Tourism, Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking

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The Growing Tourism Industry

Slavery and human trafficking may seem like phenomena of the past, horrors best left to be commemorated at vigils, memorials or by sharing a Facebook posts on a particular day of the year. Perhaps they represent something happening on the other side of the world. However, modern slavery and human trafficking is affecting people in almost every community around the globe. From slave labour to debt bondage, forced criminal activity and sexual exploitation; modern slavery takes on many forms that can be hard to detect and dangerous to escape.

Without knowing it, many of us can play a part in the perpetuation of modern slavery and human trafficking without even as much as an awareness of our position as bystanders to the suffering of those being exploited. Tourism has been expanding year upon year and 2018 witnessed the largest number of tourist arrivals in history – exceeding forecasts [1] made by the United Nations World Tourism Organization UNWTO – reaching 1.4 billion two years ahead of forecasts. The developing world leads the growth, with Middle East (+10%), Africa (+7%) and Asia and the Pacific and Europe (both at +6%). This means that many countries once considered ‘third world’ or ‘inaccessible’ are now becoming tourist hotspots, without necessarily having the capacity or infrastructure to sustainably deal with this sudden increase in a tourist numbers in manner that protects both the local community and visitors alike.

Tourism, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking: What do we know?

Defined by United Nations, human trafficking [2] is recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat of use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving of receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

79% [3] of all global trafficking is for sexual exploitation and many of its victims are vulnerable persons, including young women and children, with 1.2 million children [4] trafficked every year. Sexual exploitation and excessive tourism go hand in hand and countries like Thailand, Brazil and Venezuela have some of the highest rates of prostitution in the world. ‘Sex Tourism’ [5] is not a new concept and yet with the sharp increase in travel to countries plagued by this exploitative industry, human rights protections have been slow to come into force to ensure that those most vulnerable to trafficking remain safe.

Mega-Events and Sexual Exploitation

Global mega-events, such as the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and 2014 World Cup, both of which were hosted in Brazil and the 2018 World Cup hosted in Russia, are particularly problematic in combating human trafficking and modern slavery. As witnessed by the experiences of over 3 thousand women and underage girls, who became part of the 12,000 prostitutes [6] ‘working’ during the 2014 World Cup, at which the average price for sexual intercourse was £16.

The ‘Don’t Look Away!’ campaign during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil aimed to bring awareness specifically to child sexual exploitation, however no such campaign was present during the 2018 World Cup in Russia [7] . Even after it was uncovered that Nigerian traffickers [8] had well established plans to sell Nigerian women and girls for sex, before the plot was foiled by Nigerian visa officials.

Orphanage Trafficking

Alongside mega-events, ‘voluntourism’ [9] schemes have been highlighted as offering a unique problem in the contribution to modern slavery, with orphanage trafficking being the most likely cause for ethically erroneous tourism.

In 2018, Australia became the first country in the world to recognise orphanage trafficking [10] as a form of modern-slavery after it was revealed 80% of children living in the world’s orphanages have at least one living parent, having handed their children over to said orphanages under the guise of the child receiving a better level of education.

Voluntourism has many other problematic consequences, such as taking work away from locals, the perpetuation of the ‘one sided story’ [11]of African countries in particular and the short-term non-sustainable nature of many volunteering projects. Only recently, has modern-slavery and orphanage trafficking gained international recognition as yet another adverse consequence of this dangerous form of tourism.

Tourism, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking: What can we do?

Some airlines are now training staff [12] to spot signs of modern slavery and recently stories of airline staff preventing women from further exploitation have emerged through various news outlets. Travel and trafficking go hand in hand and often the best time to intercept and end slavery for someone in forced servitude can be during transit.

Vigilance when travelling is key to combating the continued exploitation of vulnerable people. According to Anti-Slavery International[13]someone in slavery may exhibit the following signs:

  1. – Appear to be under the control of someone else and reluctant to interact with others
  2. – Not have personal identification on them
  3. – Have few personal belongings, wear the same clothes every day or wear unsuitable clothes for work
  4. – Not be able to move around freely
  5. – Be reluctant to talk to strangers or the authorities
  6. – Appear frightened, withdrawn, or show signs of physical or psychological abuse
  7. – Be dropped off and collected for work always in the same way, especially at unusual times, i.e. very early or late at night.

Should you see anything suspicious or alarming, alerting a member of staff on your airline, in your hotel or at a sporting event may result in rescuing someone in forced servitude. Try not to worry that you may be upsetting someone, the worst thing that happens is you’re wrong, but you could make a massive difference, therefore being proactive in your observations is crucial. As a tourist, being conscious [14] of your choices when booking your travel can have a lasting impact. Many hotels, airlines and booking agents will have a human trafficking policy, it’s as simple as looking the business name followed by the term ‘human trafficking’ or ‘modern slavery’ and seeing if anything related to their policy or training on the issue comes up.


  1. [1] International Tourist Arrivals Reach 1.4 billion Two Years Ahead of Forecasts [Internet]. United Nations World Tourism Organization. 2018 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  2. [2] What is Human Trafficking? [Internet]. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  3. [3] Global Report on Trafficking in Persons [Internet]. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  4. [4] Every child counts: new global estimates on child labour [Internet]. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:–en/index.htm
  5. [5] Sex Tourism [Internet]. Equality Now. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  6. [6] Impacts of mega-events on human trafficking in Brazil – [Internet]. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  7. [7] A Stage for Human Trafficking: The World Cup in Russia [Internet]. Wilson Center. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  8. [8] Traffickers plot to sell Nigerians for sex at Russia’s World Cup [Internet]. AF. 2018 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  9. [9] Volunteer tourism: what’s wrong with it and how it can be changed [Internet]. The Conversation. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  10. [10] Australia cracks down on orphanage tourism [Internet]. BBC News. 2018 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  11. [11] Adichie C. The danger of a single story [Internet]. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  12. [12] Flight attendants train to spot human trafficking ahead of Super Bowl [Internet]. NBC News. 2018 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  13. [13] Spot the signs of slavery and what to do – Anti-Slavery International [Internet]. Anti-Slavery International. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
  14. [14] The Code [Internet]. 2019 [cited 29 March 2019]. Available from:
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