Publication Title

Indiana International and Comparative Law Review


globalization, human rights, human trafficking, sex trafficking

Document Type



This Article argues for an economic analysis of human trafficking which primarily looks at globalization, trade liberalization, and labor migration as the core areas that need to be explored to advance the prevention of human trafficking.

Part I briefly examines the prevailing criminal law enforcement framework regarding human trafficking—both at the international level and in the United States—which stems out of viewing human trafficking as primarily a threat to global security and an underground industry of transnational criminal enterprises. It argues that while criminalization no doubt helped bring much needed attention (and resources) to human trafficking, the narrow criminal law focus fails to address the root causes of human trafficking and will not be able to prevent human trafficking.

Part II looks at the complementary human rights framework to combat human trafficking. It briefly explores the early human rights discourse regarding trafficking and its limitations, the concerns over the criminal law emphasis of the trafficking protocol and Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), and the efforts in the past decade to re-infuse the human rights approach and to strengthen the protection and services provided to trafficking victims. It argues that the human rights framework is likely to remain very limited in its ability to push governments and private sector stakeholders to action because it continues to evoke the early discourse focusing on the protection of women and children and fails to recognize the global economic impetus of human trafficking.

Part III examines closely the gendered nature of the current human trafficking discourse. It argues that the criminal enforcement efforts and the human rights approaches are unsuccessful in combating human trafficking in large part because these efforts remain focused on sex trafficking of women and children as the paradigm. That dominant narrative, however, serves as a double-edged sword. While the narrative emphasizes the plight of many women and children and the need to "rescue" them from the traffickers, it is less likely to garner the firm international and domestic commitment and resources needed for true preventative measures as long as it is viewed as a women's issue. The focus on the enslavement of women and children in the illegal sex industry by criminal organizations allows us to view human trafficking as an aberration rather than acknowledge the central role it plays in supporting and maintaining the global economy; and, it continues to marginalize both the impact on and the role of women, children, and migrant workers from developing nations in the global economy.

Part IV offers a close examination of the realities of labor and migration in the era of globalization. It specifically highlights the vulnerabilities to trafficking and exploitation brought upon by globalization, the feminization of labor migration, and the links between irregular migration and human trafficking. Consequently, in Part V, the article suggests the need to develop an economic analysis of human trafficking, one which primarily looks at globalization, trade liberalization, and labor migration as the core areas that need to be explored to prevent human trafficking.



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