Proceeds derived from human trafficking

Proceeds derived from human trafficking

As a result of the diversity of trafficking and exploitative crimes that produce illicit profits, it is difficult to establish an accurate aggregate figure of the total illicit proceeds from human trafficking. With certain caveats, the ILO estimated that the total illicit proceeds obtained from the use of forced labour, which is inclusive of sexual exploitation, amount to USD 150.2 billion per year based on its 2012 forced labour estimates, published in 2014. This number can be broken down as follows:

  • Forced sexual exploitation: USD 99 billion 
  • Forced labour exploitation: USD 51.2 billion, of which 
    • USD 43.40 billion was generated by non-domestic labour
    • USD 7.9 billion by domestic work

ILO’s estimates of the global average profit per victim of human trafficking varied significantly based on the type of exploitation, ranging from USD 21 800 annually for sexual exploitation and USD 2 300 annually for domestic work. In 2005, the ILO estimated that the annual profits for each forced labourer were USD 13 000 on average. The 2014 figures do not set out a similar average estimate for all forced labourers.

According to the ILO, the annual total profits are highest in Asia (USD 51.8 billion) and developed economies (USD 46.9 billion). This is due to the high number of victims in Asia, and the high profit per victim in developed economies.

There is no accepted estimated figure for the amount of proceeds from human trafficking for the removal of organs. Figures for the illicit organ trafficking market combine human trafficking with other crimes. These figures place the financial scale at USD 1.2 billion or less, with Global Financial Integrity’s estimate of USD 600 million – 1.2 billion being the highest. While these are staggering numbers, even the highest estimate inclusive of other organ-related crimes would represents less than 1% of the combined figure for the other two exploitation groupings. Given that there is no generally accepted estimate, no attribution for the proceeds of human trafficking for the removal of organs will be used for this report; however, even an accepted estimate would not be anticipated to change the final figure in a material way.

The preceding proceeds figures demonstrate that the estimated proceeds from human trafficking in aggregation is approximately USD 150.2 billion, versus the USD 32 billion figure provided in the previous FATF report, which makes it the one of the most significant generators of criminal proceeds in the world. 

As part of the questionnaire used to gather data for the biennial Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, UNODC asks countries to submit brief descriptions of cases of trafficking that have been prosecuted in their jurisdiction in recent years. For the present edition, some 180 cases were received from more than 40 countries. Of these, some 17 cases from 13 different countries contained specific information about the traffickers’ income from the crime. In addition, a few cases from the data collection for the 2016 edition were also considered. None of the cases tackled the costs incurred by traffickers, which means that it is not possible to establish the criminal profits.

The case with by far the largest reported criminal income dealt with trafficking for organ removal. It was the only case involving this form of exploitation. A senior physician working in a public hospital in a Central American country was convicted of this form of trafficking, having recruited an organ donor living in deep poverty who received a payment of US$10,000. The organ was removed from the victim and then transplanted into a recipient – from a Western European country - for a fee of $200,000. This trafficker was a qualified medical doctor and had access to a private clinic where the surgeries could be carried out.

The requirements in terms of skills and equipment rule this particular form of trafficking out for most potential traffickers.

It is nonetheless potentially very lucrative, considering the long waiting lists for organ transplants in many countries. Most of the cases reported to UNODC dealt with trafficking for sexual exploitation. In all these cases, the traffickers controlled the victims and forced them to hand over either all or a significant portion of their profits. They used other methods as well, such as imposing large ‘debts’ when the victims had travelled to their place of exploitation, extracting ‘fines’ for a range of insignificant or invented misconduct, and/or obliging women engaging in commercial sex in the streets to pay a daily fee for the ‘right’ to occupy a particular location.

The largest income is reported from highly developed countries. In one Western European country, customers had to pay a minimum of €50 for a half-hour erotic massage and €130 for intercourse.

A Southern European country reports a price of €120 for half an hour, including intercourse. Such prices have the potential to generate large incomes for traffickers. In a Central European country, for example, a trafficker earned at least €7,000 from forcing one victim into involvement in commercial sex for five weeks.

Criminal income earned from the exploitation of trafficking victims, by subregion and by type of exploitation, USD $ or Euro € per victim per day or per act

Criminal income earned from trafficking victims map

In other parts of the world, however, the potential income of commercial sex is lower. In a country in South Caucasus and a country in Central America, the price for intercourse is reported to range between $20 and $25. Even if the victim is forced to service four customers per night, seven days a week, and assuming the traffickers confiscate the entire payments, in one week, the criminal income would
amount to a maximum of $630. The profit potential varies considerably, seemingly in line with the level of development of the country where the exploitation takes place.

Another form of trafficking that illustrates the variations in criminal income is trafficking for begging. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, three cases described a daily criminal income per victim of some US$8-10 per day, whereas in a case from Western and Southern Europe, a victim trafficked for begging was forced to earn some €300-500 per day for the traffickers.

Another case from Western and Southern Europe involved a disabled victim who was first exploited in a country in South-Eastern Europe. There, the forced begging brought income of approximately €150 per day that the traffickers confiscated. After about a month, the victim was moved to a Western European country, where the daily long hours of begging generated income of €300-1,000 per day for the
traffickers. The evidence from these cases can only provide a rough indication of the potential criminal income from trafficking for a few forms of exploitation in some areas.

The information presented in the map is drawn from a small sample of cases which is not representative of all trafficking cases in the respective areas. Nonetheless, the information illustrates that the criminal income from trafficking in persons varies significantly in terms of the forms of exploitation as well as the location where the exploitation takes place.


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