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Trafficking Risk in Sub-Saharan African Supply Chains

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Understanding the risk of human trafficking in global commodity supply chains necessitates consideration of a range of risk factors for both the commodities and countries involved. On this page, users will find information on different frameworks and resources for evaluating trafficking risk at different levels of specificity and precision, including outlines of the risk factor frameworks used in compiling the risk factor analyses for the commodity and country reports contained in this website. In addition, a section on cross-cutting risk in African supply chains summarizes some of the key thematic issues that emerged in the course of the project research.

Approaches to Evaluating the Risk of Trafficking in Persons in Supply Chains

Trafficking risk associated with global supply chains may be evaluated at varying levels of depth.

Sector, Commodity, and Country Level Risk Screening
A solid initial approach to risk screening involves evaluating the risks associated with the economic sector or industry in question, in combination with an appraisal of the risk factors associated with the countries in which the supply chain operates or from which it draws its workforce. For example, a company sourcing palm oil in Malaysia would be able to identify risk of trafficking in its palm oil supply chain due to both the nature of labor in palm oil production, and because of the structural vulnerabilities to trafficking known to be faced by workers in Malaysia. In supply chains characterized by either sector or location-based trafficking risk, companies should exercise heightened due diligence through efforts to establish traceability and visibility into supplier practices. In supply chains where both the sector and the geography independently raise red flags (as in the example of palm oil in Malaysia), due diligence should involve the development of clear trafficking risk management strategies by both brands and suppliers.

There are a variety of both commercial and public resources available to assist with trafficking risk assessment at the level of sector/industry and geographic location. For example, the open-source Responsible Sourcing Tool website, (www.responsiblesourcingtool.org), which was also developed by Verité and others with funding from the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, allows users to explore risk by sector, by commodity, and by country. The site also provides tools and other resources for users interested in developing compliance plans to prevent risk of trafficking in their supply chains.

Risk Screening at the Level of Commodity-Country Combination
An even more in-depth, tailored approach to understanding supply chain trafficking risk would involve examining the unique articulation between the industry in question and the specific risk profile in the country context in question. To continue with the example above, the specific trafficking vulnerability of workers in the palm oil sector in Malaysia would be evaluated, with the strong reliance of the sector on foreign migrant workers in that country meriting particular scrutiny.

In this project, we have sought to provide information relevant to both levels of risk assessment, primarily through the use of publicly available secondary resources. Below are the risk factor frameworks used in the country and commodity reports for this project. For truly diagnostic insight into the occurrence or prevalence of trafficking in persons in any given supply chain, primary research in the form of careful survey research among individual workers is necessary.

Country-Specific Risk Factors for Trafficking in Persons
    1. Legal/Policy Risk Factors
      1. Level of Legal Protection for Civil Liberties and Workers’ Rights
        1. Freedom of Association
        2. Working Conditions
        3. Discrimination
        4. Forced Labor
        5. Child Labor
        6. Civil Society Organizations
        7. Immigration Policies Limiting the Employment Options or Movement of Migrants
      2. Ratification of ILO Conventions Related to Human Trafficking or Rights of Workers and Migrants
      3. Use of Export Processing Zones (EPZs)
      4. Bilateral Agreements with Migration Partner Countries
      5. Promotion of Emigration/Remittance Economy
    2. Political Risk Factors
      1. Political Instability or Conflict
      2. Level of Crime and Violence
      3. State Persecution
      4. Level of Corruption
    3. Socio-Economic Risk Factors
      1. Level of National Economic Development
      2. Level and Extent of Poverty
      3. Degree of Gender Inequality
      4. Landlessness and Dispossession
    4. Environmental Factors
Commodity-Specific Risk Factors for Trafficking in Persons
    1. Structural Supply Chain Features Contributing to Trafficking in Persons Vulnerability
      1. Long, Complex, and/or Non-Transparent Supply Chains
      2. Seasonal Surges in Labor Demand
      3. Short Production Cycles
    2. Undesirable and Hazardous Work
    3. Vulnerable Workforce
      1. Child Labor
      2. Migrant Labor
      3. Casual Labor
      4. Gendered Dynamics of Production
      5. Restricted Freedom of Association
      6. Indigenous Populations
      7. Hereditary/Traditional Slavery
    4. Presence of Labor Intermediaries
    5. Associated Contextual Factors Contributing to Trafficking in Persons Vulnerability
      1. Association with Organized Crime/Armed Conflict
      2. Association with State Corruption
      3. Association with Environmental Degradation
      4. Association with Large-Scale Land Acquisition/Displacement
      5. Association with Sex Trafficking

Cross-Cutting Risks in Sub-Saharan African Supply Chains

In conducting the country, commodity, and sectoral analyses for this project, a number of cross-cutting issues emerged as particularly relevant to understanding the nature of trafficking risk within the sub-Saharan African context. These include gender, migration, large-scale land acquisition, environmental factors, conflict, and child labor. These issues frequently intertwine with one another, as, for example, when gender dynamics result in increased vulnerability for women in contexts where trafficking risk is already heightened due to environmental degradation or conflict. Presented below are summaries of some of the broad patterns associated with these cross-cutting issues, synthesized from data discussed in more detail in the commodity and country reports. These summaries are not meant to reflect comprehensive or definitive statements about these broad themes, but rather simply to pull together some of the key insights and examples that emerged from the project research. Citations for factual information discussed in the summaries may be found in the sector or country reports to which they refer.
In countries with high degrees of gender inequality, which is characteristic in much of sub-Saharan Africa, women often have fewer rights and legal protections than men, and less access to the education necessary to obtain high-skilled jobs. Women in gender-unequal societies are often structurally dependent on men for financial security and access to land, leaving those who lack access to male protection or wealth (for example, widows, unmarried women, and girls from poor families), with few resources of their own with which they might resist being forced into undesirable or hazardous jobs, or mistreatment by unethical employers.

In Africa, as elsewhere, where a woman works as part of a family unit, income derived from her work may be directly controlled by her husband or other men in her family, leaving her uncompensated for her labor.  Domestic responsibilities may also prevent women from benefitting fully from their labor. Women in Africa are responsible for much subsistence food production, which can hinder their participation in cash crop production or other economic activities that could reduce their vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking. Even when women contribute significantly to cash crop production on family farms, they may still be prevented from accessing revenues from the sale of these crops by cultural norms dictating that men control sales transactions. In several sub-Saharan African countries, cotton shifted from being thought of as a “female” crop to a male-dominated one after it began to gain significance as an export crop. Limited access to land, credit, and capital all constrain women’s ability to gain economic security in many African contexts.

There is also evidence that social dynamics surrounding extractive industries create a heavier burden on women than on men. Many women in Africa are motivated to work in artisanal small-scale mining or around the tailings of formal mines as a means of supporting their family’s survival, particularly when traditional subsistence farming is no longer sufficient due to drought, low agricultural commodity prices, or lack of access to farmland. Although women are less likely to participate directly in shaft mining, women and girls are often involved in panning and attendant activities and sectors such as mineral cleaning, trading, and domestic work such as cooking, cleaning, and fetching firewood in mining camps. Such activities are nearly always compensated at lower rates than the direct mining work available to men, although they can be just as dangerous. Primary mineral processing often includes exposure to hazardous chemicals such as mercury and cyanide, which are particularly toxic for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and to their children, who often accompany them.  The presence of mining activities in a region has also been tied to higher rates of HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.  

Even when formally employed, African women may be subject to discrimination in terms of wages, or in the kinds of jobs open to them. In the flower sector, for example, women are concentrated in lower paid, lower skilled, and casual positions, and they report high rates of sexual harassment with few avenues for grievance reporting and remediation. In the tea sector, women are more likely to participate in low-paid, labor-intensive tasks such as weeding and plucking, while men are more likely to be supervisors. Women make up an estimated 80 percent of apparel workers in apparel-producing African countries. For many, employment in the apparel sector offers a first opportunity to gain employment in the formal economy, which is typically higher paid and more stable than the informal sector or agriculture. However, women are overrepresented in lower level positions, leaving them more vulnerable to poor working conditions and wage instability.

A high level of maternal education (indicating a greater degree of gender equality) is inversely correlated with risk of human trafficking. Where women are vulnerable, displaced, or lack access to livelihoods, their children also face heightened risk for trafficking, child labor and other forms of exploitation.

Research for this project consistently found that migrants – whether domestic or transnational – experienced heightened vulnerability to trafficking. While many African people migrate voluntarily to other regions or countries in search of economic opportunity, they often face restricted employment options and lack of local social networks or other support systems when they get there, opening them to potential exploitation and trafficking. This may be true even in parts of the continent such as West and Southern Africa where patterns of cyclical labor migration have been long-established as a socially-institutionalized way for people to earn money.

The degree to which migrants are vulnerable often depends on the “push” factors that have driven them to migrate in the first place. Migrants who are forced to migrate in search of work because of problems like land loss or land scarcity, insecure tenure, or displacement due to conflict or environmental crisis are more likely to be preyed upon by traffickers and unscrupulous employers than migrants who travel for work voluntarily, out of a sense of positive economic opportunity.  Regional migration in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa is tied to conflict or environmental factors such as drought, both of which can lead to large-scale displacement. In some contexts, recruitment of workers directly from refugee camps has been reported. The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. Department of State notes that “Migrants, including asylum-seekers, and refugees are susceptible to many crimes, including extortion, rape, and human trafficking. Many migrants fleeing conflict rely on smugglers at some point during their journeys and, in some instances, their smugglers are involved in schemes designed to deceive and trap them in sex or labor trafficking. Women, unaccompanied minors, and those denied asylum are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, including while in transit and upon arrival in destination countries.”[1] Migration of entire families as a result of conflict or other kinds of displacement can also increase the risk of worst forms of child labor.

Vulnerability of migrants also varies with the nature of the work the migrants end up doing, and contexts to which they end up migrating. Migration for seasonal work in agriculture may offer migrants fairly predictable working conditions and returns (although these are not always guaranteed, of course), whereas migration to an extractive frontier zone such as a newly developed site of artisanal mining or timber harvesting may present risks unanticipated by the migrant beforehand. Migrants appear often to be drawn to such “rush” extraction zones in the SSA region. In Uganda, for example, there are an estimated 50,000 migrants in mining camps. A sudden influx of migrants to an area can lead to conflict with the local population, and can also contribute to environmental degradation, and in some instances additional forms of exploitation such as sex trafficking as well. Oil and gas development, particularly in impoverished regions, frequently represents a strong draw for migrant workers seeking economic opportunity, leading to surging populations in areas where infrastructure is typically weak. Intense in-migration can create heightened inflation – the case of Angola is a particularly extreme example – creating livelihood challenges for local families.

In other global regions such as Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Gulf States, the existence of formal recruitment industries for migrant workers has been clearly shown to contribute to migrants’ trafficking risk via debt related to recruitment fees and deceptive recruitment practices. However, in the sub-Saharan African context, recruitment is more typically informal, based on kinship or other social networks, rather than conducted via the formalized labor broker systems seen in other parts of the world. In some cases, the informality of recruitment in Africa may serve a somewhat protective function for migrant workers, helping reduce the overall cost of migration, and decreasing the risk of recruitment-related indebtedness. On the other hand, informal recruitment mechanisms are difficult to monitor, and do not completely negate the risk of recruitment related debt or deception. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire, migrant workers in the cocoa sector may be required to pay back travel fees taken in advance, which can equal as much as an entire year’s salary.

[1] U.S. Department of State. “Topics of Special Interest,” 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report.  https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2016/258689.htm

Large-scale land acquisitions by companies, sometimes referred to land grabs, often leave local populations without livelihood options. The loss of land for subsistence agriculture can create a local labor force that must either accept work for the company operating on the acquired land or migrate out of the area in search of work elsewhere in order to earn money to buy food. Risk of exploitation for these locally-displaced populations is increased when land is acquired through coercion, deceit, or other forms of pressure. Women and indigenous groups may be at increased risk for displacement, as their property rights are often less well-protected or acknowledged under African legal property regimes. This is particularly true in countries where land tenure systems (often dual systems with traditional and official forms of tenure operating in parallel) create confusion and opacity around land ownership – ambiguity that can be exploited by corporate and/or state actors to facilitate the acquisition of local lands for commercial concessions. Connections between large-scale land acquisition by both foreign and domestic companies have been tied to government corruption in some countries.

Sectors that require large, consolidated areas of land, such as commercial agriculture and industrial mining operations, are more likely to be associated with large-scale land acquisition. For example, development of estate and outgrower-based production for crops such as sugar or tea has been associated with forced evictions or coercion to participate in outgrower schemes in several African countries. In the mining sector, the capital intensity required has meant that industrial mining operations in Africa are frequently implemented by foreign-owned firms. Because mineral rights are generally retained by national governments in the region, the foreign investors negotiate a percentage split of revenues with the state in exchange for government help in accessing mineral fields on a concessionary basis. When valuable minerals such as gold are involved, governments rarely hesitate to relocate local populations off of the land in question, even if forcible eviction is necessary to do so. Land acquisition for palm oil development in Africa has received significant attention. A plantation in Cameroon, for example, reportedly evicted indigenous people from their land and has since refused to hire them, paying the few it does hire significantly less than other workers.

Land acquisition in forested areas can be particularly detrimental to indigenous populations who rely on the forest for their livelihoods. The Bayaka pygmy populations in Central Africa, for example, have been displaced from traditional land by forestry concessions. Such populations are already marginalized by reduced access to citizenship documents and social discrimination, both of which can undermine their access to protective agencies and government programs. Given the close ties that often exist between indigenous forest dwellers and specific land areas, indigenous peoples may be at particular risk for becoming a captive labor force for the development of plantations or surrounding infrastructure. They may also be vulnerable to trafficking into other sectors as they lose access to traditional, forest-based livelihoods. Government corruption has been closely tied to forestry concessions in the African context.

Environmental issues – whether directly related to global supply chains or already existing in the country in question – can displace people from their land, disrupt traditional livelihood strategies, cause illness, and generally increase the vulnerability of local populations. People experiencing or having survived recent environmental catastrophes have often lost all or most of their personal resources, and may be physically or emotionally traumatized as well. Such people are at increased risk of vulnerability to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Deforestation, fisheries collapse, recurring drought, or diseases affecting staple crops may also lead to greater risk for trafficking, due to the association of such hardships with pervasive poverty and insecurity among the populations who depend on the affected resource bases. Trafficking risk caused by such environmental factors will likely increase over time as a result of ongoing climate change.

Environmental issues associated with global economic activity can also contribute to conflict and political instability. For example, in Kenya, flower cultivation is concentrated around the Lake Naivasha region. The lake’s water levels have dropped considerably due to water usage (said to be about ten liters of water per rose) for flower cultivation. The lowered water levels have had an impact on the surrounding Maasai population, which used the lake as a water source for livestock during the dry season. Fishing on the lake has also become untenable. Conflicts over water in the region have reportedly caused both death and displacement within local populations.

Environmental degradation may be associated with commodity production in non-agricultural supply chains as well. For example, Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing for export is a well-documented issue in African marine fisheries, so much so that nearly half of the catch in West Africa is estimated to be unreported and about half of regional fishery resources are overfished. Overfishing disrupts livelihoods among artisanal fishermen and contributes to local food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly given that fish accounts for a significant percentage of dietary protein in many African countries.

Supply chains can also more indirectly impact local livelihoods through environmental harm. Offshore oil production, for example, has been documented to disrupt fishing activities in Ghana and Angola. In Nigeria, pollution from oil spills has contributed to rural-urban migration. Commercial agriculture can contribute to deforestation, as well as air and water pollution. According to the World Wildlife fund, 2.5 metric tons of effluent are produced for every ton of palm oil processed in palm oils mills. Contamination of water sources linked with palm milling has been reported in West Africa.  In the extractives sector, land that has been cleared for open pit mines in countries such as Angola and Sierra Leone has become vulnerable to soil erosion, and flooding has resulted. Gold mining in general is hazardous to the environment as it can contribute to desertification/deforestation in already vulnerable areas, leading to loss of livelihood for local populations. In addition, local populations may lose access to potable water due to the use of mercury in association with artisanal gold mining.  Even practices used by large-scale mining operations can deplete or contaminate water sources. Mine shafts in artisanal mining are constructed with trees, so their proliferation can contribute to deforestation.  Dust – produced by crushing ore – and noise pollution are common and can threaten bio-diversity. 

Environmental degradation may also be associated with rush migration in the context of newly expanding production frontiers.   For example, in the biodiverse forests of Madagascar, recently discovered sapphire deposits have resulted in large-scale in-migration, as people develop informal mining operations. Thousands of acres of trees have been cut down, with negative environmental consequences for potentially thousands of rare species of plants and animals.  Commercial logging activity, whether legal or illicit, always necessitates significant amounts of labor for infrastructure development, particularly for road construction.  Surges in logging operations, particularly when conducted in remote locations, may produce isolated populations of workers who can be vulnerable to trafficking. Once remote forest zones are opened up to outside populations, corollary forms of environmental damage and increased human vulnerability may also occur. For example, commercial logging in Gabon and Central African Republic has been associated with an increase in the trade in bushmeat, as workers in the logging sector have sought to supplement their income with sales of bushmeat for urban consumers. The increase in hunting in previously inaccessible areas threatens biodiversity, including keystone species such as great apes, and contributes further to environmental degradation and loss of traditional livelihoods among resident populations. The increased contact with wildlife can facilitate the spread of diseases like Ebola, negatively affecting human health and further increasing the vulnerability of human populations.

Conflict increases the risk of human trafficking both in the geographic contexts where production for global supply chains takes place, and among the communities that supply the labor for global production. In situations characterized by active conflict, resident populations may find themselves displaced from their homes and in a state of economic desperation. Rule of law and enforcement of legal norms are weakened, creating an environment of impunity that enables the abuse of these vulnerable populations. Armed groups may rely on human trafficking, or on economic activities associated with or reliant on human trafficking for labor, in order to fund ongoing conflict activities. In some cases, armed groups – including those funded by commodity production – may forcibly conscribe soldiers. In others, struggles to control access to valuable commodities such as gold or diamonds may themselves be significant drivers of the conflict in question.

The extractives industry has been closely associated with conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. When national economies are singularly dependent on one type of extractive production, elites and political factions can be motivated to maintain control of the resource base, which they can profit on through concessions to large international companies. Research has shown that countries with wealth stemming from extractive industries are less likely to have functional democracies.  Natural resource wealth within a country can also fuel conflict, if competing factions are vying for control of the resource base. Minerals such as gold, diamonds, and so-called “conflict minerals” (including tantalum, tungsten, and tin) have been closely associated with armed conflict in Africa. Rebel groups and organized crime syndicates may control mines in some areas, either directly conscripting workers or requiring fees for “protection.”  In some conflicts funded by minerals, armed groups have forcibly conscripted children as combatants. In the Central African Republic, where diamonds have fueled multiple parties to the ongoing conflict, nearly 10,000 children have been conscripted and used as soldiers, informants, cooks, messengers, and for purposes of sexual exploitation. The diamond sector has received particular attention for the association of “blood diamonds” with the fueling and funding of conflicts.  Diamonds and other high value resources such as gemstones and gold are easily smuggled, and their origins easily obscured, which is financially appealing to armed groups. Armed groups have been able to profit from diamond mining, even during embargos, by stockpiling diamonds and smuggling them out of their origin countries.

Timber production has similarly been linked to conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, international companies reportedly made financial deals with armed groups in Central African Republic for “protection services” as they continued logging operations in the midst of ongoing conflict in that country, thus increasing rebels’ access to resources to buy arms.  Environmental and human rights groups have also noted that in countries with active or recent histories of conflict, identification and protection of land rights typically become more challenging, particularly when claims are made by multiple stakeholders. Given the overlap between forestry and conflict in many parts of Central Africa, this may act as a compounding factor for displacement of forest-dwelling indigenous peoples.

Child labor is not synonymous with trafficking but the drivers for both may be similar, including the demand for cheap, exploitable, unskilled labor, poverty, unequal access to education, and exclusionary social attitudes based on caste, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity.  Child labor and worst forms of child labor are widespread in informal economic sectors, which predominate in nearly all parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The risk of child labor is closely tied to the economic well-being of parents. In the case of agriculture, for example, the importance of farming to both livelihoods and national GDPs makes many African economies – and farmers themselves – vulnerable to price volatility tied to fluctuations in global agricultural commodity prices, variable weather patterns, disease, and overall productivity levels. This volatility can cause farmers producing for commercial markets to operate on extremely slim, or even negative profit margins. Farmers may fall into increasing cycles of debt as they take out loans – possibly with disadvantageous terms – to finance their operations. These livelihood insecurities can drive farmers to rely on unpaid or underpaid labor, potentially including child and family labor, migrant workers, or casual hired workers, all of whom have characteristics making them vulnerable to potential exploitation. The use of vulnerable workers was identified as a trafficking risk factor in all agricultural commodities researched. Vulnerable labor was identified in every commodity profiled, and child labor specifically was nearly as common.

Most children working in agriculture are unpaid family members working on family farms, although some also work alongside their parents in waged agricultural jobs or independently. There is a relatively low age of entry for child labor in agriculture, with some children starting as young as five to seven years old. Children may be more likely to work on farms during peak labor periods, such as planting and harvesting. When harvests overlap with the school year, children are likely to leave school at least temporarily. Children of migrant farmworkers, who are likely to work on farms themselves, may also be more likely to abandon their education early. Particularly when migrant families move following crop cycles, children do not have an opportunity to stay enrolled in school. Farm labor may be culturally viewed as a positive social and economic opportunity for children.

Child labor, including extremely hazardous forms of child labor, has also been widely documented in artisanal mining in sub-Saharan Africa. Like in agriculture, children often work alongside family members to supplement family income. Some children, particularly older juveniles, may migrate to mining areas to seek economic opportunity. In Burkina Faso and Mali, for example, children have been reported to be leaving school at a high rate to work in artisanal gold mining in an attempt to support themselves and their families. However, once on-site, these children are vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking. Regardless of how children enter the mining sector, due to the extremely hazardous nature of the work, mining is nearly always considered a Worst Form of Child Labor (WFCL). Children are commonly used to enter narrow mine shafts that adults can not fit down. In gold mining, children are also often tasked with cleaning the gold using mercury, a highly toxic substance.