Creating Jobs for the Exploited: a Vital Need and a Unique Challenge

Employment and Employability

Human trafficking feeds on economically depressed and unstable communities. In these communities, the general population is desperately searching for employment (often in another city or country) and economic opportunity is seen as dependent upon an outside force. In such a climate, families can be tricked into selling one or more of their children. Desperation for work and transience create a potent mix that leaves people vulnerable to exploitation, particularly young women. The creation of jobs in such vulnerable communities prevents many from entering the trade – whether out of desperation or trickery. BAM enterprises, economic development and other job creation approaches can effectively work in these communities to raise families out of poverty and reduce vulnerability. This is vitally important, however, does not necessarily require an in depth understanding of the complexities of anti-trafficking work.

On the other hand, those who seek to create jobs and provide employment for individuals who have previously been victimized by human trafficking and sexual exploitation must consider unique challenges arising from this situation. Although there are many facets to the development and restoration of these individuals, finding secure employment is a basic need that must be met in that process. There are many challenges associated with creating employment opportunities for these individuals, along with helping employees gain the skills needed to sustain employment. These can be minimized by a keen awareness of needs, resources and the overall restoration journey.


Employees who have come from a history of trafficking and/or exploitation will require training in both soft skills as well as technical skills. While technical skills are unique to each business or industry, soft skills are more transferrable. Examples of soft skills include: attendance, timeliness, appropriate work behavior, work ethic, reliability, attention to quality, etc.

After interviewing multiple businesses operating in this arena, the most frequent response to address the lack of soft skills was training – both introductory and ongoing. Ongoing employee development will not only benefit the business itself, but will provide a foundation for employees to stand on should they transfer jobs. Investing time and money to increasing the human capital of a workforce is a widely accepted practice and should include soft skills, personal development and career development. Training often takes place within the business, but also in partnership with other organizations and ministries.  In some situations it may be necessary to provide a period of training before an individual is ready to join the business as an employee.

Communication is key when implementing training. If there are any gray areas in terms of set expectations, human nature will naturally push the boundaries. A number of the participating businesses stressed the importance of giving very clear guidelines. By setting clearly defined guidelines and expectations, the business is able to establish strong values and culture; they are able to lead by example and reference past decisions. More than one business interviewed by the working group addressed this by promoting from within, and by promoting employees who have come out of the same situation as other employees. This allows them to understand where their employees are coming from; the issues they are dealing with and what the best way to address them may be. Another recommendation was providing employees opportunities to speak into the business structure, through regular employee meetings or other formal methods for them to give feedback.

The expectations communicated should be coupled with both the opportunity for reward and the prospect of penalty. By rewarding positive behavior and penalizing (or fining) negative, an internal standard is established. However, the business environment overall should be lead by encouragement, rather than be dictated by the reward/penalty system. Foundational to creating this environment are leaders who lead by example and provide consistent models that build upon the training. These leaders should include employees who have come out of the same background as newer employees and have advanced within the business.

Aftercare in business

Employing men and women who have come out of trafficking situations or exploitative pasts must be an intentional decision for a business that includes time and space for a journey of restoration. The need to balance work expectations and aftercare is difficult. This difficulty is furthered by the need to customize aftercare for individuals. Although aftercare can include a variety of programs, goals and responses, in general it will involve the ongoing restoration of individuals to wholeness.

The capabilities of BAM businesses in this area are often limited by capacity. If a business does not have the capacity to provide aftercare, an immediate option is partnership with a likeminded aftercare provider. If a business is able to keep aftercare in house and create a devoted program, staff position or department, the major advantage is the aftercare can be tailored to the unique situations of employees. Programs such as this can be part of a hybrid business model, or modeled after Employee Assistance Programs (offered by corporations in the USA) which provide resources for counseling, legal advice and other matters employees might need help with.

Beyond devoted and well-constructed programs, there is the need for an environment that allows for healing. If the business is not established in a way that promotes internal development and growth, regardless of an individuals current place on their journey, there will be incongruities that deepen and widen with time. Holistic ministry – where business, personal life and community development go hand in hand – is key to successful aftercare.

Long-term success

An environment that will encourage employee growth and business growth is created by structures and values that permeate the business. Case studies and business profiles revealed a number of creative ways to promote long-term success and retention rates.

Benefits begin by providing a fair (or more than fair) wage; however, it is important to take caution and not upset the local economy by paying unsubstantiated high wages. Beyond a fair wage is the opportunity to provide medical care (or ensure it is available), educational benefits for dependents, personal development, saving services, debt management, spiritual growth, etc.

Long-term success requires long-term commitment. Constant staff turnover and/or structure changes can be destabilizing to employees and to community. By having a consistent schedule, observing local holidays, and maintaining a coherent vision (both internally and publicly), the business structure plays an important role in supporting the growth and development of employees.

Download the BAM Global Think Tank Report on BAM and Human Trafficking

Posted adapted from the BAM Global Think Tank Report on BAM and Human Trafficking. Further extracts will be posted as part of the Freedom Business series on The BAM Review Blog. Check back this month for more posts on this topic.