What is human trafficking?

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is the recruitment of a person by deception for purposes of exploitation and financial gain. Although largely hidden, this hugely profitable global trade is thought to affect millions of men, women and children who can end up in slave labour. The majority of these are forced to work in the private economy, in agriculture, construction, domestic servitude and manufacturing industries as well as in prostitution. Some are killed to supply the lucrative trade in human organs. Large businesses can be exposed to human slavery through their supply chains. Trafficking is against Human Rights law which forbids torture and other forms of ill treatment as cruel, inhuman and degrading.

What is people smuggling?

People smuggling (also called human smuggling) is defined in US law as “the facilitation, attempted transportation or illegal entry of a person or persons across an international border, in violation of one or more countries’ laws, either clandestinely or through deception, such as the use of fraudulent documents”. It is based on a contractual arrangement between the smuggler and the persons being smuggled. These may be seeking a better life for themselves and their families or they may be trying to escape from persecution and conflict. Without documentation, using the services of a smuggler may be their only option. People smuggling raises significant political and legal challenges. It is facilitated by increasing inequalities between countries of the north and the south and by the barrier measures imposed by wealthy states in Europe and the US to keep migrants out.

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The differences between human trafficking and people smuggling are not always apparent. Typically, victims of trafficking are subject to deception. Traffickers transport individuals either against their will or under false pretences. In the case of smuggling, there is a prior agreement between smuggler and client. Trafficking victims are typically caught up in ongoing exploitation whereas smuggling arrangements usually end with payment and arrival at the destination. Trafficking profits largely come from the continuing exploitation of victims; in the case of smuggling, from transportation and facilitation of illegal entry. Smugglers can, however, defraud, abuse and torture their clients and smuggled persons are at risk of becoming victims of other crimes, including trafficking.


While it is difficult to estimate numbers exactly, it is clear that a significant number of victims of trafficking are children. These are trafficked for sexual exploitation, or subject to forced labour. Some are made to go into domestic servitude or forced into begging and petty crime.