This year marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States. Yet in the world today there are an estimated 20.9 million people enslaved, and the United States is both a source and destination of victims. While the United States would have a moral responsibility to address this problem even without its history of slavery, its legacy heightens this imperative.
Contemporary slavery manifests in various ways. Many trafficking victims are forced to toil in fields, factories, and fishing boats for little or no pay. Others are held captive in private homes. Forced prostitution rings imprison women, girls, and boys in brothels or force them to work in the streets under threat of abuse. What links all these forms—as well as historic American slavery—is the profit motive. Human trafficking is a lucrative criminal enterprise, generating $150 billion annually in profits worldwide. The United States should seek to reduce substantially the number of victims by implementing policies and practices that dismantle the business of trafficking.