“All trafficking is not sex trafficking,” argued Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow Pardis Mahdavi, at a recent Middle East Program
event. Drawing on her ethnographic research in the United Arab Emirates, Mahdavi analyzed the policy implications of the latest Trafficking in Persons
(TIP) report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
. The TIP report offers information on modern day slavery–human trafficking–and includes comprehensive data on policies and enforcement in 155 countries and territories.
The TIP report paradoxically hurts the people it tries to protect, claimed Mahdavi, by placing too much emphasis on sex trafficking and failing to take into consideration other types of abuse, such as those against men and migrant labor workers. Mahdavi pushed for a “breakthrough of the labeling and politicizing of sex traffickers as women and children,” which depicts women as passive and helpless, while excluding male victims.
According to Mahdavi, in Dubai, 80 percent of the population are migrant laborers. Often, these foreign workers do not trust the government to protect them against trafficking abuses, particularly if they are working in the host country illegally. Thus, civil society organizations, and not the state government, serve as the major source of protection and recourse for abused migrant workers. In the Persian Gulf region, Mahdavi argued that the “TIP report needs to be rewritten…to include increased labor inspectors and police training,” and called for the increased “accountability and transparency” of civil society organizations.
Mahdavi cautioned countries against using the TIP report to enact policies that make migration illegal. Tightening borders forces workers into the informal economy, she maintained, where it becomes difficult to track and protect these individuals.
Although the TIP report has weaknesses, it does pressure countries to act, as Mahdavi has witnessed in the United Arab Emirates, where it has provided opportunities for dialogue on the various aspects of trafficking.