Jonathan Todres • 17 Feb 2012

The Private Sector’s Pivotal Role in Combating Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is big business, with industry estimates running in the billions of dollars annually. Much of that profit accrues to traffickers, illegal profiteers, and organized crime groups. However, the private sector-including legitimate businesses and industries-also reaps economic benefits, directly and indirectly, from the trafficking and related exploitation of persons. Despite these economic realities, the dominant approach to combating human trafficking has been to rely almost exclusively on governments and social services organizations to do the job. Little has been asked of the private sector. Two important bills-one adopted by the State of California and the otherintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives-might signal the beginning of a change in the prevailing approach to combating human trafficking.Part I of this Essay briefly discusses human trafficking and current responses to the problem. As Part I reveals, despite the gravity of the problem, the private sector has been largely overlooked to date. Part II then looks specifically at the value of and rationale for private sector involvement in antitrafficking efforts. The discussion in Part II implicates a much broader debate in the literature on corporate social responsibility.9 I explore that literature in greater depth in a forthcoming article and instead focus in this shorter Essay on sketching out what the private sector could add to anti-trafficking efforts. Given that private sector involvement offers unique benefits to anti-trafficking initiatives, Part III explores governmental means of fostering private sector engagement in the fight against human trafficking. Finally, in Part IV, this Essay returns to the California Transparency Act-the first significant law aimed at spurring private sector efforts to stop human trafficking-to look at what lessons might be drawn from early responses to the new law.