Human trafficking: a transnationally organised activity?

A brief overview of increasing serious organised criminal involvement with modern slavery and human trafficking.

On our doorstep

An estimated 50 million people worldwide are the victims of modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) today, with global annual profits from MSHT estimated at USD 150 billion. This is far from being a culturally-distant problem with at least 136,000 of these individuals are estimated to be in the UK. These victims of MSHT are working in nail bars, construction sites, restaurants, cannabis farms and across county lines. This figure is on the increase, with the number of potential victims of modern slavery referred to the National Referral Mechanism in the UK up by ten per cent from Q2 to Q3 2022.

A serious organised criminal activity

Much of this UK-based MSHT activity is increasingly the result of transnationally organised criminality rather than lone agents. Violent and serious organised Albanian “poly criminals”, for example, lure children and young adults into the UK via fake social media accounts promising glamorous lifestyles, before forcing them into slavery in lucrative cocaine and cannabis markets or prostitution rackets.

On the continent, European syndicates and Italian mafia groups including the ‘Ndrangheta (which dominates over 80 per cent of the European cocaine trade and whose operatives have been detected at major ports on nearly every continent) and La Cosa Nostra - a global operation with established networks in Canada, South America, the US, Europe and Australia - have both profited from MSHT.

Criminal collaboration

The practice is extensive and the market competitive. There are thought to be around 3,600 organised crime groups in Europe alone, which are becoming increasingly international in order to transcend geographical boundaries and operate across multiple trafficking routes and jurisdictions simultaneously.

Indeed, the nature of these international trafficking operations (which require the cooperation of numerous agents and actors across multiple regions) has forced traditional organised criminal gangs like the Italian Mafia and Chinese triads to evolve, reshaping and loosening previously tight and hierarchical syndicate structures. Around 70 per cent of these groups are now multinational in membership. This enables them to penetrate new illicit markets, with transnational networks collaborating with each other to extend their reach even further. In 2013, for example, Italian mafia mobsters were found to have been working with Egyptian crime syndicates to imprison migrants and extort cash.

Free training for the financial sector

The Head of Modern Slavery Strategy at the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) has stated that “organised crime simply takes advantage of the factors that allow modern slavery to thrive in the global economy”. We all have a part to play in reducing the ease and profitability of the practice. As part of a government campaign to increase national awareness of MSHT within the financial sector, the UK’s Anti-Slavery Digital Learning, developed by the UK government’s National Modern Slavery Training Delivery Group, the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and Themis, launched at the end of March, is freely available to everyone, and is accredited by the London Institute of Banking and Finance.

More information on the Themis website here.

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