The Dark Side of Globalization: Trafficking & Transborder Crime to, through, and from Eastern Europe

The Dark Side of Globalization: Trafficking & Transborder Crime to, through, and from Eastern Europe

A forum on trafficking of humans and human organs.

Globalization has brought with it opportunities for the weak, poor, and dispossed -- as well as for criminals. It can be a force for liberation -- as well as for enslavement. It can be measured by the flow of goods, services, and capital -- as well as humans and their organs. Shedding light on the dark side of globalization was the object of a forum presented on May 14 by the Center for European and Eurasian Studies and the Burkle Center for International Relations.


View webcasts of the presentations either from clicking the set of links below or from the headers inside the body of the article.

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Introductory Remarks

In his remarks that opened the forum, Geoffrey Garrett, Vice Provost of International Studies, called attention to what he described as the underbelly of globalization. The pinnacle of enthusiasm for globalization, Garrett noted, was reached around 1995. Thereafter, the problems associated with globalization increasingly came under scrutiny. Although the topic of this forum was Eastern Europe, the problems it considered are, Garrett stated, global.

In additional opening comments, Gail Kligman (Sociology, UCLA) noted that the "trafficking of persons for the sex trade is an expanding feature of the global service economy, as is the illicit trade in human body parts for transplants." Why does this trafficking appear to be particularly a problem in Eastern Europe, Kligman asked. First, with the collapse of Communism, cheap labor became available to wealthier, West European nations. Moreover, porous borders and economic difficulties in Eastern Europe "combined with diversified international crime organizations" contributed to the spread of trafficking. The purpose of the forum, Kligman stated, was not only to provide information, but to promote debate.

Trafficking Women To, Through, and From Eastern Europe

Gail Kligman opened the presentations with a discussion of the trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of prostitution, a subject she has researched with a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology, Stephanie Limoncelli.

The boundaries between trafficking and prostitution, Kligman observed, are often blurred. Prostitution, as Kligman defined it, is the "exchange of sexual services for cash or other material benefits." According to this definition, prostitution is not per se limited to trafficking, which Kligman defined according to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2003) as "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the 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. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs."

Prostitution has become a central feature of post-socialist Eastern Europe. "Poverty -- both urban and rural -- is the key." Prostitution can thus be part of an economic strategy to secure a higher living standard. However, not all women involved in prostitution are the poorest of the poor, Kligman noted. But in any case, trafficking offers opportunities -- the hope for a better life.

Kligman presented a listing prepared by the U.S. Department of State of European countries involved in trafficking for purposes of prostitution, divided into source countries, transit countries, and destination countries. Some countries, such as the Czech Republic, can fit in more than one category. Looking at the gross national income (GNI) per capita of these countries, it is clear that there is a relationship between poverty and prostitution. For instance, two of the prime source countries, Moldova and Ukraine, have GNIs of $460 and $770 respectively. In contrast, two of the destination countries, the Czech Republic and Poland, have GNIs of $5,560 and $4,570 respectively.

Kligman emphasized that one cannot be sure of the sources of the estimates contained in the Department of State data on the numbers of prostitutes per source country. Hard data are simply lacking. In any event, "awareness is an important factor in combating trafficking." Increased awareness, Kligman noted, does not change poor countries into rich ones, but it can play an important role in identifying problems and searching for solutions.

Sex Trafficking in Ukraine and Russia: Violence, Corruption, and State Policy

Donna Hughes (Women's Studies, University of Rhode Island) discussed sex trafficking in Ukraine and Russia as primarily governed by the dynamics of supply and demand. In fact, it is to the demand side that Professor Hughes directed most of her attention.

Pimps in Western Europe, she pointed out, cannot find a sufficient number of local women to fill the demand for prostitutes. The sending countries, on the other hand, have a large supply of potential recruits by virtue of their poverty and lack of opportunities. However, the traffic itself "is caused by criminals." Or, to be more precise, Professor Hughes contended, it is caused by a collusion of criminality and official corruption. "Organized crime depends on corruption. . . . [For instance], prostitution depends on advertising sex for sale." Officials are aware of these ads, but often corruption leads them to look away.

The trafficking process itself Professor Hughes described as straightforward. It begins with demand. Pimps, seeking to fill that demand, place orders for women with traffickers. Victims are recruited, often with false promises of jobs. Once in the hands of traffickers, the women are "broken in order to accept prostitution": their passports are taken from them and they are degraded, abused, and humiliated in order to break their will.

The demand for prostitution is the driving force in sex trafficking. Thus, in looking for a solution to prostitution, one must look at the destination countries. It is policy and law in the destination countries, Professor Hughes argued, that need to be investigated. However, most attention, she noted, has been on the supply side. This is wrong, she argued. It should be on the destination countries, countries that are, she continued, trying to avoid responsibility.

The components of demand consist of (1) the buyers, that is the men who pay for sex acts: "men create the demand; women are the supply"; (2) the profiteers: "the traffickers, pimps, brothel owners, mafias, and corrupt officials"; and (3) the culture: the romanticization and glamorization of prostitution and pimping, such as can be seen in certain Hollywood films.

Hughes discussed in depth prostitution in two destination countries, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. In the Netherlands, which is often considered a model when it comes to controlling prostitution, prostitution and brothels were legalized in the year 2000. The sex trade is said to constitute a one-billion-dollar industry. The country now has around 2,000 brothels and 30,000 prostitutes, 70 percent of whom are foreigners. Reportedly, 40 percent to 80 percent of the prostitution is the result of force or coercion. In the Czech Republic, prostitution has grown into a $200 million industry. Sixty-five percent of the male clients are foreigners; in other words, sex tourism is big business.

In discussing the strategies of destination countries, Hughes noted that the governments concerned strive to protect their sex industries. In part they do so by maintaining a flow of victims via the normalization of prostitution. This involves the redefinition of victims into "sex workers," or specifically "migrant sex workers," who are issued work permits. This is, in Hughes' view, a "corruption of civil society." Governments in the destination countries fund non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the sending countries to promote the destination countries' point of view.

Typically there are three avenues to controlling prostitution. First is prohibition, such as is practiced in the United States. This criminalizes the behavior of both the perpetrators (the men) and the victims (the women). Second is regulation/legalization, such as is the practice in the Netherlands. Prostitution thus becomes a "service," and the women become service providers. Third is abolition, such as practiced in Sweden. Abolition involves the notion that victims and perpetrators should be treated accordingly. In Sweden in 1999 prostitution was redefined as a form of violence against women. The focus in controlling prostitution was on demand: purchasing sex was criminalized. Following this, reportedly there was an 80 percent decrease in street prostitution.

[Click here for a link to a webcast of the discussion of the previous two presentations]

New Ways of Combating Organized Crime in Southeastern Europe

Ferenc Banfi, Hungarian brigadier general and chair of the Joint Cooperation Committee overseeing the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) Regional Center for Combating Transborder Crime, spoke on the effort to combat human trafficking in southeastern Europe.

General Banfi began by asking, What is the reason for trafficking? The answer lies in large part in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. This began as a positive process, but it also carried with it a dark side. When borders opened, they "facilitated the spread of criminal networks." The conditions favorable to crime include: (1) the poverty in source countries and their drive to alleviate that poverty; (2) the weakness of the new democracies; (3) open borders; and (4) a lack of appropriately educated law enforcement staff, and a lack of cross-national cooperation.

In the "long decade" following the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, "an international division of labor in crime" emerged. Some criminals specialized in trafficking in drugs; others in human beings; still others in the smuggling of immigrants; others in stolen vehicles, and, finally, others in commercial and customs fraud. As international crime grew, the Southeast European states found themselves always one step behind. In an effort to catch up, twelve of the states (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Turkey) adopted a new strategy and in November 2000 established the SECI Center. The mission of the Center is "to support common efforts of the member states to combat crime."

How big is the problem of human trafficking facing the SECI member states? First, General Banfi pointed out that trafficking in human beings on the one hand, and smuggling of migrants on the other are legally different. Second, although estimated figures on trafficking differ, there is no question, Banfi emphasized, that the problem is significant. Law enforcement alone, in his estimation, will not be sufficient: solving the problem "requires a comprehensive solution" involving economic growth, democraticization, and stabilization. Furthermore, trafficking in humans is related to other sorts of crimes, such as drug dealing.

The results achieved by the SECI Center, Banfi explained, since it became operational in January 2001 are impressive. More than 20,000 controlled places were checked. The identities of more than 1,700 women were checked at these controlled places, and 237 were identified as victims of trafficking. "Twenty-three victims have been assisted," and the rest have been subject to "preventive measures." Today 290 identified traffickers are under investigation and a witness protection program -- testimony is essential to secure a conviction, and a witness protection program is essential to securing testimony -- has been put into place.

The Dimensions of Organized Crime in the Balkans

David Binder began his presentation by quickly reviewing the history of organized crime in the Balkans since World War II. "From 1945 to 1990, organized crime was conducted at the state level." It was the Communist state itself, in other words, that dealt, for example, in ostensibly illegal arms trade. After 1990, a "political culture based on state plans and guidelines was suddenly replaced by a free-for-all." In this environment, organized crime became "the biggest single industry in the region."

Armed combat in the Balkans "left swaths of territory bereft of governmental authority." It was thus easy for criminals to fill the vacuum. Elsewhere, government and criminals worked hand in glove. On a vertical axis, gangsters and corrupt government officials cooperated. On a horizontal axis, crime commonly became based on "clans," which often spread abroad.

Regarding the sex trade and sex slavery, Binder noted that the media provides no steady, consistent coverage. Government agencies in the United States "produce dozens of speakers and reams of publications" on sex trafficking, but "while long on words, they are short on action." The real work, Binder argued, is done by NGOs and by the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The IOM estimates that roughly 700,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders annually, of which approximately 200,000 are trafficked in Southeast Europe. The most active governmental organization in combating this trafficking in Southeast Europe is the SECI Center. The SECI Center not only fights trafficking in human beings, but also commercial fraud, stolen credit cards, financial crimes, customs crimes, and the like. A fundamental problem confronting SECI and all other agencies that deal with human trafficking for the purposes of prostitution is how to identify "whether a sex worker is there voluntarily, especially if she is under fear of a pimp." This greatly complicates the fight against human trafficking. However, "the picture is not entirely black." There are examples of the successful prosecution of sex traffickers, and SECI is planning its third operation Mirage, which will involve using cell phone records and the like to gather intelligence on traffickers.

Binder pointed out that sex traffickers are often also involved in other criminal activities, such as narcotics trafficking and customs fraud. Indeed, "some criminals have found common interest with terrorist groups." SECI will be looking into these links, Binder stated.

Parts Unknown: Undercover Ethnography in the Organs Trafficking Underworld

"Economic globalization," Nancy Scheper-Hughes declared, "has been accompanied by a depletion of humanism. . . . Altruism has been replaced by domestic demand . . . for 'fresh organs'" where the value of human tissue is measure in terms of dollars.

"Stark trends of inequality in the trade of body parts and tissues" have emerged. The trafficking in body parts "is an elusive form of trafficking, because it involves top professionals," such as medical insurers, lab technicians, surgeons, and so on. Rarely are questions asked about where -- and from whom -- did transport organs come from.

The goals of Organs Watch, of which Professor Scheper-Hughes is director, are (1) to map global trafficking in organs, (2) to identify hospitals, "renegade surgeons, brokers, business operations . . . that facilitate" trade in body parts, and (3) "to determine the social, political, and economic consequences" of trafficking in body parts.

Pursuing these goals involves actual field work. The methods Scheper-Hughes uses include (1) multi-sided ethnographic and documentary research in twelve countries, (2) structure interviews of key informants, and (3) on-site collaboration with students and documentary filmmakers. Via this sort of fieldwork, troubling problems that surround organ trafficking have emerged: race, class, and gender inequalities; flagrant violation of laws; the exploitation of prisoners, the mentally ill, and the homeless.

"The circulation of organs follows the modern routes of capital: from south to north; from third world to first world; from poor to rich; from black and brown to white . . . . [Moreover] women are rarely the recipients of purchased organs." Prices of organs also follow world markets. For instance, a kidney in Iraq can be purchased for $500 to $1,000; in Manila, $1,000; in Lima, Peru, aroundr $10,000; and in the United States, $30,000.

Who are the buyers? They are the rich and medically insured, those who reject dialysis, and those who refuse organs from cadavers as "unhealthy, unnatural." Who are the sellers? Essentially, the young and poor, especially in places like Russia and Moldova: those who are in debt, those who are seeking ways to feed their family, and so on. Who are the brokers? Scheper-Hughes identified those who facilitate the buying and selling of organs as "international transplant coordinators," business corporations, doctors, religious and patient rights organizations, and local criminals.

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Gail Kligman is a professor in the Department of Sociology, UCLA, and chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee of the Center for European and Eurasian Studies, UCLA. She has done extensive field research in Eastern Europe, particularly in Romania, both during and after socialism. She is the author of three books, including The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceausescu's Romania. She is now codirecting a historical ethnographic project on the transformation of property, persons, and state: collectivization in Romania, 1949-1962.

Stephanie Limoncelli is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at UCLA, and Associate Global Fellow at the UCLA International Institute. Her dissertation is on the history of the international traffic in women for prostitution and the responses of international voluntary associations and state officials who sought to combat it. She has worked as a volunteer with the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, Los Angeles.

Donna M. Hughes holds the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair in Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island. Her research has focused on trafficking and sexual exploitation of women in Ukraine, Russia, and the United States. She has particular expertise in the use of new information technologies in the trafficking of women and children. In the past year, she has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee and the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She is frequently interviewed in national and international media.

Brigadier General Dr. Ferenc Banfi holds a Hungarian law degree. From 1997 to 1998, he was deputy chief of the Hungarian National Police responsible for international cooperation. From 1999 on, with the exception of a recent hiatus, he has worked with and at the SECI Regional Center to Combat Transborder Crime. As the head of the Operational Support Department, he was involved in developing the Center's operational strategy, coordinating actions among the twelve member countries, developing task forces, and guiding regional operations and common investigations among law enforcement representatives of SECI member states and observers. In April, he was elected chair of the Joint Cooperation Committee of the SECI Center.

David Binder was a correspondent and editor in the Washington bureau of the New York Times from June 1973 until his retirement in 1996. He continues to report on U.S. foreign policy, and specializes in Central and Eastern European affairs. His previous assignments for the Times included a stint (1967-73) as correspondent in Germany and as Europe correspondent (based in Belgrade) from 1963 to 1967. He covered both the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and its fall in 1989, as well as the collapse of Communist systems in East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and Yugoslavia. He reported on the civil wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and on the Kosovo conflict. He has written several books, including Berlin East and West (1962) and The Other German: The Life and Times of Willy Brandt (1976).

Nancy Scheper-Hughes is professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she also directs the doctoral degree program in Medical Anthropology. Her work addresses the violence of everyday life from an existentialist, feminist, and politically engaged perspective. She is the author of award-winning books such as Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland, on madness among bachelor farmers in rural Ireland; Death without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, on infant mortality, the medicalization of hunger, and the experience of motherhood, deprivation, and moral thinking and practice. In 1999 she founded Organs Watch, a medical human rights project created to investigate medical human rights violations in the harvesting, sale, and distribution of human organs and tissues. Her multi-sited research on the global traffic in organs forms the basis of a book in progress, Parts Unknown: Transplant Traffic and the Bodies of Others to be published by Farrar, Strauss.

Published: Wednesday, May 26, 2004