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June 11, 2014

World Cup and Slave Labor: The Truth About Trafficking

By Nicky Lazar

This week marks the beginning of the World Cup in Brazil, and with it renewed calls to combat human trafficking. Recently, nuns backed by the Pope launched a campaign called "Play in Favor of Life - Denounce Human Trafficking" to alert the world to the increased risks of exploitation of workers, forced prostitution, and sex tourism at the World Cup.  

Yet some advocates say there is no empirical evidence that trafficking increases during large sports events like the World Cup. Although a police sting during the Super Bowl in New Jersey earlier this year picked up 46 pimps and 16 missing children, it’s not clear that the people involved were in the area specifically for the Super Bowl. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women released a report saying that unfounded reports of surges in trafficking during sporting events lead to law enforcement actions that divert funds from more worthwhile anti-trafficking strategies.

One such strategy is a systematic focus on the supply side: disrupting the network of perpetrators who recruit, coerce, transport and exploit victims. More resources are needed for prosecutions of those who profit from trafficking, and financial investigations are essential to decrease profits.

Major sporting events—the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the World Series—can bring attention to the horror of trafficking, but the sad fact is that trafficking happens not just at such gatherings but everywhere. We need more than occasional spikes in attention; we need a sustained cry of “foul.”