2012 Olympic Games and human trafficking

 In May a report by the Welsh Assembly claimed that it was ‘highly likely’ that the Ryder Cup golf tournament to be held in Newport this October will result in a significant increase in the number of women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation. Although a correlation between increased human trafficking and major sporting events may sound far-fetched, a number of agencies and NGOs are turning their attention to this possibility ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games. While admitting that evidence from previous sporting events is mixed, former Minister for the Olympics Tessa Jowell MP stated that ‘Even one woman trafficked because of the 2012 Olympics is one too many. That’s why we are acting now’. Human trafficking, the recruitment of people by deception or coercion for exploitation, is an abuse of human rights and often a form of highly organised crime. Global estimates of the scale of this trade point to at least 2.4 million victims at any given time, half of which are children. The global profits from this trade net the traffickers an estimated US$32 billion annually – equivalent to those made by Coca Cola in 2008 – and affect every country in the world. In the UK, the Home Office estimates that sex trafficking costs the British economy at least £1 billion each year. The Metropolitan Police estimate that Roma children, forced to pickpocket, beg, and steal in the UK, can each earn up to £100,000 annually for their traffickers. The UK is primarily a destination for men, women, and children trafficked into the country, although British young people are trafficked within and out of the country as well. Of 61 known nationalities of individuals identified as likely trafficking victims in the UK, British nationals are the fourth largest group after Nigerian, Chinese, and Vietnamese nationals. Forms of abuse include sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, forced street crime, cannabis cultivation, benefit fraud, and forced marriage. While human trafficking takes place regardless of major sporting or other events, there is concern that the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games in London may lead to an increase in the number of individuals trafficked into the UK. Evidence from past events, however, appears unreliable. Previous Olympics in Australia (2000) and Greece (2004), and the 2009 FIFA World Cup in Germany, took place in environments where prostitution is decriminalised and information on trafficking levels was hard to measure. However, the Greek Ministry of Public Safety did record a 95% increase in the number of human trafficking victims identified during the Olympic Games in Athens. There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest that human trafficking took place at the winter Olympics in Vancouver and ahead of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this year, but no substantial research has yet been released. In London, there is already evidence of human trafficking in the five Olympic boroughs – Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, and Greenwich. In 2008-09 the Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Team conducted 14 operations in the five Olympic boroughs, and provided advice in 21 other operations. A shelter for female sex trafficking victims received 105 referrals from the five Olympic boroughs between 2003 and 2009. These areas have reportedly seen a recent doubling in sex worker numbers, similar to trends in Vancouver earlier this year. Other communities that are hosting venues for the Games are Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Weymouth, Windsor, Broxbourne, and Essex Given the potential that the Olympics may lead to increased levels of trafficking and exploitation, well coordinated preventive measures and awareness-raising will be crucial to effectively narrowing what organised crime networks may see as a ‘window of opportunity’. The Home Office coordinates the UK response to human trafficking, and countering trafficking threats for the 2012 Olympics is part of their action plan. However at present the Home Office believes there is insufficient evidence to suggest an increase in trafficking for the Games. This is mirrored by the fact that tackling trafficking is not a high priority for the various London Olympic agencies. Other responses have been more proactive. The Greater London Authority has a network on trafficking and the Olympics, the Metropolitan Police have stationed officers to focus on the Olympics in the five host London boroughs, and Christian communities are coming together under the ‘More Than Gold’ banner, which has tackling trafficking as one of its social justice priorities. Law enforcement agencies have recognised the need for public awareness-raising so that information on human trafficking indicators in Olympic host communities can be gathered before, during, and after the Games. It is hoped that this will map any changes in trafficking trends, a systematic approach that to date has not been achieved before. Only then will we have a clearer understanding as to the links between major sporting events and human trafficking.

Simon Chorley Advocacy & Partnerships Officer STOP THE TRAFFIK  www.stopthetraffik.org

Human trafficking is first and foremost a violation of human rights, but it is also a threat to the security of the UK. It often takes the form of serious organised crime, and can disrupt community cohesion and the integrity of the labour market. Identification of potential victims and perpetrators is vital, especially on point of entry. The UK Borders Agency (UKBA) was responsible for 50% of known referrals of potential trafficking victims in the last year, with 80% of total referrals originating from outside the European Union. Yet whilst awareness within the UKBA is crucial, their prominent role in government anti-trafficking efforts should be reassessed, given that many victims and perpetrators enter the UK legally or are legally resident in the UK, and that conversely many also enter the UK clandestinely.