Trade vs trafficking?

The world of business, as well as the arts and the media, have a crucial role to play in raising the problem of human trafficking on the global agenda and dismantling a powerful network that is exploiting more than 2 million people every year, leading figures from these fields told a press conference at Athens’s Zappeion Hall yesterday. The activities of governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in curbing human trafficking are invaluable but could be enhanced immeasurably by pressure from the business world, which often turns a blind eye to the issue despite its potential to make a difference, it was agreed during an interval of the Athens Round Table on the Business Community Against the Trafficking of Human Beings, organized by the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement under the auspices of the Greek Foreign Ministry. The Egyptian First Lady herself did not attend the press conference – despite her active participation in the earlier round-table sessions – but her absence was compensated for by the presence of other distinguished figures from the international stage, notably French composer and performer Jean Michel Jarre, who drew most of the press attention – conveniently as his message was directed at the media. «The most perverse aspect of the human trafficking problem is that it does not get much media coverage, largely because (trafficking) victims often feel ashamed and hide their ordeals,» he said. Facing a blitz of flashing cameras, the composer appealed to reporters to «dedicate the greatest possible airtime on their shows and the greatest possible space in their newspapers to covering this subject.» Jarre said he aimed to secure greater commitment from musicians and actors – with the aim of influencing public opinion and, in turn, government stances. He said he is already working closely with American actor Richard Gere, another round-table member who expressed his support via a recorded video message. The initiative, promoted by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Marianna Vardinoyianni, also has the support of Queen Silvia of Sweden, who attended yesterday’s sessions along with nearly a third of the cabinet, including Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis, Education Minister Marietta Giannakou, Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos, Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas and Deputy Culture Minister Fani Palli-Petralia. Round-table members later yesterday signed a declaration highlighting specific «principles» for dismantling the networks profiting from trafficking which form the basis of a plan to draw the business community into the fight against human trafficking. A list of these principles is to be presented to high-ranking businessmen and politicians at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, from tomorrow, Vardinoyianni said. The chief aim of the Athens initiative is to convince businesses of all kinds to stop tolerating human trafficking, and especially the sex trade in women and children, Dr Aleya El-Bindari Hammad, a founding member Mubarak’s peace movement, told reporters. «Hotels and transport organizations can all contribute – hotel staff can stop turning a blind eye and so can truck drivers. They see what is going on,» she said. «We have to start dismantling the production chain.» Of the businessmen addressing the press conference, the chief executive officer of the British employment service organization Manpower, David Arkless, was the most outspoken. He said his company, despite having 400,000 customers worldwide, has pledged not to do business with firms that have links to human trafficking. But he stressed that enterprises can only do so much and placed the onus on governments to live up to their responsibilities. «We in the business community can make an impact, but we can’t get the job done,» he said. During one of the morning round-table sessions, another high-profile participant, Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble, noted that only a handful of senior officers are tackling human trafficking on the global level, and just three at Interpol. Dr Hammad conceded that boosting international policing was crucial if organized trafficking networks were to be broken, but she also laid responsibility for this at the government level. «The main challenge for us is to make human trafficking non-profitable (its estimated annual profits are currently $32 billion) and for this we need the support of the business world,» she said.

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