Yesterday marked UN World Day against Trafficking in Persons, an annual event during which the organisation encourages world governments, charities and private sector companies to do more to eradicate modern slavery from the face of the planet. As has been the case in the past, this year’s event involved the UN itself and numerous stakeholder organisations around the world paying lip service to their intention to crack down on the trafficking networks that profit from this evil and growing trade, without committing to any firm course of action that might bring about an end to the suffering of the millions of people affected by modern slavery in every country across the globe. The UN this year demanded that “both victims and potential victims’ rights must be upheld – especially women and children – and appealed for all states to prevent and combat the global scourge”, without proposing any tangible ways in which countries can fulfil their obligation to prevent trafficking.
While any attempt to draw attention to modern slavery is welcome, the UN’s World Day against Trafficking in Persons perfectly exemplifies the international community’s abject failure to get any sort of a grip on the problem. As is typically the case with many countries’ approach to forced labour and similar crimes, the UN’s day of action was defined by the expression of fine intentions, with a total lack of any serious plans on how to tackle the issue. Earlier this month, the biennial Global Slavery Index revealed that more than 40 million people across the globe were victims of modern slavery in 2016, and that human trafficking for the purposes of forced labour and similar crimes is far more acute in developed nations than had previously been believed. The survey showed that one in every 800 people living in the US is a victim of forced labour, meaning that America is home to more than 400,000 people living as modern slaves. In Britain, the data revealed some 136,000 people are living in modern slavery, which is the equivalent of 2.1 victims per every 1,000 people in the country. Despite this, Western governments appear either unwilling or unable to beat the traffickers.
The UK was one of the first countries to take human trafficking seriously, introducing the Modern Slavery Act back in 2015. Over the intervening years, the British government’s flagship policy has failed to deliver on its initial promise, with a 2017 report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services revealing that police forces around the country were failing to recognise cases of human trafficking and protect victims. Seemingly accepting that the Modern Slavery Act has not lived up to expectations, the UK government yesterday announced an independent review of the Bill, noting that “the criminal networks that recruit and control victims are constantly adapting and finding new ways to exploit victims”. While Donald Trump declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the US, America has so far failed to introduce similar legalisation, despite the President’s daughter Ivanka taking a keen personal interest in the issue.
In the developing world, where the problem is considerably more acute, the picture looks even bleaker. The United Nations said this week that trafficking gangs are continuing to flourish across Africa, largely thanks to the ongoing migrant crisis. The organisation said the international community is failing to dismantle these networks due to a lack of coordination. Elsewhere, this year’s Global Slavery Index found that North Korea and Eritrea had the highest per capita rates of enslaved people on the planet in 2016, and that other countries where modern slavery was particularly widespread included the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Pakistan. Despite this, UN World Day against Trafficking in Persons largely consisted of stakeholders advising members of the public to be watchful for signs that somebody they come into contact with might be a victim of modern slavery, or that products they buy could come from firms that have issues with forced labour in their supply chains.
Of course members of the public have a role to play when it comes to identifying incidents of modern slavery on the ground, but when it comes to the bigger picture, the global trafficking trade is driven by issues that can only be tackled by world governments and international institutions on a geopolitical level. Instead of arranging ineffective days of action that do little to tackle the problem, the UN and its partners should look to develop a coordinated global response to modern slavery, focusing their attention on the main drivers of the trade, such as illegal immigration, people smuggling, the migrant crisis and the failure of private sector firms to root out labour exploitation from their supply chains. While Britain’s Modern Slavery Act is not without its flaws, the establishment of a global coalition against human trafficking based on its guiding principles would stand a far better chance of moving the fight against forced labour and similar crimes forward than a day of action that amounts to little more than an exercise in virtue signalling.
Police across Europe arrest scores during child trafficking crackdown
Law enforcement agencies across Europe took part in a coordinated crackdown on child trafficking at the beginning of last month, Europol revealed earlier today.
During the first week of July, police across 22 member states took part in an EMPACT trafficking in human beings campaign that resulted in the identification of 51 children and 72 adults who police suspected could be potential victims of exploitation.
The children, the youngest of which was aged just two, were exploited for the purposes of labour, forced begging, and sexual services, Europe’s law enforcement agency said.
The operation also resulted in the discovery of criminals with links to migrant smuggling and the fake document trade, triggering the investigation of 45 new cases.
In total, the crackdown resulted in the detention of 24 suspects who were questioned over their alleged links to the human trafficking trade, and a further 61 suspects who were detained in relation to other crimes.
“The actions focused mainly on hotspots for sexual exploitation, forced begging and forced criminality (e.g. pickpocketing and minor thefts), and intensified activities at border crossing points,” Europol said in a statement.
“As the identification of victims of trafficking in human beings remains very challenging, particularly the identification of child victims, many participating countries also undertook prevention and awareness raising activities.”
News of the success of the operation comes after UK officials last week warned that people smugglers and human traffickers are using Facebook to attract potential victims.
Speaking with the Evening Standard last week, National Crime Agency (NCA) Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said migrant deaths in the Mediterranean remain high and that victims were too often being recruited via the social network.
The NCA said it had found more than 800 Facebook pages that were linked to organised crime gangs involved in the trafficking of migrants into and across Europe.
In comments made separately to the Reuters news agency, Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce boss Chris Hogben warned that Facebook is failing to prevent people smugglers from luring victims through its platforms.
“More often than not, these adverts are quite reassuring, they create an illusion this is very much normal travel, it’s safe, it’s easy,” he said.
“Tragically, when you look at quite a few of these adverts they might be advertising big luxury yachts or ships. When the migrants turn up to get transported they find they are being packed onto a rib or a small boat without safety jackets.”
Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises to fight rampant gasoline smuggling
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has said the country’s subsidised fuel prices should rise to international levels in a bid to prevent smugglers cheating the country out of billions of dollars.
Speaking during a televised address yesterday, Maduro said petrol must now be sold at an internationally-competitive price to stop smuggling gangs trafficking fuel out of the country to Colombia and the Caribbean.
As is the case with many oil-producing nations, Venezuela has offered its citizens heavily-subsidised petrol for decades, but its fuel prices have remained nearly flat for years despite hyperinflation.
This means the country’s drivers can now fill up the tank of a small SUV nearly 9,000 times over for the price of a cup of coffee.
Put another way, filling up a tank of fuel in Venezuela currently costs the equivalent of less than one US cent.
This offers smugglers massive profits in exchange for smuggling fuel out of Venezuela to be sold at market value in neighbouring countries, so much so that the trade in illicit fuel has become more lucrative than drug smuggling.
It is estimated the country’s crumbling economy loses as much as $18 billion a year to fuel smuggling, forcing the government to act as the nation’s production of oil, which is its largest export, continues to fall.
While Maduro has pledged that the Venezuelan government will continue to offer “direct subsidies” to citizens holding a state-issued identification card, many Venezuelans have refused to get the ID cards, alleging they are used by officials to keep tabs on them.
Maduro said: “Anyone who does not respond to the call for this census, who does not wish to participate in the direct subsidy, will have to pay for gasoline at the international rate.”
Responding to Maduro’s announcement on Twitter, Chief Economic Adviser to Allianz Mohamed El-Erian commented: “It will be interesting to see how the population in #Venezuela responds to today’s announcement by President #Maduro eliminating subsidies on #fuel. If implemented fully, this would entail a significant rise in prices … from the lowest in the world to international levels.”
Other observers suggested hiking fuel prices in Venezuela might risk pushing even higher the country’s sky-high inflation rate, which the International Monetary Fund predicts could reach one million percent.
“The collapse in economic activity, hyperinflation, and increasing deterioration in the provision of public goods as well as shortages of food at subsidized prices have resulted in large migration flows, which will lead to intensifying spill over effects on neighbouring countries,” Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, wrote in a blog post.
Police in New York break up $70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy
Five New York residents have been arrested after police disrupted a plot to traffic counterfeit Nike Air Jordan trainers estimated to be worth more than $70 million.
Officers from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit detained Miyuki Suen, Jian Min Huang, Songhua Qu, Kin Lui Chen and Fangrang Qu, before charging them with illegally importing the thousands of pairs of fake sports shoes from China into the US.
After the shoes arrived in the country, the suspects and their co-conspirators are said to have stuck bogus Nike-trademarked logos on them, before offering them for sale across the US.
Prior to charging the suspects, investigators examined nearly 27,000 pairs of trainers over an eight-month period.
Each member of the gang could face up to 20 years in jail if they are found guilty of counterfeit trafficking conspiracy and trafficking in counterfeit goods.
If the trainers had been genuine, they would have been worth $73 million if sold at retail value, according to the NYPD and HSI.
The bogus trainers are said to have looked nearly identical to the genuine article, but did not feature the genuine Nike Air Jordan trademarked logos.
In a statement, Angel Melendez, Special Agent in Charge for HSI New York. “These five individuals are alleged to have been a part of a large scale counterfeiting scheme, importing nearly a half million pairs of knock-off Nike sneakers.
“These counterfeiting networks can be both detrimental to our economy and threaten our national security, and HSI will continue to take every measure in investigating and dismantling these organisations.”
Manhattan Attorney Geoffrey Berman added: “The five defendants in this case allegedly counterfeited over $70 million in fake Nike shoes and sold them to buyers on the U.S. market.
“I commend our law enforcement partners for helping to bring today’s charges, which send a clear message to would-be counterfeiters: ‘Just don’t do it.’”
Nike Air Jordan trainers, which are named after retired basketball player Michael Jordan and typically sell for close to $200, have been widely counterfeited since they were introduced in the 1980s.
Back in January, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discovered hundreds of pairs of Nike Air Jordan trainers in a shipment passing through Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
The 400 pairs of various versions of the trainers arrived at the airport on 15 December from China, and would have been worth nearly $55,000 if sold at the manufacturer’s recommended retail price.
- Britain’s Monkey Dust ‘epidemic’ will likely continue until the UK changes its regressive drugs laws
- Police across Europe arrest scores during child trafficking crackdown
- Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises to fight rampant gasoline smuggling
- Police in New York break up $70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy
- Spanish authorities arrest people smugglers who trafficked migrants into France
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