The Business Side of Human Trafficking

For the next 4 weeks, we'll be working our way through various resources on the issue of trafficking and exploitation. We're doing this in conjunction with our aim to support the work of Refuge for Women, a national post-human trafficking and sexual exploitation agency around the country. Pick up a bag of our REFUGE coffee and engage in the conversation with us as we look at what can be done to minimize trafficking, provide relief for those that are or who have undergone it, and bring awareness to what is already being done about it. 
Understanding the social system of domestic minor sex trafficking and all of the players involved is essential to developing responses that effectively address sex trafficking. Just as the manner in which one understands the problem shapes the response, the level of response determines the effectiveness achieved. Trafficking of youth into the sex trade often involves a network of behind the scenes, complicit players--legitimate businesses or those in authority willing to look the other way, vulnerable youth, and sex buyers willing to purchase youth. It is a business. The business involves supply (i.e. victims), demand (i.e. sex buyers), and distribution or distributors (i.e. sex traffickers). - Perdue, et al, "Social Justice and Spiritual Healing: Using Micro and Macro Social Work Practice to Reduce Domestic Minor Sex TraffickingChristianity and Social Work, 5th Edition (2016: NACSW)

It is a business.

There are a lot of businesses in the world. Most, of course, have some sort of public face. For example, Drinklings is an LLC registered in the state of Kentucky. We have a website, an Instagram Account, a Facebook page, and so forth. We deliver services (coffee, tea, mugs, shirts). We market our products and our mission. Coffee is high in demand (also high in supply, unfortunately for us) but we try and meet the demand in whatever ways we can as much as we can.

All businesses, however, are not like ours. There are some businesses that do everything they can to stay out of the public face because, frankly, their sustainability depends on it. The business of trafficking is like that.

But that does not mean that it is not affected by the public and broader society. Indeed, historically trafficking and exploitation has been a very public option, from the African slave trade in the West to practices of child labor in the East. Like all businesses, the human trafficking industry still exists according to demand and those demands, likewise, are developed in some part with the larger public arena.

What I am asking is this: when we think of trafficking as an economic business, one with "supply", "providers" and "distributors" the KEY question is why the demand and how can we reduce it?!

Simple economics and human greed show us two things: first, that suppliers will always aim to keep and/or create the demand. They will do everything in their power to keep buyers coming back. As a business owner, yes, I want to try and convince you to buy more (and then drink more) coffee! Coke wants you to buy more Coke. Apple wants you to buy more Apple. Johnny Depp wants you to keep buying Pirates of the Caribbean tickets.

The other fact of economics is that if the demand isn't there, the supply goes down or completely vanishes. Demand isn't created in a vacuum. It grows, planted and fertilized by something other than itself. When we talk of sex trafficking, should we ask, as Fight the New Drug has asked, whether porn has contributed significantly to the demand? When we talk of labor trafficking, should we be asking questions about economic sustainability, minimum wage, global poverty, and low prices from big corporations?! (For the record, Drinklings is committed to Fair and Direct Trade coffee beans--not "blood beans.") 

So the reality of it is this: the fact of tens of millions of trafficked victims means that there is a demand and that demand, whether in labor or in sex, is somehow imbibed from broader cultural practices and values.

This leaves us with several questions to consider:


What in our society and world keeps the demand high? That is, what creates the demand for some people to want to "buy" and how can we diminish this?

How is our culture's fascination with sex and pornography contributing to the demand globally? Can we truly separate out human trafficking from the porn industry? 

How many of us are truly prepared to let go of the 'demand' if we realized doing so would be an economic inconvenience to us? Are we ourselves individuals who "look the other way" when we simply don't want to know?




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