Human trafficking and modern slavery

The use of forced labour is relatively widespread in the Brazilian charcoal industry

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Notice about research

Giving What We Can no longer conducts our own research into charities and cause areas. Instead, we're relying on the work of organisations including J-PAL, GiveWell, and the Open Philanthropy Project, which are in a better position to provide more comprehensive research coverage.

These research reports represent our thinking as of late 2016, and much of the information will be relevant for making decisions about how to donate as effectively as possible. However we are not updating them and the information may therefore be out of date.

Impact Summary

  • Importance: 3/5
  • Tractability: 3/5
  • Neglectedness: 3/5

Charity Impact

  • Cost Effectiveness: 3/5
  • Robustness of Evidence: 3/5
  • Track Record: 4/5
  • Room for More Funding: Yes
Learn More Freedom Fund

Fast Facts

  • Human trafficking and modern slavery affect at least 36 million people worldwide, and it is likely that this number will continue to grow over the coming years.
  • Relatively few resources are presently committed to tackling the problems of human trafficking and modern slavery, relative to our estimates of its DALY burden.
  • Though there is considerable uncertainty surrounding the cost-effectiveness of interventions in this area, the best estimates suggest that it costs approximately $650 to liberate a slave.

Together, human trafficking and modern slavery encompass a broad range of phenomena, in most cases involving forced servitude or other kinds of exploitation. Both human trafficking and slavery are almost invariably accompanied by physical or sexual abuse, subjecting their victims to grave physical and mental harm. Even those who manage to escape from slavery must confront an enduring psychological toll for the rest of their lives.

Though anti-slavery laws exist in virtually every country, and human trafficking is condemned by a full complement of international treaties, both remain prevalent in some areas of the world. For several criminal organisations, human trafficking represents a lucrative source of revenue, making it likely that this problem will continue to worsen. The business interests involved in slavery also make it more difficult to combat, as there exist pecuniary incentives for certain stakeholders to impede anti-slavery efforts.

Estimates place the total number of people affected by modern slavery alone at approximately 36 million. Many more may be subject to other types of human trafficking. Without a concerted intervention, these trends are not likely to diminish over the coming years.