Human Trafficking

In March 2024, Florida law enforcement officials announced that an 8-day, multi-agency investigation resulted in nearly 230 arrests for human trafficking, with 13 potential victims rescued. It was the largest such bust on record in the state.  

While the scale of the story may be alarming, however, cases of human trafficking in the U.S. are all too common. In fact, a recent report found that there are more than one million victims of human trafficking in the U.S. on any given day. This is just a portion of cases worldwide. According to September 2022 data from the International Labor Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Walk Free Foundation, there are nearly 28 million victims of human trafficking globally. Among these, “17.3 million are exploited in the private sector, 6.3 million in forced commercial sexual exploitation, and 3.9 million in forced labour imposed by state.”  

Because human trafficking is a global challenge that shows up right here in the U.S., it’s impossible for American law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem on their own.  

Here’s how the UN is working with local law enforcement agencies across the U.S.  

The UN’s Role in Combating Human Trafficking 

Human trafficking – the international transportation and sale of individuals for sexual exploitation, forced labor, and other illicit activities – is a thriving system of modern-day slavery that touches over 160 countries, generating more than $150 billion in revenue annually.  

In November 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, as well as a supplemental agreement known as the Palermo Protocol (the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children). The U.S. ratified the protocol in 2005.  

Importantly, the Palermo Protocol establishes a framework for international cooperation, including assistance in investigations, prosecutions and extradition of offenders, and obligates countries to criminalize human trafficking. 

U.S.-UN Partnerships

Get to know the UN agencies working hand-in-hand with U.S. law enforcement to combat global human trafficking. 

  • UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

    UNODC works to strengthen criminal justice responses to human trafficking and raise public awareness of this crime in countries around the world through a variety of different programs. In order to effectively combat trafficking, countries must adopt comprehensive legal frameworks criminalizing the practice. To achieve this objective, UNODC has provided legislative assistance to numerous countries that need help formulating anti-trafficking legislation of their own. UNODC also helps strengthen the capacity of criminal justice systems to effectively enforce anti-trafficking laws, providing technical assistance and training on the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses to police, border guards, prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials in countries as diverse as Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Iraq, and Bolivia. Since 2010, UNODC has also been responsible for managing the UN’s Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, a funding mechanism that is currently providing humanitarian and legal assistance, financial support, shelter, and vocational training to victims in more than 60 countries. According to UNODC, the Fund provides direct assistance to more than 5,000 people annually through civil society partners. 

    Also in 2010, UNODC was given the authority by the UN General Assembly to collect data and report on trafficking trends and patterns. These reports play an important role in informing our understanding of the global phenomenon of human trafficking, making it possible to discern whether certain forms of exploitation are more widespread in some regions than others and whether certain transregional flows of trafficking victims are becoming more or less pronounced. UNODC’s most recent report—released in January 2023—found that 2020 saw a 27% reduction in convictions for human trafficking globally versus 2019, largely as a result of the pandemic. The report also laid out how conflicts in Ukraine, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East, as well as the impacts of climate change, have increased the risks of human trafficking. 

  • International Organization for Migration (IOM)

    IOM focuses on migrants who have been trafficked or are at risk of trafficking. Among other activities, IOM provides direct assistance to trafficking victims, including shelter, medical assistance, psychosocial support, and skills development and vocational training. IOM also helps migrants navigate the options of voluntary, safe, and dignified return to countries of origin, integration into their country of destination, or resettlement to third countries when needed. IOM also focuses on prevention activities, including information campaigns in countries where victims are trafficked to raise awareness about trafficking in persons, to encourage people to report suspected cases and equip vulnerable populations with the information necessary to better protect themselves from the recruitment tactics of traffickers. This has included, for example, developing a mobile app to help raise awareness of human trafficking in Slovakia. 

  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

    In 2020, the UN Human Rights Council renewed the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons for three additional years. Tasked with monitoring and reporting on the human rights aspects of efforts to combat human trafficking, the Special Rapporteur works to assess human trafficking in countries around the world and make recommendations to combat this practice. In this way, the Special Rapporteur helps identify countries whose responses to human trafficking are inadequate or problematic and helps create international pressure for them to change.