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News | Tackling human trafficking at the roots

Tackling human trafficking at the roots: preventing a life of crime and a life of exploitation

When discussing the root causes that are linked to the business of human trafficking, the TRACE research conducted at the early stages took into account external factors - social, economic and political  - that are all part of the environment surrounding the individuals concerned. The findings conclude that factors such as political instability, armed conflict, border management, poverty and social exclusion, corruption, and the presence of co-ethnic communities in the destination country influence the business of human trafficking. A key aspect of the analysis has been the emphasis on the interconnectedness of the root causes of human trafficking and the conditions that increase the vulnerability of persons to human trafficking. The overall aim of this aspect of the research has been to determine what future socio-economic, political and criminal industry trends might impact human trafficking in Europe.

At the same time, the TRACE research has also considered the role of human traffickers, and in particular attempted to fill a gap in knowledge relating to the specific characteristics and social background of human traffickers and their interactions with their family, their immediate social circles, other traffickers and larger criminal networks. The key findings suggest, in the main, an economic imperative to engage with human trafficking, an unstable upbringing and an extremely influential familial and social situation that drives them towards criminality.

What can be deduced from the TRACE research and is of significance when tackling human trafficking through preventative means – a clear goal of EU anti-trafficking policy - is an emerging understanding of the need to tackle the influence of internal and external factors in order ‘[t]o fully understand the mechanisms of human trafficking.’ The TRACE findings contribute to this understanding, as advocated by the OSCE, ‘[i]t is necessary to focus not only on the environment or situations which make potential victims more vulnerable to trafficking, but also on those factors that facilitate the traffickers and those who participate or aid in the crime of trafficking.’

The TRACE research outlined above shows that both perpetrators and victims of human trafficking have very similar backgrounds and characteristics. Therefore, as stated by Prof. Iva Pushkarova, a keynote speaker at the TRACE workshop held in Sofia, Bulgaria in November 2015: ‘to succeed in prevention, it would be necessary to intervene on two levels: on one hand, to increase their internal capacity for change, and, on the other, to change the external environmental factors and offer alternatives. Intervention focusing only on the external factors cannot succeed, because the victims of trafficking are unable to use the opportunities in the environment without having first effected an internal change and growth.’


Amy Weatherburn is a PhD Researcher for the Fundamental Rights and Constitutionalism Research Group, Vrije Universiteit Brussels. She has provided research assistance on the TRACE project, of which VUB is an affiliated partner.

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