The 2000 UN Trafficking Protocol has obliged states to discourage demand that fosters exploitation that leads to trafficking. Fifteen years later, there is still no shared understanding of what demand means in the context of debates on trafficking in human beings (THB). The terms “trafficking” and “demand” display a lexical and referential ambiguity. This paper provides a history of the occurrence and usage of the concepts “trafficking” and “demand” in the context of debates on trafficking and explores the different meanings and understandings attached to these terms in past and present debates. The paper covers debates on trafficking in human beings since the 1860s and shows that terminological confusion was and still is a constant feature of these debates. The term abolition referred initially to the abolition of state regulation and not – as it is understood in the present-day debates – to the abolition of prostitution. The term trafficking is introduced in past and present debates with a confusing diversity of meanings, referring to the kidnapping of girls for the purpose of prostitution, fraudulent procurement of unsuspecting women for prostitution abroad, procurement of consenting women for prostitution, abetting of irregular border crossing or fraudulent abetting of irregular migration with the purpose of exploiting migrants after arrival and other issues. The term demand was introduced in past and present debates and has a diversity of meanings. It can refer to the biological drive of males, to a demand generated by a system of state regulation of prostitution, to a demand of brothel owners and pimps, or to a demand of male clients to purchase commercial sexual services. Thus, when the issue of demand is raised in debates of trafficking, the meaning attached to the term in a communication context is usually not clear; and the same speaker can often use the term demand rather metaphorically with changing meanings. The paper shows that terminological confusion is effect and cause of ongoing and unsolved controversies about the legal handling of prostitution. The paper shows how the issue of demand originally entered the UN Trafficking Protocol and how subsequent attempts failed to develop an authoritative definition. Although debates are characterised by terminological ambiguity, even the claim that a definition is a necessity is denied. Conceptual confusion hampers mutual understanding, prevents reasonable dispute and undermines the capacity to develop policy approaches which effectively provide protection from trafficking and exploitation. The paper closes with the observation that the controversy surrounding the meaning of demand in the context of anti-trafficking efforts has the effect of raising attention to deal more directly with the issue of exploitation.
The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science:
Special Issue: Human Trafficking: Recent Empirical Research Edited by: Ronald Weitzer and Sheldon X. Zhang
Table of Contents
New Directions in Research on Human Trafficking
The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, May 2014; vol. 653: pp. 6-24
- Sex, Money, and Brutality, by Sutapa Basu
- Trafficking for Organ Removal, by Anne T. Gallagher
- Life Beyond Trafficking, by Denise Brennan
- The Anti-Trafficking Rehabilitation Complex, by Elena Shih
- Human Wrongs vs. Human Rights, by Kari Lerum
- Macro Claims Versus Micro Evidence, by Ronald Weitzer
As of today, the pieces are freely accessible. This may not be the case in the future.
The ASEM Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and
Children (2001), stressed the need to encourage research on the demand for the most
common forms of exploitation of trafficked women and children, in particular for
commercial sex services, and recommended a multi-country study into the
demand side of trafficking as one of its follow-up actions.
In response to this recommendation, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Sida and Save the Children Sweden, commissioned the authors to coordinate a pilot
research study on the demand underlying two sectors where the labour/services of
trafficked persons are known to be subject to exploitation: prostitution and domestic
work. This report sets out some of the findings of the pilot study and ongoing
research concerning employer demand for domestic workers in private households,
and consumer demand for commercial sexual services in selected European and Asian
The research discussed in this report suggests that three related factors are key to
explaining the exploitative conditions experienced by many migrant domestic and
sex workers: (a) The unregulated nature of the labour market segments in which they
work; (b) the abundant supply of exploitable labour and (c) the power and malleability
of social norms regulating the behaviour of employers and clients. The continued
expansion of any unregulated market is likely to require and facilitate the exploitation
of vulnerable labour. Both paid sex and domestic work are peculiar market
segments in the sense that there is both political and social unease regarding those
who buy and sell in them as workers or consumers/employers. In both sex and
domestic work, the absence of effective regulation is one of the factors that help to
create an environment in which it is possible and profitable to use unfree labour.
Abstract: In this article, I interrogate how the UK government constructs and manipulates the idiom of the vulnerable female, trafficked migrant. Specifically, I analyse how the government aligns aspects of its anti-trafficking plans with plans to enhance extraterritorial immigration and border control. In order to do this, I focus on the discursive strategies that revolve around the UK’s anti-trafficking initiatives. I argue that discourses of human trafficking as prostitution, modern-day slavery and organised crime do important work. Primarily, they provide the government with a moral platform from which it can develop its regulatory capacity overseas. It is not my intention to suggest that the government’s anti-trafficking plans are superficial, and that extraterritoriality is the sole driver. On the contrary, I argue that complex interrelationships exist and while the government’s interest in protecting vulnerable women from sexual exploitation may seem to be paramount, I assert that in fact it intersects with other agendas at key points. I consider how government action to protect vulnerable women in trafficking ‘source’ and ‘transit’ countries such as development aid and repatriation schemes relate to broader legal and political concerns about protecting the UK from unwanted ‘Others’.
Full text available here.