Big sports events = trafficking (or so the perception would have us all believe). Campaigns in anticipation of the Olympics in Athens (2004), World Cup in Germany (2006), Winter Olympics in Canada (2010) and the World Cup in South Africa (2010) have all highlighted this issue. This has also been the accepted position of the UK Government, some NGOs and the media in the run-up to the London Olympics. In 2009 the Metropolitan Police Authority warned that the Olympics would lead to a rise in sex trafficking and prostitution. The following year, Tessa Jowell, then Minister for the Olympics, commented: ‘Major sporting events can be a magnet for the global sex and trafficking industry; this is wholly unacceptable. I am determined that traffickers will not exploit London 2012.’ Out of this landscape emerged the Human Trafficking and London 2012 Network (henceforth, the Network) which included stakeholders such as Metropolitan Police, the Human Trafficking Foundation and Anti-Slavery International. According to their website, the Network aims:
to build on lessons learnt from previous sporting events and work with all the relevant agencies to avoid duplication, identify gaps and emerging issues and work together to tackle them. [… and they] have delivered a series of outcomes including securing the commitment of LOCOG and the GLA City Operations Team to give prominence to anti-trafficking messages within promotional materials, ongoing engagement with various sectors to raise-awareness of human trafficking and producing a set of indicators to help identify victims of forced labour.
But is there actually any evidence of a correlation between sporting events and trafficking? This has been the subject of extensive debate. For example, in a robust examination of this alleged link GAATW, in their report What’s the cost of a rumour?, argued that there was no empirical evidence to back up claims that trafficking for prostitution increased around large sporting events. Similarly, looking at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Marlise Richter and Wim Delva concluded that their research did not ‘show an increase in the demand or supply of sex work during the 2010 World Cup’ and made a number of recommendations with an emphasis on the need to respect the human rights of sex workers. In contrast, the Network claimed that their literature review (which drew on publicly available data and reports from 2000 with a primary focus on female sex trafficking) surmised that ‘there is sufficient evidence to be concerned about a potential increase in trafficking and to act now to respond to identified risks of trafficking in all its forms.’ A more conservative position was taken by London Councils, in their 2011 report on this issue. They concluded:
it is difficult to come to a definitive conclusion on the impact of the 2012 Games on trafficking for sexual exploitation…However, what we can be certain of is that trafficking for sexual exploitation is occurring in the UK, and will continue to happen, irrespective of the 2012 Games.
If no one can really agree on whether there is a correlation between sporting events and trafficking, perhaps it is time that the debate was reframed.
The London Olympics offers a number of significant opportunities for anti-trafficking work. Firstly, as highlighted in a recent briefing by the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Olympics provides: ‘the political and public impetus for the implementation and funding of much-needed measures to prevent, identify and deal with trafficking.’ This is surely to be welcomed in these financially constrained times, though little detail is provided on the nature of these measures. Awareness of human trafficking can encourage public funding and increase the profile of individual organisations currently undertaking anti-trafficking work. It can also provide an opportunity for public discussion on trafficking and an increase in stakeholder engagement. An example of this can be seen with a leaflet produced by the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility on the role which can be played by hotels in stopping sex trafficking. Leaving aside some of our concerns with the leaflet itself, such as the fact no mention is made of exploited labour within hotels, or how hotels are supposed to differentiate between female guests, legitimate sex workers and trafficking victims, it does represent a broader concept of stakeholders involved in preventing sex trafficking and places an emphasis on the steps that should be taken by the hotels as well as investors and consumers.
Pushing the issue up the political agenda is also important, assuming we can move past the sex trafficking hysteria. The more people in power who control and influence policy and legislation and have a good understanding of what trafficking in the UK looks likes, the greater the likelihood that there will be an improvement in the quality of legislative and policy interventions. Increased attention on the issue can also potentially contribute to improved transparency and accountability of organisations working on trafficking (for example, the police or immigration); empowering oversight bodies to ask the right questions. For example: are the Metropolitan police are using the correct trafficking identification markers? Equally significantly, these processes should increase expertise and understanding of the issues which may cause trafficking, leading to better early interventions and prevention work.
Secondly, and this is noted in the literature review by the Network, the debate on trafficking and sporting events for London 2012 points to the need for an in-depth examination of forced labour within this context. An excellent example of meaningful dialogue on this issue can be seen with Anti-Slavery International’s (ASI) campaign, Play Fair. ASI issued a report in concert with the campaign examining the supply chains for Olympic merchandise, which was followed by an agreement with the London Games to ‘protect the rights of workers in its supply chains’ with an emphasis upon greater accountability and transparency of corporations. Further, in June 2012, the organisation highlighted the issue of forced labour among the UK’s vulnerable populations, such as migrants and the homeless, particularly focusing on false job opportunities being posted in the run-up to the Olympics.
What would TTRP like to see emerge from the London Olympics? In a nutshell: some really good evaluation which will feed into new research. While the Network’s Action Plan does include an evaluation, we believe that this can be taken further. Significantly, we argue that the results of any such evaluation should be made public, so they can contribute to the effort of challenging the stereotypes surrounding trafficking generally, and the relationship between trafficking and sporting events in particular. We would also like to see strong evidence of what resulted from these initiatives – was there an increase in calls to the trafficking hotline, referrals or requests for assistance, engagement with concerned members of the public? Similarly, it would be interesting to note if there was an impact upon the human rights of other non-trafficked populations, who may have been affected in the implementation of these initiatives. Robust evaluation is the only way in which lessons can be learnt and passed onto the next host city; central to the Network’s ability to live up to its commitment to:
leave a legacy of increased awareness of the issue of human trafficking; an improved response for victims; and a model of good practice in preventing human trafficking that could be shared with other major cities hosting future major sporting events.
It would be particularly relevant to evaluate the extent to which this model of good practice did actually prevent trafficking. Getting it right now or at least learning the lessons if we got it wrong, should mean that the UK could hand over both the Olympic torch and a viable model of best practice, with pride.