In Business for Freedom: Fighting the Business of the Sex Trade with Business as Mission

It is estimated that between 12 and 27 million people globally are currently caught in human trafficking and exploited for their labor or sexual services. In a report by Dall Oglio to the UN General Assembly in 2004, he stated that 10 billion dollars are exchanged every year in the sex industry. Putting this number in perspective, of the 186 member countries in the International Monetary Fund in 2004; 81 of those members had national GDPs that were less than the amount of money generated by the sex industry that year.

To begin combating the monstrosities represented by these numbers, we must recognize that trafficking is an industry and the sex trade is a business. These are economically driven enterprises.

Trafficking was first defined by the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Put in the simplest of terms: it is the recruitment, transfer or keeping of humans for the purpose of exploitation. According to the US Department of State report Trafficking in Persons (2007), human trafficking is the world’s third largest criminal enterprise after drugs and weapons. While the exact numbers for these three enterprises are understandably hard to obtain, it is speculated that human trafficking has more recently taken the number two spot over weapons. There is more money to be made in human trafficking, and less chance of being caught or punished. The entire chain of distributors will earn a profit, the product is less capital intensive and the ‘merchandise’ can be sold over and over again. Understanding the sex trade as an economic enterprise means we must intentionally and systematically consider the use of business as a strategy to fight the trade on both a macro and micro level.

I believe the trafficking of persons, particularly women and children, for forced and exploitative labor, especially for sexual exploitation, is one of the most egregious violations of human rights which the United Nations now confronts – Kofi Annan

Traditionally, businesses have been relegated to participating in anti-trafficking work as the funding source for the work of nonprofits. However, business as mission (BAM) entrusts businesses with much more than simply funding nonprofit work; the business itself becomes the vehicle of change. As such, both nonprofit and for-profit strategies are integral to success in anti-trafficking work. Business and nonprofit work can come together in anti-trafficking work to focus on job creation, increasing the employability of individuals who have been victimized by human trafficking, and in their subsequent aftercare.

Freedom business is a term used to describe enterprises that are involved in such anti-trafficking efforts and care of survivors. Freedom businesses are uniquely positioned to strike at the economically driven foundations of the sex trade. By combining the necessary components of economic productivity and holistic ministry, the staggering numbers of people caught in the trade can be reduced through the powerful response of freedom business. Over the past decade numerous such businesses have sprung up around the world as beacons of help and hope, providing an alternative – providing jobs. Nevertheless, the numbers of these freedom businesses are still vastly out of proportion to the need.

Creating a business that provides for individual needs while at the same time systematically attacking the larger trafficking industry is an overwhelming task for even the most enthusiastic entrepreneurs. There are three main categories of businesses currently working in this space: businesses working for prevention, businesses creating employment for restoration and businesses working in support of field-based freedom businesses. These businesses are growing slowly, but steadily. Few have achieved profitability and most benefit greatly from subsidies of some sort.

For true success to be found, freedom businesses must seek (with resolute pursuit) to be profitable, sustainable and scalable while participating in traditional marketplaces both globally and locally.

As a working group of the 2013 Business as Mission Global Think Tank, the Issue Group “BAM and Human Trafficking,” was tasked with considering how business as mission can be most effective in the fight against the sex trade. With many BAM businesses already engaging in various aspects of anti-trade work, the group sought to learn from those already working in the sphere. The goal has been to create tools to grow and improve these businesses, reduce the learning curve for new BAM entrepreneurs, and to develop resources that will help survivors access employment as they are freed from exploitation. The diverse working group was made up of 30 participants from 9 countries, with varying contexts, experiences, strategies, skills and backgrounds. Uniting this group was a deep passion to see freedom brought to the captives through the creative use of business; along with a foundational belief that ultimate freedom and hope is found only in Christ.

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.