Exploitation in Human Trafficking and Smuggling



This article explores the mechanisms that underpin human smuggling and trafficking. It argues for the continued analytical relevance of the distinction between “trafficking” and “smuggling”, as posited by the 2000 UN Protocols. While this distinction has come under sustained criticism from several authors over the last 15 years, it nonetheless continues to capture the essential features of two distinct phenomena (control over a human being vs. illegal entry into a country), and acknowledges the role of agency in smuggling. The paper goes on to discuss three different scenarios that may emerge as a result of the interplay between smugglers and smuggled persons, and it specifies the role of exploitation in each scenario. In addition, the paper offers empirical evidence of the key building blocks of smuggling — namely the search for reliable information and the reaching of an agreement in regard to the service offered — and of how smuggling can turn into trafficking. This work concludes by drawing out the relevant policy implications.


Exploitation Human trafficking Informal agreements Migrant smuggling 



The authors are listed in alphabetic order. We are grateful to three anonymous referees, the Editor and Michael Biggs for extremely helpful suggestions on how to improve the article. We are also grateful to audiences at the 14th Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology (Budapest, 4–7 September 2013) and the workshop ‘Trafficking and Smuggling: A European Perspective’ (Nuffield College Oxford, 2 December 2013). We also have a debt of gratitude to Giorgia Cigalla for carrying out the interview in Bologna.


This work was supported by the European Union/FP7 Framework (Fiducia Project, Grant agreement 290563, FP7-SSH-2011-12).



  1. Interview 1. Anna [fictitious name]: Piedmont, Italy, December 2012Google Scholar
  2. Interview 2. Yan [fictitious name]: Piedmont, Italy, April 2012Google Scholar
  3. Interview 3. Social worker, Casa delle donne: Bologna, Italy, April 2014Google Scholar

Official documents

  1. EU (2009). European Union Council Decision establishing the European Police Office (Europol). 2009/371/JHA.Google Scholar
  2. EU (2011). Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims.Google Scholar
  3. Europol Convention (1995). Council Act of 26 July 1995 drawing up the Convention on the establishment of a European Police Office. 95/C 316/01.Google Scholar
  4. UN (2000a). Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.Google Scholar
  5. UN (2000b). Protocol against the smuggling of migrants by land, sea and air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.Google Scholar

Books and articles

  1. Agustín, L. M. (2005). Migrants in the mistress’s house: other voices in the “trafficking” debate. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society, 12(1), 96–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akerlof, G. (1970). The market for lemons: quality uncertainty and the market mechanism. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 84, 488–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aliverti, A. (2012). Making people criminal: the role of the criminal law in immigration enforcement. Theoretical Criminology, 16(4), 417–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aronowitz, A. A. (2001). Smuggling and trafficking in human beings: the phenomenon, the markets that drive it and the organisations that promote it. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 9(2), 163–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bales, K. (2012). Disposable people: New slavery in the global economy. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bosworth, M. (2008). Border control and the limits of the sovereign state. Social & Legal Studies, 17(2), 199–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bosworth, M., & Guild, M. (2008). Governing through migration control security and citizenship in Britain. British Journal of Criminology, 48(6), 703–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bufacchi, V. (2002). The injustice of exploitation. CRISPP, 1, 1–15.Google Scholar
  9. Campana, P. (2015). The structure of human trafficking: lifting the bonnet of a Nigerian trafficking network. British Journal of Criminology, online first. doi: 10.1093/bjc/azv027.
  10. Campana, P., & Varese, F. (2013). Cooperation in criminal organizations: kinship and violence as credible commitments. Rationality and Society, 25(3), 263–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Caneppele, S., & Mancuso, M. (2013). Are protection policies for human trafficking victims effective? An analysis of the Italian case. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 19(3), 259–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chin, K.-L., & Finckenauer, J. O. (2012). Selling sex overseas. Chinese women and the realities of prostitution and global sex trafficking. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, S. (1972/1980). Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and the Rockers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  14. Danailova‐Trainor, G., & Laczko, F. (2010). Trafficking in persons and development: towards greater policy coherence. International Migration, 48(4), 38–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dodillet, S., & Östergren, P. (2011). The Swedish sex purchase act: Claimed success and documented effects. Conference paper presented at the International Workshop: Decriminalizing Prostitution and Beyond: Practical Experiences and Challenges. The Hague, March 3-4.Google Scholar
  16. Duvel, F. (2014). Human trafficking, border deaths and the migration apparatus. Book review. Migration Studies, 2(3), 448–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. EU. (2004). Report of the experts group on trafficking in human beings. Brussels: European Commission.Google Scholar
  18. Eurostat. (2014). Trafficking in human beings. Luxembourg: European Union.Google Scholar
  19. Gallagher, A. T. (2009). Human rights and human trafficking: quagmire or firm ground? A response to James Hathaway. Virginian Journal of International Law, 50(1), 789–848.Google Scholar
  20. Gould, A. (2001). The criminalisation of buying sex: the politics of prostitution in Sweden. Journal of Social Policy, 30(03), 437–456.Google Scholar
  21. Gozdziak, E. M., & Collett, E. A. (2005). Research on human trafficking in North America: a review of literature. International Migration, 43(1‐2), 99–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hathaway, J. C. (2008). The human rights quagmire of ‘Human Trafficking’. Virginia Journal of International Law, 49(1), 1–59.Google Scholar
  23. Hales, L., & Gelsthorpe, L. (2012). The criminalisation of migrant women. Cambridge: Institute of Criminology.Google Scholar
  24. Hoyle, C., Bosworth, M., & Dempsey, M. (2011). Labelling the victims of sex trafficking: exploring the borderland between rhetoric and reality. Social & Legal Studies, 20, 313–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hughes, D. M. (2000). The“ Natasha” trade: the transnational shadow market of trafficking in women. Journal of International Affairs, 53(2), 625–652.Google Scholar
  26. Huschke, S., Shirlow, P., Schubotz, D., Ward, E., Probst, U., & Ni Dhonaill, C. (2014). Research into prostitution in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Department of Justice.Google Scholar
  27. Kara, S. (2009). Sex trafficking: Inside the business of modern slavery. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Kleemans, E. (2011). Human smuggling and human trafficking. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Oxford handbook on crime and public policy (pp. 409–427). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Kleemans, E., & van de Bunt, H. (2003). The social organisation of human trafficking. In D. Siegel, H. van de Bunt, & D. Zaitch (Eds.), Global organized crime (pp. 97–104). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  30. Kingston, S., & Thomas, T. (2014). The police, sex work, and section 14 of the policing and crime Act 2009. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 53(3), 255–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Levy, J., & Jakobsson, P. (2014). Sweden’s abolitionist discourse and law: effects on the dynamics of Swedish sex work and on the lives of Sweden’s sex workers. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 14(5), 593–607.Google Scholar
  32. Malarek, V. (2003). The Natashas: Inside the new global sex trade. New York: Arcade.Google Scholar
  33. Mancuso, M. (2013). Not all madams have a central role: analysis of a Nigerian sex trafficking network. Trends in Organized Crime, 17, 66–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Munro, V. E. (2008). Exploring exploitation: Trafficking in sex, work and sex work. In V. Munro & M. della Giusta (Eds.), Demanding sex: Critical reflections on the regulation of prostitution. Abingdon: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  35. Pai, H. H. (2008). Chinese whispers. The true story behind Britain’s hidden army of labour. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  36. Pai, H. H. (2013). Invisible: Britain’s migrant sex workers. London: The Westbourne Press.Google Scholar
  37. Roberts, J. (2003). Penal populism and public opinion: Lessons from five countries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Roberts, J., & Hough, M. (2002). Changing attitudes to punishment. Portland: Willan.Google Scholar
  39. Salt, J. (2000). Trafficking and human smuggling: a European perspective. International Migration, 38(3), 31–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Salt, J., & Stein, J. (1997). Migration as a business: the case of trafficking. International Migration, 35(4), 467–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Savona, E. U., Di Nicola, A., & Decarli, S. (2002). Mon-Eu-Traf: A pilot study on the three European Union key immigration points for monitoring the trafficking of human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation across European Union. Milan: Transcrime Reports.Google Scholar
  42. Savona, E. U., Belli, R., Curtol, F., Decarli, S., & Di Nicola, A. (2003). Trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants into Italy. Milan / Trento: Transcrime Reports.Google Scholar
  43. Savona, E. U., & Stefanizzi, S. (Eds.). (2007). Measuring human trafficking. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  44. Shelley, L. (2010). Human trafficking: A global perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Silverstone, D. (2011). From Triads to snakeheads: organised crime and illegal migration within Britain’s Chinese community. Global Crime, 12(2), 93–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Spencer, J., & Broad, R. (2012). The ‘Groundhog day’ of the human trafficking for sexual exploitation debate: new directions in criminological understanding. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 18(3), 269–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Triandafyllidou, A., & Maroukis, T. (2012). Migrant smuggling: Irregular migration from Asia and Africa to Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. van de Bunt, H. (2008). The role of hawala bankers in the transfer of proceeds from organized crime. In D. Siegel & H. Nelen (Eds.), Organized crime. Culture, markets and policies (pp. 113–126). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Varese, F. (2010). What is organized crime? Introduction to F. Varese (Ed.), Organized Crime, London: Routledge, pp. 1–35.Google Scholar
  50. Varese, F. (2014). Protection and extortion. In L. Paoli (Ed.), Oxford handbook of organized crime (pp. 342–358). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Wheaton, E. M., Schauer, E. J., & Galli, T. V. (2010). Economics of human trafficking. International Migration, 48(4), 114–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Williams, P. (Ed.). (2012). Illegal immigration and commercial sex: The new slave trade. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  53. Wilkinson, S. (2003). Bodies for sale: Ethics and exploitation in the human body trade. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  54. Zhang, S. X. (2008). Chinese human smuggling organizations – Families, social networks, and cultural imperatives. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Zhang, S. X. (2009). Beyond the ‘Natasha’ story – a review and critique of current research on sex trafficking. Global Crime, 10(3), 178–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of CriminologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations