Trafficking in persons is estimated to be one of the top-grossing criminal industries in the world (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking), with traffickers profiting an estimated $32 billion every year.
So what can be done to end this scourge? A recent report from the Heritage Foundation recommends an oft-overlooked solution: adopting policies that promote economic freedom.
A close examination of human trafficking and the principles of economic freedom—especially strong rule of law—reveals the robust connections between these two desirable societal outcomes, notes the report. Nations with the highest economic freedom also tend to rank high in meeting the standards for combatting trafficking.
Another factor where economic freedom lowers trafficking is in creating sustainable alternative employment opportunities:
Poverty and lack of economic opportunities are two of the most important factors that heighten vulnerability to trafficking.
Private-sector trade and investment is by far the best combination to spur sustainable economic growth in developing countries, and economic growth is the bedrock of economic freedom. Only a financially healthy private sector, operating in a competitive formal economy with secure property rights and transparent rule of law, can create the businesses and long-term jobs that are essential to long-term economic growth and development.
Regrettably, in too many of the developing countries that are the sources of trafficked persons, the international development assistance “industry” (which has been called “Poverty, Inc.”) has tended to reinforce powerful and corrupt local elites who remain in control—sometimes for decades—in part by encouraging a dependency mindset among their constituents. This sense of dependency and helplessness matches closely with the outlook that is common among trafficking victims.
Therefore, another important step to take in the fight against trafficking is to reduce ineffective foreign aid programs and promote trade and investment by private businesses.