The Role of Globalisation and Neo-Liberalism in Sex Trafficking

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Slavery was a common feature in most parts of the world a few centuries ago. Slave traders would buy the strong and healthy slaves from various parts of the world and subsequently sell them to prospective slave masters. Progressively the different parts of the world started departing from this inhumane and degrading practice. By the 20th century, most parts of the world had already stopped this vice. However, as soon as slavery was abolished, human trafficking, which is a modern form of slave trade emerged in the world. Human trafficking is abhorred all over the world and is considered an illegal practice.

Nonetheless, even with its unlawful nature, human trafficking continues to be practised indiscriminately in some parts of the world such as South America, Asia and Africa. The forms of human trafficking that are prevalent include the recruitment of child soldiers, illegal organ removal, modern-day slavery, sex trafficking as well as child labour. In light of the foregoing, this paper will limit itself to just one of the forms of human trafficking, that is, sex trafficking and will evaluate how globalisation and neoliberalism foster the prevalence of this crime.

Tracing the History of Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking started manifesting alongside slavery even though the terminology came into existence after slavery had been abolished in most parts of the world. This vice continued gaining traction after slavery ended and has become prevalent in the contemporary world. According to Minichiello (2018), over the years, there has been a push to safeguard the rights of girls and women since they are often the biggest victims of this criminal activity. The United Nations buttressed this women's rights movement in the wake of the 21st century through various instruments. These include the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Palermo Protocol of 2000 which sought to put to an end this form of transnational organised crime.

In Australia, the federal government ratified the Palermo Protocol in 2005 by amending its criminal code when it passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Trafficking in Persons Offences) Act 2005. Even as Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code (Cth) outlaws human trafficking, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime named Australia as one of the leading destinations of trafficking in persons in the world (Kangaspunta 2006, p.7).

Globalisation and Sex Trafficking

The world has become a global village where governments, businesses and people as able to interact and integrate their activities across the globe. This worldwide interaction and integration have been made possible through a process known as globalisation (Wolf 2014 p. 22). While there are very many economic, social and political benefits that have accrued as a result of globalisation, this process has also fostered transnational crimes such as human trafficking (Farley et al. 2017, p. 3601). According to the Commonwealth Secretariat (2004), there is a myriad of factors that enhance sex trafficking ranging from societal, governmental, socioeconomic and political factors. Kara (2010) argues that this vice has further been actuated by globalisation which improves the supply and demand for sex trafficking.

According to Brewer (2009), "economic globalisation has led to a form of "global apartheid"and a corresponding emergence of a new "fourth world"populated by millions of homeless, incarcerated, impoverished, and otherwise socially excluded people"(p. 47). In most cases, the people who are trafficked stem out of this "fourth world"(Brewer 2009, p. 47). Most of these victims are usually from lesser developed countries, and traffickers often prey on their desperation to exploit them in the sex industries (Brewer 2009, p. 47). The sex trafficking trade is usually undertaken by organised groups who are well connected all over the world. These groups tend to scout for victims, normally women and children, who are desperate to change their financial or social fortunes (Brewer 2009, p. 47). The victims are lured with prospects of getting employment opportunities abroad only to realise that they have been duped (Brewer 2009, p. 47). Once in the foreign country, it tends to become difficult for the victims to escape since in most cases their documents have been seized by the traffickers, and this forces them to get entangled in a modern form of sex slavery.

Neoliberalism and Sex Trafficking

According to Parker et al. (2005), neoliberalism is a concept that relates to economic liberalisation. This concept encompasses policies such as cutting down on government spending, free trade, deregulation, austerity and privatisation. Neoliberalism policies have ultimately led to the emergence and growth of various organisations that collaborate to attain similar objectives (Rosario 2013, p. 17). According to Matthews (2018), neoliberalism tends to give the wealthy people in the society an opportunity to amass more wealth while at the same time worsening the state of poverty for people within the low socioeconomic status. While neoliberalism may seem to have some benefits in the economy, the said benefits only accrue to the rich and disenfranchise the poor. This concept tends to enhance the state of inequality between the rich and the poor and consequently, exposes the latter to the preying hands of sex trafficking groups (Mittelman & Johnston 1999, p. 110). This point is buttressed by an example from Mexico that embraced neoliberalism, and this concept only benefited the rich and had adverse effects on the poor. Ultimately the poor were "further driven into the underground sex trafficking economy"(Mittelman & Johnston 1999, p. 110).

It is also worth noting that enhanced cross-border trade which is a result of neoliberalism to some extent has weakened the sovereignty of the states. This assertion is premised on the fact that neoliberalism policies have led to the removal of restrictions in order to enhance free movement of goods and people across the borders (Rosario 2013, p. 17). Organised sex trafficking groups often exploit the deregulation and borderlessness tendencies within different countries to conduct their activities (Mittelman & Johnston 1999, p. 110).

Rosario (2013) also argues that even though the neoliberal policies enhance sex trafficking, "the rise of neoliberalism has a great impact on the criminal justice system everywhere in the fight against sex trafficking"(p. 18). This assertion is premised on the fact that concepts such as free market in neoliberalism lead to the development of legislation to control multinational entities as well as transnational sex trafficking rings (Rosario 2013, p. 19).


In conclusion, while globalisation and neoliberalism have led to tremendous benefits on the economic front, this paper has clearly articulated the role that these concepts play in relation to sex trafficking. It is evident from the foregoing that globalisation and neoliberalism have exposed the people, particularly the marginalised ones, to sex trafficking rings that ply their trade across borders. These organised sex trafficking groups have taken advantage of the fact that to a great extent globalisation and neoliberalism are only advantageous to the rich and result to little or no benefits to the poor to manipulate the latter to engage in the sex industry. It is, therefore, necessary for the different governments to work towards empowering its people, more so the ones who are marginalised, in order to safeguard them from falling prey to the sex trafficking gimmicks. While the various anti-sex trafficking statutes may be necessary, it is imperative to deal with the genesis of the problem if the world desires to win the war against sex trafficking.


Brewer, D., 2009. Globalisation and human trafficking. Topical Research Digest: Human Rights

and Human Trafficking, 2009, pp.46-56.

Farley, M., Golding, J.M., Matthews, E.S., Malamuth, N.M. and Jarrett, L., 2017. Comparing sex            buyers with men who do not buy sex: New data on prostitution and trafficking. Journal of      interpersonal violence, 32(23), pp.3601-3625.

Kangaspunta, K., 2006, June. Trafficking in persons: Global patterns. In International

Symposium on International Migration and Development, Turin, June (pp. 28-30).

Kara, S., 2010. Sex Trafficking: Inside the business of modern slavery. Columbia University


Matthews, R., 2018. Book Review: The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth     by Julie Bindel. Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and Violence, 3(1), p.2.

Minichiello, V., Scott, J. and Cox, C., 2018. Commentary: Reversing the agenda of sex work

stigmatisation and criminalisation: Signs of a progressive society. Sexualities, 21(5-6),           pp.730-735.

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and the Corruption of Civil Society. Global Governance, 5, p.103.

Parker, M., Jones, C. and Ten Bos, R., 2005. For business ethics. Routledge.

Wolf, M., 2014. Shaping globalisation. Finance and development, 51(3), pp.22-25.

December 12, 2023

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