STOP THE TRAFFIK works to help communities become resilient to human trafficking. We provide education about what human trafficking looks like, how it occurs and what to do in the event that someone is being trafficked. The more knowledge people in a community have about human trafficking, the more they can do to protect themselves and others around them.
But a community isn’t just a group of people living close to one another. Communities and the protection they provide can extend across the world through email, telephone and websites like Facebook.
Researchers at the University of Southern California have written a new report on the role these extended communities can play in cases of labour trafficking. One key finding the researchers made is that these extended communities are an important source of protection against human trafficking. But they also found that creating these extended communities isn’t as simple as giving everyone phones and internet access – we’ll see that making extended resilient communities is a bit more complicated.
How labour trafficking happens
Many cases of people being trafficked into forced labour happen when people migrate to other countries for work. In an unfamiliar country, and often with little information about their rights and no support network, people are at the mercy of human traffickers posing as employers or recruitment agencies.
In countries like the Philippines people often place themselves in the hands of recruitment agencies, who arrange everything including jobs in the new country, as well as travel and visas.
Most of these agencies are legitimate, but some have the aim of trapping people and selling them into exploitation once they arrive in the new country. The researchers from USC interviewed one woman from the Philippines who was a survivor of domestic servitude in Qatar. She was trafficked by people posing as a recruitment agency who distributed leaflets in her village advertising jobs.
How being connected can prevent trafficking
There are different ways that access to mobile phones and internet can help protect people from being trafficked into forced labour. With access to the internet, people would have the opportunity to research recruitment agencies to find out if they are legitimate. The woman trafficked to Qatar didn’t have the opportunity to research her recruitment agency – the only information she had was the leaflet the company distributed in her village.
A key way that being connected through phone and internet can protect people from trafficking is that it gives them access to these extended communities that act as support networks. A person can keep in touch and report their situation for friends and family, who can themselves look out for the indicators that the person is vulnerable to being exploited.
The USC researchers found that being isolated from support networks is a key sign of labour trafficking. They interviewed three women from the Philippines who migrated to other countries into jobs as domestic workers. The women said that it was standard practice for their phones to be confiscated by their recruitment agencies when they arrived at their destinations. One woman was unable to contact her relatives back home for a year.
Since the extended communities provided by internet and telephones offer such a key protection against human trafficking, it might seem that trafficking can be prevented by making sure people have access to these technologies. But it isn’t that simple. The USC report finds that as well as access to technologies, people also need education about human trafficking. Without knowledge about the nature of trafficking, people can have access to these networks but still find themselves at risk.
Why education about trafficking is essential
Having access to phones and internet is not by itself enough to help protect people from trafficking – people also need the skills and knowledge to find information and decide which information is trustworthy. Organisations like the Migrant Workers Overseas Welfare Adminstration and the Blas F. Ople centre have collaborated with Microsoft and Google to provide education programs for migrant workers on using the internet to verify information and seek assistance.
But as well as knowing how to use technology, people also need to know about the nature of human trafficking if they are going to use this technology to protect themselves and others in their community. Without knowledge about the signs of trafficking and what to do if somebody is being trafficked, friends and family will be unable to let the right people know when they’re being trafficked.
USC researchers interviewed a woman from the Phillipines who applied to a job as a domestic worker in the Middle East. But the recruitment agency suddenly changed plans – the woman was put on a boat going to Malaysia, and on arrival was made to stay in a hotel room for a number of days. The woman was worried about her situation and texted a friend for reassurance. The friend repeatedly told the woman that everything was normal despite the woman feeling more and more uneasy about her situation.
As the woman was being transported to another destination in a van, it was stopped by Malaysian police and everyone in the van – including the woman – was put in a Malaysian jail. She managed to hide her phone when entering the jail and got a message out to Philippine officials who oversaw her release. She is now at a shelter in the Philippines.
In this case, the woman had access to a mobile phone and contacted her friend when she became suspicious about her situation. But the friend was unable to recognise the signs that the woman was being trafficked and so was unable to help her. More knowledge about the signs of trafficking could have helped.
So, being connected through phones and the internet can be a huge factor in protecting people from human trafficking. If they can be connected to their friends and family even when they are in another country it is more likely that they will be able to avoid human traffickers or get the right help if they find that they are being targeted by traffickers. But education and awareness about human trafficking still remains key in protecting people from traffickers.