High Volume Transport

Vital transport research to ensure accessible, affordable and climate friendly transport for all.

The role of the transport sector in combating human trafficking: a call to action.

By Cathy Green, Transport Lead, HVT Research Project: An Investigation into the Impact on Social Inclusion of High Volume Transport Corridors and Potential Solutions to Identifying and Preventing Human Trafficking.

Transaid has been part of a project team led by Cardno Emerging Markets that is exploring the role of the transport sector in human trafficking. We’ve provided some of the transport specialist context, drawing on our existing networks in Uganda and Tanzania.

It was clear early on that very limited engagement with the transport sector had taken place on the part of civil society organisations working to combat human trafficking and, vice versa, limited attention had been paid by transport stakeholders to the role that transporters play in facilitating trafficking in persons (TIP).

There is little doubt, and the research findings reflect this, that transport helps to facilitate TIP. However, the nature of this contribution is such that transport operators’ relationship with criminal networks is often ad-hoc and opportunistic. Arrangements made to transport victims of trafficking are frequently with providers from outside these networks.

This might entail the use of long distance transporters (truck or bus) through multiple countries, or it could involve motorcycle taxis or taxi cabs for relatively short journeys securing passage across borders. Either way, the recommendations presented in our report provide several avenues to pursue as we commence designing the practical intervention as part of this project.

The relatively low levels of awareness amongst transport operators of the consequences of TIP point to a need to raise awareness around issues such as the potential implications for the drivers and the people being trafficked. There is also scope to identify how transport operators can play an active role in combatting TIP since they are ideally placed to contribute to efforts to identify and provide initial support to victims.

Transport companies have communicated a willingness to be more accountable for the actions of their drivers which, the research shows, may or may not be conducted with their employer’s knowledge. Community perceptions certainly point to a strong belief that transport providers are part of the TIP problem and therefore culpable. The industry should therefore embrace further opportunities to train its drivers, strengthen its ability to monitor and supervise its workforce, and introduce initiatives which require all employees to sign up to a code of conduct and/or an anti-TIP charter.

With recent moves in sub-Saharan Africa to strengthen the driver training offer available to professionals in this industry, largely with an emphasis on road safety and employment, the integration of modules dealing with issues such as human trafficking makes sense. Ensuring that all new and existing drivers have this training would be relatively easy to achieve for those undergoing new licence acquisition or refresher training as long as the push for training is backed up by adequate legislation. In this way, TIP training has the potential to reach thousands of professional drivers every year and could be replicated in many countries.

Transport associations play a key role in advocating for and supporting the professionalization of the industry. Our research showed a huge appetite amongst associations and unions to initiate change, albeit in a context where these organisations are severely under-resourced. They are key to opening up communication with the transport sector, particularly in the informal sector which is notoriously fragmented. The need for stronger partnerships between civil society organisations and transport associations is a given, as is greater access to funding for associations. Associations require resources to innovate in this area,in a context where very little innovative work is currently taking place.

Public information campaigns were mentioned as a potential solution by vehicle operators, community members and others participating in the research. A greater understanding of the long-lasting impact on victims of trafficking could influence behavioural change on the part of transport operators and would make them more accountable for their actions. It would encourage passengers on buses to be more vigilant and more willing to question scenarios where groups of children or young adults are being transported with or without an accompanying adult. A well enforced legal requirement that papers are scrutinised for all children below the age of 18 who are travelling would be a strong first step.

While Tanzania and Uganda have both integrated international TIP laws into their domestic legislation, there are considerable gaps in enforcement. Our research identified that many stakeholders feel that more could be done on the part of border officials and traffic police as far as enforcement is concerned. While we do not yet fully understand the scale of this problem in East Africa, we can say that it is very definitely an issue, and that the lives of vulnerable people are being destroyed.

As we start to involve the many stakeholders we’ve engaged with along the way in the design of a practical intervention, our focus will be on implementing an intervention designed to have the broadest impact possible, with the potential to scale up to other countries in the region and beyond. We hope by carrying out what we consider to be the most in-depth research on transport and human trafficking of its kind in a sub-Saharan Africa context, that efforts to combat TIP will start to receive the support they require from international development partners.

The research described in this blog was undertaken by a consortium led by Cardno Emerging Markets and included Transaid, North Star Alliance and Scriptoria. The research is funded by UKAid through the UK Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) under the High-Volume Transport Applied Research Programme, managed by IMC Worldwide Ltd.