Human trafficking and other forms of slavery are thriving in the shadows. At the end of 2008 there were as many as 28.4 million slaves who were sold by their parents, abductedor coerced into a life of forced labor, bonded labor or sexual servitude. And yet, mainlydue to its underground criminal nature, this violent exploitation remains ill-understood bygovernments and is rarely adequately tackled. “What we know is the tip of the iceberg, but [we] have no assessment of the iceberg itself,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executivedirector of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in a recent interview with theBBC.
In 2008, the average net profit margin of sex trafficking was 70%, while Google, GeneralElectric and Exxon Mobil posted margins of 29%, 12.8% and 10.8%, respectively. Evenwithin the slave industry, which according to Mr. Kara brought in $152.3 billion inrevenues in 2007, trafficked sex workers are by far the most lucrative slaves—althoughonly 4.2% of the world’s slaves are trafficked sex slaves, they generate 39.1% of slaveholders’ profits. What makes this illicit business so immensely profitable, accordingto Mr. Kara, are the relatively low costs and risks involved with running it? The fixedcost of purchasing a slave, for instance, is on average a mere $1,800, with some parentsselling their children to traders for as little as a few hundred dollars.Exacerbating the problem is the fallout from unregulated economic globalization, which,has deepened rural poverty, disenfranchised the poor, and produced a vast and vulnerable population that can be procured and transported more cheaply and easily than ever before. The rapid opening up of market economies following the fall of the Berlin Wall precipitated the macro movement of slaves from South Asia, East Asia and EasternEurope to wealthier countries in the Middle East, Western Europe and North America, aswell as to Asian city centers. The decreasing price of sex, which the use of slaves hasallowed, has opened up the prostitution market to low-wage laborers who would nototherwise have the means to purchase sex. This analysis ultimately indicates that the bestway to combat sex trafficking would be to erode its profitability by increasing the cost of obtaining and exploiting sex slaves. To begin with, laws against human trafficking should be at least as aggressive as those for drug smuggling. In India, for instance, the financial