Resources, Better Coordination Needed To Fight Human Trafficking

By Jane Morse
USINFO Staff Writer

Vienna, Austria - More resources, better data and better coordination are needed to fight the problem of trafficking in persons, says Jeffrey Avina, director for the Division for Operations at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Hundreds of diplomats, judges, lawyers, police officers, criminal justice policy makers and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in Vienna, Austria, the week of April 23-28 to attend the 16th session of the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.  Human trafficking - which, according to U.S. estimates, enslaves some 600,000 to 800,000 people each year around the world - is one of the priority topics.

Avina, whose broad portfolio includes human trafficking issues, told USINFO that he likes to compare the present circumstances surrounding the problem of human trafficking to those related to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and early 1990s.  During that period, he said, “people began to recognize there was a problem.  Many people were active, but they were unable to jointly deal with the problem until there was a joint effort led by governments but certainly involving all elements of the public and private sector.”

To overcome this obstacle, the UNODC, along with other U.N. agencies, governments and NGOs, launched in March the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.  Its first aim, Avina explained, is to raise public awareness of the problem worldwide.  But its second goal is to build broad-based coalitions and networks involving governments, the private sector, academia, NGOs and faith-based organizations in an orchestrated campaign to address human trafficking.

UNODC, he explained, has set up advisory and steering panels to get advice on how to manage this issue more effectively.   It is also in the process of formulating a high-level panel for guidance consisting of ex-presidents and other officials from the public and private sectors, he said.

Establishing “a high-level panel” is not just a bureaucratic exercise, Avina said.  Rather, it “helps to provide the moral and political weight to the issue.  It’s very important to the public to understand that people of importance in the world are concerned about this issue.”

Avina emphasized that a broad-based approach is critical.  “No single organization can directly manage the resolution of this issue.  All you can do is open the door towards broader participation, better information sharing,” he said.


Knowledge is critical in fighting a problem, but concrete data on human trafficking, which experts agree is clearly linked to organized crime, is still somewhat sketchy, Avina said.

“In the area of crime,” he explained, “there’s less of a uniform database which is competent across countries in the same way that we have developed a data set for drug production and to a certain degree the movement of drugs across countries.

“The U.N. anti-corruption and anti-organized crime conventions are newer bodies, and it takes more time to develop consensus about the types of information that needs to be gathered, and we are still in the process," he said. "[A]s a result, we are not able to be as effective as an organization as we would be if there was a uniformed data set, uniform methodology, gathering and compilation.”

Many organizations, however, have done a lot of work in this area, Avina noted. These include the International Labor Organization, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights, the International Organization for Migration and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, all part of the steering committee for the Global Initiative, Avina said.

Avina said the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has been a very active participant.  “They have a very good program worldwide,” he said.  And the U.S. Department of Justice, Avina added, “is very well known for the work that it does in terms of providing experts and advisers to gather evidence. They generally are extremely supportive of the work we do, and of course the U.S. government is one of the principle partners of this organization.”


As is always the case, a problem as large as human trafficking requires a great deal of funding.

“The cost of enforcement and the cost of training to be effective are high,” Avina acknowledged, “as are the cost of victim protection programs when victims are indeed rescued in recipient countries."

Avina lauded the government of the United Arab Emirates for its generous donation of $15 million to launch the initiative.  The United States, too, has been a significant donor. Nonetheless, there is “simply not enough money to really crack this problem,” Avina said.

The UNODC, Avina said, is hoping that much of the additional funding will come from the private sector.

Referring to human trafficking for labor, Avina noted that many companies are concerned that they not “be branded as a company that has unethical practices, because in the world there is a growing sense among consumers that you have a choice to buy a product that is well made, which is not tainted in essence by the intentional misuse of people.”

“What I’d like to see at the end of the day is that we’ve been able to raise $100 million dollars for starters through the private sector,” Avina said.

“Whatever we can do to be catalytic in terms of spreading information, building effective networks and raising resources that can be channeled back to those who are the most effective in delivering services; at the end of the day that would make me sleep a lot better,” Avina said.

For more information, see Human Smuggling and Trafficking.