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Human trafficking for forced labour and occupational health
  1. Cathy Zimmerman1,
  2. Marc B Schenker2
  1. 1Department of Global Health and Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Public Health Sciences, University of California, Davis, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Marc B Schenker, Department of Public Health Sciences, UC Davis School of Medicine, Davis, CA 95616, USA; mbschenker{at}

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Human trafficking is a global phenomenon. It is estimated that 20.9 million people are in situations of forced labour as a consequence of human trafficking, of whom the greatest proportion is in the Asia-Pacific region (11.7 million, or 56%), followed by Africa (3.7 million, 18%) and Latin America (1.8 million victims, 9%).1 Human trafficking has been defined in the United Nations (UN) treaty, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,2 as: …the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

In practice, however, identifying cases of trafficking generally relies on the exploitation aspects of the crime. While early attention to trafficking was directed almost exclusively at forced prostitution and sexual exploitation, the UN protocol clearly indicates that forms of exploitation also include “forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”. It is only in recent years that the narrow focus on sex trafficking has broadened to capture the wider range of labour sectors into which people are trafficked around the world. Low-skilled labour sectors that have received this growing attention include, but are not …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.