Global Policy Innovations, a publication of the Carnegie Council that explores issues of fairer globalization, recently listed its most popular articles of 2009.
Leading the list was Sex Slavery by Siddharth Kara, author of Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.
The article is an interview with Devin Stewart of the Carnegie Council and includes video excerpts of Kara’s talk which applies an economic approach to understanding the persistence of the sex slavery industry as well as the human costs involved. Here is an excerpt from his talk:
So ask yourself: How many male consumers will trade in one-and-a-half or two hours of work for one hour of commercial sex? The answer is more than enough to create powerful forces of consumer demand, which in turn motivate slave-owner demand for more slaves. This aggregate demand among slave owners and consumers is the most deadly driver of the contemporary sex-trafficking industry. This is why I believe the most effective efforts to eradicate sex trafficking must aim to reduce aggregate demand through an attack on the industry’s immense profitability. An attack on profitability will reduce demand because slave owners will be forced to accept a lower profit and then, hence, less desirable business. Or they will pass on the increased cost to the consumer by elevating retail price, which will in turn reduce consumer demand. This reduction in consumer demand, or the price elasticity of demand, is explored in more detail in my book, but suffice it to say that commercial sex is a highly elastic product, which means that as price increases, consumer demand decreases considerably.
Recall our key thesis: the enormity of sex trafficking is driven by the ability to generate immense profits at almost no real risk. The most effective way to attack profitability is to elevate real risk. In the book, I call this an inversion of the risk/reward economics of the global sex-trafficking industry and I describe seven tactics that I believe will accomplish this goal. These tactics must be designed and deployed by a new brand of global abolitionist coalition that I outline, which must possess sufficient unity, expertise, resource, and transnational cooperation to wage a more effective assault on the global sex-trafficking industry.
To institute these tactics and abolish slavery, far more resources are required and far greater risk must be introduced into the system. To draw an analogy to the war on drugs, the U.S. government spends 300 times more money per year to fight drug trafficking than it does to fight human trafficking. The economic penalties for trafficking in cocaine, for example, are 20 times greater than the economic penalties against slavery.
The analogy ends there because a war on slavery is a war I believe we can win. If someone like me is able to track down slaves and confront their exploiters, then more aggressive interventions and elevated resources can surely bring an end to these grotesque crimes. Slavery is a stain on humankind that must be buried alongside our ugliest demons.
I hope you will join me.