Human trafficking focus of symposium


Cooley Law School recently presented a day-long conference and symposium at its Auburn Hills campus on the international problem of human trafficking. E. Christopher Johnson Jr. (far right), associate professor and director of Cooley Law School’s Corporate Law and Finance LL.M. program, was one of several speakers at the event. Also taking part in the program were (left to right) Elijah Buxo, president of Cooley’s International Law Society; Andrew Soper; and Julie Slagter, director of the Michigan Abolitionist Project.

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

Nearly every American consumer in some way provides support for slavery in the goods and services they purchase. That was one of the contentions to emerge at a day-long event at Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills Campus featuring scholars, experts and government officials.

The Nov. 1 program was simulcast to the school’s other campuses and included both a Cooley Law Review Symposium and a Conference of the Michigan Abolitionist Project (MAP).

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, senior advisor to the Secretary of State in charge of coordinating U.S. government activities in the global fight against contemporary forms of slavery, was the keynote speaker as part of discussions on how corporations and the public can collaborate to end slavery existing in corporate supply chains.

Other speakers and panelists included Dr. Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University; Julie Slagter, executive director and founder of the Michigan Abolitionist Project; Andy Soper, project coordinator of the Manasseh Project; and Dr. Vanessa Bouche, director of the National Research Consortium on Commercial Sexual Exploitation.

 CdeBaca believes that, despite a scope that rivals the international drug trade, the topic gets far less attention than it deserves, from both law enforcement and the public.

“It’s important to realize that it is a crime,” he said. “Why would I have to even say that? Reputable surveys show that there are between 21 and 27 million people being trafficked around the world. As far as we can tell from our reporting, there are only about 6,000 prosecutions. When you divide 6,000 into that many millions, the result is unacceptable.”

Shelley said that the problem has grown dramatically in recent decades, fed by globalization, increased economic disparity, corruption and the rise of regional conflicts.

She also said that profits from the activity are growing and that, even when traffickers are prosecuted, those profits are rarely confiscated.

Shelley also said that there is far more organization and cooperation in trafficking than is commonly believed.

“This is not a ‘chaotic’ business,” she said. “The organizations function with a certain logic. Human trafficking is not different from the culture and society in which it operates.”

She has identified a number of common business models for trafficking and gives them specific names in her recent book, “Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective.” These include the “Supermarket Model” operating from Mexico, the “Natural Resources Model” coming from former Soviet states and the “Trade and Development Model” linked to China and Asia.

Each has it’s own characteristics mirroring conventional legal business practices.

Suggested solutions to the problem of human trafficking included increasing the economic and criminal risk to traffickers, making corporate supply chains more transparent and fostering investigative journalism.

Raising public awareness of the problem was also touted as a way to combat it.

CdeBaca urged attendees to visit the website

Created by the U.S. State Department and the non-profit watchdog group Call + Response, the website is intended to make consumers aware of their “slavery footprint” by measuring the forced labor in everyday products.

“We spent a ridiculously low amount of money to the ‘angel investor’ for the project,” CdeBaca said. “They came up with a complex algorithm, based on extensive research, with a predictive value as to whether something was made by slaves. It’s a 15-minute survey that answers the question, ‘How many slaves work for me?’ I highly recommend it.”

Tools like the website are part of an ongoing effort to educate citizens that the human trafficking problem is not something that happens far away to strangers.

CdeBaca stressed that the tendrils of the issue intertwine with much of our everyday lives.

“The traffickers take us all hostage,” he said. “Not just the victims. Not just the families. They implicate us as consumers. They implicate the businesses they taint. They implicate the societies in which they travel. They make us part of the problem. We have to be part of the solution.”