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UN Urges Businesses to Aid Fight Against Human Trafficking

Women rescued by STOP, a group that rescues women from Delhi brothels, run a cafeteria for students at a Delhi University in New Delhi, India (File Photo)

Businesses are being urged to play a greater role in reducing international human trafficking, as a new United Nation initiative to combat trafficking is being introduced in Asia.

Human trafficking syndicates and the use of forced labor generate as much as $32 billion a year globally - almost a third of that in Asia. Labor and crime analysts forecast that profit could reach over $100 billion within the next half decade.

In Bangkok Tuesday, Noeleen Heyzer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, introduced a new campaign to end trafficking.

“The scope and magnitude of human trafficking in fact is so huge that unless we change the way we do business, not as business as usual, but a different way of doing business we’re not going to be able to address this serious transnational crime,” she said.

At a regional economic conference, Heyzer said the private sector needs to play a role, because traditional partners such U.N. agencies and law enforcement organizations are no longer able to address the magnitude of the crime.

Human trafficking in Asia ranges from women and children forced into the sex trade to fishermen from Cambodia forced to work unpaid on boats in the region, to factory workers laboring with little pay.

UNESCAP urges businesses to sign the Athens Ethical Principles, in which companies pledge to help educate the public about trafficking and to avoid any use of trafficked labor. Some 10,000 companies globally have signed the protocol, but few of them are Asia.

David Arkless is president of corporate affairs of the Manpower Group, an international labor management and recruiting company. He sits on the board of the End Human Trafficking Now organization. He told the conference economic forces are pressing the international community to better deal with cross-border labor mobility.

"We’ve got a whole set of layered issues here," he said. "Humanitarian, economic, human and the way the demographics is driving the economic world. We’re going to have to get this thing under control sooner rather than later. It is overwhelming."

UNESCAP and other groups also call for reforms in the use of migrant labor, including in countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which rely on remittances from workers employed overseas.

Arkless notes that fighting human trafficking benefits companies. He says both businesses and their employees see higher productivity and staff retention if workers are well treated. And companies fear a consumer backlash if they are found to exploit workers.