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ACRN Blog: Human Trafficking and Corruption

The role and implications of corruption in the conduct of human trafficking is slowly getting to the attention of scholars, practitioners and policy makers. While conferences and papers are beginning to shed light on the inter-linkages between the two issues, an immense gap in knowledge (as well as between knowledge and practice) still needs to be filled .

ACRN Blog: Human Trafficking and Corruption

Corruption Perceptions Index 2010 vs Trafficking in Person Report 2010

Please note that views expressed in this blog post are those of the author alone and do not represent the position of The Anti-Corruption Research Network, Transparency International, or any of its affiliates. 

Human Trafficking and the Anti-Corruption Agenda

By Maryse Tremblay, Contributing Editor, The Anti-Corruption Research Network

The link

It is a well-known fact that both corruption and human trafficking have severely damaging affects on societies and nations. Corruption is known for its corrosive effects on development, economy and well-being of populations, while human trafficking ravages through its extensive violations of human rights[i]. But, what happens when they cross each other’s paths? A cataclysmic expansion of organised criminal networks and an exponential increase in the number of victims due to their mutually reinforcing effects. In more concrete terms, corruption constitutes a significant leverage factor[ii] to the conduct and perpetuation of trafficking activities at every stage - by opening borders, providing resources (passports, visas, money, transport, housing, jobs, etc.)[iii], and offering protection, immunity and invisibility to the culprits[iv]

On the other hand, corruption also benefits from human trafficking which enables already existing corruption networks to enlarge and gain power, and creates new ones where none previously existed. Corruption also impedes the progress of anti-trafficking efforts[v] and contributes to the massive enrichment of involved traffickers, as well as public and private actors that form part of the chain.

The close relationship between corruption and human trafficking is well illustrated when we observe closely the growth of grand corruption in the past decades and the patterns in human trafficking[vi]: highly significant correlations emerge when comparing the degree of tolerance of a country towards trafficking (United States’ Trafficking in Person’s index), in or outside of its territory, and its level of perceived corruption (Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index)[vii]. It is moreover interesting to note that numerous countries listed on the CPI as having the highest perceived levels of public sector corruption (Indonesia, Thailand, Nigeria, Philippines, Pakistan, etc.) are also some of the biggest suppliers of victims[viii].

How it works in application 

To better understand how corruption imbeds itself in the trafficking of persons, let’s examine the three main phases of the trafficking process: the recruitment, the transport and the exploitation[ix].

The Recruitment

Recruitment is the first phase of trafficking and can be understood as the process during which the person becomes a victim. Traffickers utilise many methods to recruit victims. The most common methods are the recruitment of victims via informal networks of families and/or friends; advertisements offering work or study abroad; agencies offering work, study, marriage or travel abroad; false marriages; the purchase of children from their guardians; and through individual recruiters looking for interested males and females in bars, cafes, clubs, discos and other public places[x]. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the majority of recruitments occurs through personal contacts of the victim, 46% of traffic victims knew their recruiter and 54% where recruited by strangers[xi]. Most of these recruitment methods involve corruption, for example, traffickers paying bribes to public agents or organisations to purchase permits for fake recruitment agencies, marriage licenses, etc.. 

The Transport

In the case of transnational trafficking in persons, the recruiters often collaborate with corrupt officials in order to facilitate the transportation process[xii]. In Thailand for example, with numerous checkpoints throughout the border provinces, it would be quite a challenge if not impossible to transport trafficked workers to the workplace successfully without help from corrupt officials[xiii]. The forms of collaboration can be paying bribes, but in some cases officials have been known to partner with or lead these operations[xiv]. Payment of bribes in money, goods, or in-kind can, for example, lead an official to provide or turn a blind eye to improper documentation, confine or withhold identity papers and other documents[xv], provide protection against scrupulous checking of vehicles, cargo holders, or vessels holding trafficked migrant workers[xvi], or act coercively against the victims.

The Exploitation

The third and final phase of trafficking occurs when the victim reaches the destination. According to the United Nations Trafficking Protocol[xvii], exploitation can include sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs[xviii]. The linkages to corruption are pervasive - traffickers usually use networks of trusted hotel owners or people renting private lodgings in order to sexually exploit their prey. Very often, these hotel owners and private renters receive a percentage of the money generated by the exploitation. When it comes to forced labor and corruption, employers of the trafficked workers bribe police or other officials to turn a blind eye to the exploitation. In some cases, victims themselves need to pay bribes to local officers to assure their safety and to prevent those officers from declaring them as illegal workers to the authorities which would cause their deportation. In cases where a raid or arrest happens, corruption may be used to pay off police, prosecutors, or magistrates to have the charges dropped. Typically, however, trafficked workers with no funds to bribe are abused and deported[xix].

As we have seen through the previous phases, many actors other than the victim and traffickers can be involved in the process of trafficking. Studies on human trafficking have gathered evidence of corruption occurring in a broad range of areas and sectors to facilitate the victimisation, including the media, hospitals, local and municipal authorities, law enforcement authorities (police, border patrols, prosecutors and judges), international peacekeepers and migration services[xx]. The direct or indirect involvement of these actors can as well vary in scale and gravity. In some cases, their involvement may be sporadic or single instances of corruption. In others, police and law enforcement officers may engage in rent-seeking or extortion on a systemic basis[xxi], accepting bribes and gifts from a trafficker in exchange for permitting the operations to continue. In some extreme cases, such as certain areas in Central Asia, the police forces as well as high-level government officials can themselves be traffickers. 

What can be done

There is currently an urgent need to bridge the gap between corruption and human trafficking. This need becomes more apparent when we see that public officials and private actors are scarcely prosecuted or charged for their complicity in cases of human trafficking. In order to end impunity there needs to be a consensus within the international community and among governments and non-governmental organizations to incorporate human trafficking into the anti-corruption agenda and vice versa.

This harmonisation could provide a broader framework for the prosecution of culprits and accomplices i.e. both traffickers and involved agents, such as public officials, could be prosecuted under both the anti-corruption and anti-trafficking legal frameworks. It would therefore facilitate legal procedures and enable a more efficient and inclusive fight against corruption and human trafficking. Equally important, efforts against trafficking must be considered within larger anti-poverty efforts in order to ensure their sustainability.

Integrating human trafficking into the anti-corruption agenda would also require educating, raising awareness among, and seeking leadership and political support from both the anti-corruption and anti-human trafficking communities. This would include policy makers, practitioners and civil society actors in both communities.

Some of the most salient recommendations to tackle human trafficking via the anti-corruption agenda and vice-versa would include[xxii] (1) the development and implementation of codes of conduct and trainings for law enforcement agencies, criminal actors and international civil servants (some existing codes of conduct may have to be amended) that include both anti-corruption and anti-trafficking items[xxiii], (2) the establishment of control mechanisms for specific areas, e.g. the referral of trafficking victims, (3) the implementation of incentives and protection measures, e.g. for whistleblowers, and (4) the development of national and international strategies that jointly address human trafficking and corruption[xxiv].  

[i] For background information, please see L. I. Shelley, Human trafficking : a global perspective (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010) ; or online available at: <> and <>

[ii] M. Tremblay, Corruption and Human Trafficking: unraveling the undistinguishable for a better fight (Bangkok: 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference Workshop Report, 2010) [online] Available at:

[iii] Trafficking in Persons Report, 10th Edition (Washington, D.C.: United States of America, Department of State, 2010) [online] Available at:

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid, p.102

[vi] L.I. Shelley, Supra, p.48

[vii] C. B.Lyday, “The Shadow Market in Human Beings : An Anti-Corruption Perspective”,  10th International Anti-Corruption Conference Workshop Report, 2011 [online] Available at: <>

[viii] Ibid

[ix] For more information, please see C. Friesendorf (ed.), Strategies Against Human Trafficking : The Role of the Security Sector (Vienna & Geneva: National Defence Academy & Austrian Ministry of Defence and Sports, 2009) [online] Available at: <>

[x] Human trafficking: An overview (Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008) [online] Available at:<>

[xi] Counter-Trafficking Database, International Organization for Migration, 78 Countries, 1999-2006 [online] Available at:<>

[xii] Labour Rights Promotion Network, “From facilitation to trafficking: Brokers and agents in Samut Sakhon, Thailand”, SIREN Field Report. United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP): Phase III, 2007 [online] Available at:<>

[xiii] M. Sakditakorn & S.Vichitrananda, “Corruption, Human Trafficking and Human Rights: The Case of Forced Labor and Sexual Exploitation in Thailand”, NACC  Journal,  July 2010 [online] Available at: <>

[xiv] Ibid

[xv] Ibid

[xvi] K. Richards, “The trafficking of migrant workers: what are the links between labour trafficking and corruption?”, International Migration, 42(5): 147-168, 2004.

[xvii] United Nations. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, Art 3 (a). Palermo, Italy 2003 [online] Available at:

[xviii] Ibid

[xix] K. Richards, “The trafficking of migrant workers: what are the links between labour trafficking and corruption?”, International Migration, 42(5): 147-168, 2004

[xx] R. V. Cavassa, Corruption and Human Trafficking: unraveling the undistinguishable for a better fight (Bangkok: 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference Workshop Report, 2010) Powerpoint presentation.

[xxi] Trafficking in Persons Report, Supra

[xxii] The Role of Corruption in Trafficking in Persons, (Vienna: UNODC, 2011) [online] Available at:

[xxiii] Ibid

[xxiv] For more recommendations, see: M. Tremblay & C. Karbassi, Corruption and Human Trafficking (Berlin: Transparency International, 2011) [online] Available at: <


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26 Sep 2011

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