is symptomatic of capitalist ideology which is the core of most developed countries and the goal of developing states and their citizens.


On the 25th of September 2015 the United Nations announced their plan to resolve all the problems of the world. The solutions in Transforming Our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are broken into 17 goals, each with specific targets. This Agenda was agreed upon and ratified by all UN members under the premise that there are significant global problems that can only be rectified if everyone participates: “We resolve, between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources” (Transforming Our World 6). While it is magnificent that representatives of all nations were able to come together as a global community and subsequently convince their respective governments that ratification was imperative, the unfortunate truth is that there are organizations that will cease to be operational if the Sustainable Goals are met—namely transnational crime organizations and multi-national capitalist corporations—and they will push back in order to sustain their own goals, which are driven by greed.


Another layer of this unfortunate truth is that most states’ governments are deeply entrenched with major actors of these corporations. In order for the UN to be successful in achieving the goals, it needs to be able to hold all states accountable to diligently work toward the goals. The UN went to great lengths to ensure the sovereignty of all nations while drafting The Agenda. This respect included not making any demands—not forcing developed countries to help struggling nations, nor requiring countries that score high on human-suffering to agree to a restructuring of political balance. The courteous diction used in The Agenda reflects a gentle suggestion rather than an essential imperative to save the world from the destructive course it is on.


The Agenda is not a list that needs to be attended to sequentially, but rather concurrently and globally to be successful. There are several goals that would facilitate ending the consequences of corruption, subsequently eradicating human trafficking, such as Goals 1, 8, 9 and 11. Goal 8 is titled: “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” The eradication of human trafficking is specified in target #7, stating: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern-slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”[1] (Transforming Our World 24). The remaining three goals deal with poverty and viable habitation that would promote greater life-chances for all people. This would eliminate the level of desperation that often leads to accepting unverifiable employment opportunities or agreeing to sell one’s kidney to a broker in an alley.


The data surrounding human trafficking is estimated, as collecting hard numbers for an economy so deeply entrenched in the seedy underbelly of global corruption is impossible. Diego Hernández and Alexandra Rudolph discuss the lack of robust quantitative data:


This is mainly because acquiring the relevant data is difficult and its collection process is not homogeneous across countries. Uniform data collection is largely affected by government effectiveness in identifying relevant actors (both victims and traffickers), as they belong to the “hidden population”. (119)

Human trafficking is defined by the UN as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation” in the Protocol –an attempt at an international agreement for dealing with human trafficking (UN). The rough estimate of people existing as modern-day slaves is 20 million (Chirico 242). The numbers for how many people are captured daily are non-existent, nor is there a daily death tally, due to their status of invisibility.


There are essentially three classes of human trafficking: organs, sex, and forced labor. Each of these categories vary as to mode of collection and distribution of the product (people, or parts of people). The discourse among and between scholars, politicians, rights-activists, and law enforcers varies as well. This meta-narrative includes the following topics: what delineates a willing participant from a victim, verbiage within laws to protect victims while respecting the rights of willing participants (such as sex workers), and how to prosecute transnational criminals while respecting states’ borders. It is globally agreed upon that selling children to pedophiles is wrong, but there is controversy over what the cut-off age of childhood is. There is controversy about forced labor verses willing labor that results in inhumane conditions for non-life sustaining wages. These debates hinder the actual progression toward ending human trafficking by concentrating on legality and verbiage rather than action.


Scholars agree that the harvesting and selling of human organs on the black market often results in tragedy for the original owner of the organ. What is not agreed upon is this abhorrent means of turning a profit being classified under “human trafficking.” Dr. Sean Columb of the University of Liverpool wrote an in-depth analysis on this subject. He contends that “empirical evidence indicates that the organ trade is better characterized by organ sales and transplant tourism” (41). Columb explains that organ harvesting was included late in the development of the UN anti-human trafficking protocol, and due to the mechanics of the science involved in harvesting—the logistics of human trafficking do not align with organ traffic. He illustrates the public’s misconception of organ harvesting by writing:


…contrast to the dark figure of the mob boss or predatory broker the diverse actors involved in the organ trade coexist with the legal institutions that constitute the transplant industry. There would be no organ trade without the necessary medical infrastructure or trained medical staff to remove/harvest the organ(s). Neither would there be demand without the life enhancing promise that transplant medicine holds out to terminally ill consumer-patients. (39)

Because of this misalignment, the prosecutory process for traffickers is detrimental to organ harvestees, rendering them as potentially culpable. Being ill-informed in this scenario can lead to serious medical repercussions, or death may ensue. Dr. JoAnn Chirico, author of Global Problems, Global Solutions: Prospects for a Better World, mentions a case in which U.S. federal prosecutors were operating under this misconception, ending with a light sentence for the defendant with the judge declaring: “everyone got something out of the deal” (250). Nancy Scheper-Hughes, anthropologist and co-founder of the organization Organs Watch, discusses the details of what “everyone gets” in an article for New Internationalist. Essentially, the buyer pays an exorbitant amount of money—receiving excellent medical care and a new organ. That money then filters through many channels. The original owner of the organ receives minimal medical attention and a minuscule portion of the fee, if any. Scheper-Hughes recalls a nurse reporting that a donor would be “…released that same day, although he had not yet seen a doctor following his kidney removal”. Hence, serious physical complications are likely to develop for the victim of extraction, including death.


The World Health Organization approximates that 10% of all organ transplants are through transnational crime organizations. The black-market trade of illicit organ harvesting and transplanting is revealing an enormous problem within the global medical transplant system—or lack thereof. It also confirms that “white collars” do business with “black collars.” Scheper-Hughes contends that “… the organ trade involves those at the highest – or at least middle-class – levels of society: surgeons, doctors, laboratory technicians, travel agents, as well as criminals and outcasts from the lowest.” Columb declares “it is an illegal subsystem of the transplant industry” (41) as opposed to the core of the other classes of human trafficking. In one of Columb’s footnotes he states:


This is not an indictment of the transplant profession or a dismissal of the therapeutic benefits successful transplantation can provide. In referring to the ‘transplant industry’ the author is referring to the various parties, i.e. pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, private transplant clinics, organ sharing organizations, medical professionals etc. that have a commercial stake in transplantation. Accordingly, it is argued that the transplant industry has a vested economic interest in the international promotion of transplant medicine. (25)

In this statement, he is agreeing that capitalism is a global systemic issue. Columb also agrees with a host of scholars, including Scheper-Hughes, that within the meta-narrative amongst government actors “human agency, migration patterns, cultural difference and socio-economic conditions are all overlooked” (24). Adding more mire to the meta-narrative is the aspect of “trafficking living donors for organs is a traffic in ‘goods’ (life-saving ‘fresh kidneys’) not traffic in ‘bads’ (drugs or guns) there is reluctance, even on the part of the justice system, to recognize the ‘collateral damage’ it inflicts on vulnerable bodies – and the harm to society and the profession of medicine itself” ( Scheper-Hughes). Just as respected members of medical and social sciences have come to accept the biopsychosocial model when addressing an individual’s crisis, legislative bodies need to consider all aspects of existence when considering civilizations’ calamities.


Extreme poverty is the main push for people who find themselves accepting propositions that are too good to be true. It is also a catalyst for people to allow themselves to be pulled into potentially treacherous situations. Hope for a better life is something that most humans have in common, and when someone has absolutely nothing, hope can easily outweigh skepticism. Goal 1 of the The Agenda is to eradicate poverty. Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth) could make this happen if backed by Goals 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and 11 (sustainable cities and communities). Ultimately, the eradication of poverty would eliminate the push and pull factors as well as undermine the entire industry of human trafficking.


Forced labor can provide an unscrupulous entrepreneur the ability to maximize their profit margin. Through the ease of transnational communication (Chirico 236) that same entrepreneur can feign scruples by conscripting modern-day slaves on the other side of the world. Globalization not only allows for satellite offices to communicate with each other, but it allows for illicit actors to be involved with the company through the dark web (Chirico 265) and can even facilitate governmental cooperation.


Throughout her textbook, Chirico enlightens her readers about key factors that lay a baseline criterion for a state’s population to be in a state of potential life-chance emergency. “Economic and political crisis plunge people into the hands of human traffickers” (249). The disarray that post-colonialism caused in many states left positions of power open to the highest bidder, or the one who had access to military force. This scenario is a recipe for a nation to be run under an authoritarian regime, a government puppeteered by transnational crime, or the chaos of continuous revolutions. This recipe, regardless of its label, results in a population in despair—and desperate times call for desperate measures. These people, in their state of vulnerability, are easily coerced by recruiters to accept job opportunities far from home, often involving fees for the brokers services. “Human trafficking involves the existence of a so-called ‘network’, meaning at least three elements: recruiter, seller and exploiter” (Ştefănoaia 509). While there is a long chain of command, with many actors contributing, ultimately human trafficking is an elaborate system of supply and demand: basic economics. In order to turn a substantial profit, transnational corporations need a discounted labor force to make their product. Transnational crime organizations are able to fill this demand: “the demand for illegal and cheaper goods and services –is the engine that drives transnational crime organizations” (Chirico 266). If they can coerce people to pay them for the privilege of a life filled with degradation, starvation and powerlessness while receiving payment upon delivery, their capitalist venture has been a success. The minimal payment for said work-force fulfils the potential profit goal for the business owner, perpetuating their status as a capitalist mogul. “Revenues from this form of exploitation are calculated to be at least US $30 billion annually, making human trafficking the most profitable illicit activity after drug and weapon smuggling” (Hernández and Rudolph 119). This exorbitant amount of money does not include the profit margin increase that corporations experience due to essentially free labor. It does not include the money an exploiter saves over time by purchasing a slave for domestic use, nor does it include the money an exploiter saves over time by purchasing a sex slave instead of escort services from a consenting professional.


Just as colonialism reached the four corners of the world, the so too does aftermath of its corruption. The laundry-list of “hot spots” for human trafficking, and the intricate web of travel patterns is massive. The Greater Mekong Subregion of South-East Asia has a long history of political unrest and is one of these “hot-spots”. Nicola Pocock et. al authored the article Labour trafficking among men and boys in the greater mekong subregion: Exploitation, violence, occupational health risks and injuries.states:


It is estimated that in the Asia-Pacific region there are 11.7 million forced labourers, who comprise 56% of forced labourers globally. In the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), there is rapidly growing recognition of the sectors in which migrant men and boys are commonly exploited, in particular, the long-haul fishing industry. Recent media reports have graphically depicted deplorable abuses, imprisonment and other slave-like treatment of men and boys recruited onto fishing vessels. (1)

The media reports referred to are from The Guardian and, notably, a Pulitzer Prize winning article from The Associated Press. Pocock et al. declares:


These patterns of abuse, occupational hazards, and injuries among some of the most exploited workers perhaps hint at the larger economic and structural forces that fuel, sustain, or neglect worker health and safety. Currently, in Southeast Asia, as in most other parts of the world, consumer demands, supply chains, and global manufacturing and trade are linked to poor or absent labour protections and extreme exploitation of workers who left home with aspirations of earning a fair wage. (12)

The extensive data gathered by these authors collaborates with Chirico’s research as well. The Associated Press included a plea from said Hlaing Min, 30, a runaway slave from Benjina: “If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us…There must be a mountain of bones under the sea. ... The bones of the people could be an island, it’s that many.” Authorities, local and world-wide, are aware of the violations of human rights being carried out on the Seas of the South-Pacific—and putting forth minimal effort to curtail it.


Major food distributors, such as Wal-mart and Sysco, are just two of the major transnational corporations called out by the AP, and subsequently Chirico (247). Greenpeace assessed major seafood distributors in 2017 and titled their findings: Sea of Distress. This assessment was, in part, a response to the UN Agenda. “Greenpeace urges the U.S. foodservice industry to markedly increase transparency, hold suppliers accountable, and advocate for better regulation of fisheries and stronger labor standards to protect workers’ rights” (Sea of Distress 5). A company must score a 40 to be considered passible. Sysco received a 27 overall. They recommended “Sysco must address systemic problems in the foodservice industry (e.g., rebates, lack of traceability), advocate for reforms, and ensure that workers throughout its supply chains are treated fairly and are provided the right to free and fair choice of union representation without employer interference” (21). Perhaps if the major corporations would stop funding inhumane local businessmen, developing governments would be more aggressive in ending the corrupt business ventures. The fishing industry is just one example of how profit-gain supersedes the marginalized population access to basic human rights. This industry has the capability to cover its tracks due to the remote locations in which it operates. The other industries, such as garment, do not house their factories and workers on boats in the middle of the ocean and yet the business of forced labor thrives there as well.


There is a psychological phenomenon that dictates much of human behavior, sociologists refer to it as “othering”. Chirico sums up this phenomenon by saying: “People divide themselves into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and find ways to discredit and then discriminate against ‘them’” (168). Much of the world’s issues stem from “othering”, such as marginalization which leads to poverty which leads to desperate attempts to survive, which can result in human trafficking. “While individual discriminations are actions by individuals that treat people unfairly, institutionalized discrimination is built into social structures of everyday life and forms the basis of unequal life chances within a society even when prejudice seems to have diminished and laws are enacted to enforce equality” (180). It is through these discriminations that individuals or entire ethnic communities are disenfranchised to the point of desperation.


Institutional legislative mire hinders prosecutory progress and can be tied to capitalist ethics due to an entire social structure being modeled for industrialism, or in the case of developing states—striving toward it. Mihai Ştefănoaia of Petre Andrei University, Romania addresses this by stating: “The notion of human trafficking is defined in many legal norms which regulate its prevention and control, both at national and international level. Against all these, there are still many people who mistake this infringement for prostitution or even proxenetism… because of the judicial impediments, the current legislation has suffered modifications …” (506). He goes on to explain that women who are trafficked are perceived by society—and law enforcement—as willing participants and therefore vilified.


The breaking of the Soviet Union allowed for loose border crossing, and this fluidity created a fresh market for the trafficking of sex slaves, and legislation that incriminates prostitution smoothed the path for traffickers. Ştefănoaia’s research also lead him to this abhorrent truth: “the traffickers take children of both sexes, aged 3 to 12, from their parents and eventually sell them to some foreign pedophiles for sexual exploitation, pornographic articles, etc.… the pedophiles prove themselves to be rich persons with a great political influence” (509). He reveals how the influx of Romainia orphanages and subsequent trans-national adoptions were orchestrated by traffickers hired by wealthy pedophiles:


The traffickers willingly offered themselves to help, but in reality, by means of corruption and forgery, they illegally obtained the necessary approvals for the adoption of children in exchange of great sums of money. Eventually, they spread their activity, getting children from their biological parents who found themselves in great material need and were willing to commit such hateful transactions, which ended in the selling of their children. (509)

This article was written in 2015, the same year that The Agenda was created. Referring back to target#7, there is no mention of eradicating wealthy pedophiles. The trafficking of children for the purpose of sexual exploitation is not a topic that society wishes to discuss.


Society would also rather not enter in conversations regarding the trafficking of women for sex. Prostitution is viewed by polite society as a moral wrong, denigrating the prostitute and dismissing the actions of the customer. Purchasing a woman for one’s personal fulfillment of sexual deviance is a level of unorthodoxy that is taboo for mainstream society. Because it is not discussed, there is no push for legislative action from the population—only the gentle suggestion from the UN. The vague verbiage of laws, that vary from state to state, allows for loopholes for the traffickers and their clients to slip through. Dr. Yuliya V. Tverdova, author of Human Trafficking in Russia and Other Post-Soviet States acknowledges this issue in her country of origin: “Obtaining forged documents or crossing the Russian border takes no more than a bribe. Corruption makes the job of a trafficker much easier and less risky” (334). The ease of crossing the borders creates a fluid traffic flow of goods—including a discounted labor force, or luxury pleasure items such as women and children.


When a person’s moral compass is skewed by greed, the ability to “other” becomes heightened—to the point that they are able to remove another’s humanity from their mind’s eye. This is how colossal capitalist undertakings become successful realities through the sweat and tears of marginalized people. Transnational entrepreneurs and transnational crime organizations are equally guilty of theft, as they steal people’s life chances. Both entities follow the same ethics: everything has a price; the point of the game is winning; and every man for himself. Both use their money and power to manipulate local and national government into immobilizing dependency. The paralyzed or puppeteered governments, regardless of ratification, then overlook the gentle suggestions of The Agenda. The judicial systems rationalize the discovered victims experience with excusing rhetoric for the exploiter, or vilify the survivor employing rationalizations that the vague legislative verbiage allows for. Human trafficking is deeply entrenched in the global economy. Until the UN is given, or institutes, a way to hold the world –and themselves—accountable, capitalism will continue to dictate rule of law.


Work Cited


Chirico, JoAnn. Global Problems, Global Solutions: Prospects for a Better World. Sage. 2019

Columb, S. “Beneath the organ trade: A critical analysis of the organ trafficking discourse.” Crime, Law and Social Change, vol. 63, no. 1-2, March 2015, pp. 21-47. ProQuest Central, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10611-014-9548-0. Accessed 4 March 2019.


Hernández, Diego, and Alexandra Rudolph. “Modern Day Slavery: What Drives Human Trafficking in Europe?” European Journal of Political Economy, vol. 38, June 2015, pp. 118–139. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1016/j.ejpoleco.2015.02.002. Accessed 4 March 2019.


McDowell, Robin, et al. “AP Investigation: Slaves May Have Caught the Fish You Bought.” AP Explore: Seafood from Slaves, The Associated Press, 25 Mar. 2015, www.ap.org/explore/seafood-from-slaves/ap-investigation-slaves-may-have-caught-the-fish-you-bought.html. Accessed 6 April 2019.


Schleper-Hughes, Nancy. “Human Traffic: Exposing the Brutal Organ Trade.” New Internationalist, 5 July 2017, newint.org/features/2014/05/01/organ-trafficking-keynote. Accessed 6 April 2019.


Sea of Distress. Greenpeace, 2017. http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Sea-of-Distress-2017.pdf. Accessed 6 April 2019.


Ştefănoaia, M. “Modern-Day Slavery – Human Trafficking In The 21st Century.” International conference KNOWLEDGE-BASED ORGANIZATION, vol. 21, no. 2, November 2015, pp. 505-511. Sciendo, doi: https://doi.org/10.1515/kbo-2015-0086. Accessed 5 March 2019.


Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. United Nations, 2015.


Tverdova, Y.V. “Human Trafficking in Russia and Other Post-Soviet States.” Human Rights Review, vol.12, no. 3, September 2011, pp. 329-344. Springer Link, DOI 10.1007/s12142-010-0188-1. Accessed 4 March 2019.


Pocock, N. S., Kiss, L., Oram, S., & Zimmerman, C. “Labour trafficking among men and boys in the greater mekong subregion: Exploitation, violence, occupational health risks and injuries.” PLoS One, vol.11 no.12, December 2016, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0168500. Accessed 6 April 2019.


Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. United Nations, 2000.

[1] There is no mention of the issue of harvesting human organs for profit.

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