Human Trafficking and Ethics

Human Trafficking and Ethics

SOC 120 Introduction to Ethics & Social Responsibility

Human Trafficking and Ethics

Human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery or trafficking in persons, is the ownership of another person, treating him or her as property, rather than an individual with human rights, with physical and emotional needs (Jacobs, 2013). Trafficking exists in various forms, such as sweatshop labors, domestic servitude, and those working in the sex industry against their will. Human traffickers prey upon those who are vulnerable and are in a dangerous situation looking for a way out. Exploiters will often lure victims with the promise of a better life such as employment, education, or travel. These victims are often imprisoned in extreme isolation and are dependent upon their captors for food and shelter (Vejar, 2013). Because human trafficking is a federal law as well as an international law; it is imperative that we as a society bring awareness to this issue. I will use the classical ethical theories of utilitarian and deontology to convey human trafficking is unethical. I will also use the alternative perspectives of ethical egoism and emotivism to uncover the justifications of exploiters. By this, it will be apparent that human trafficking is one of the most unethical methods of financial gain. These acts are inhumane and go against the essential rights of freedom everyone has from birth until death.

Each day we are faced with questions of right and wrong. These questions could be very simple or very complex. According to Mosser (2014), ethics is the study of those questions and suggests various ways we might solve them. When we explore human trafficking, one could ask the question, are basic human rights being violated? Human rights are rights intrinsic to all human beings, despite race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion or any other social position. The fundamental assumption is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

While trafficking involves transnational crime, it is the local law enforcement officer, rather than the federal agent, who is most likely to encounter crimes such as prostitution that maybe related to trafficking in human beings (Wilson et al., 2006). More than 1,000 women and girls have been identified as victims of sex trafficking in cantinas and bars across the US that operate well beyond the scope of law enforcement. More than half of these victims were underage which ranges from the ages of 12-14 years old. Some of these women are forcefully married into the life of trafficking. California happens to harbor 3 of the FBI’s 13 highest sex trafficking areas; Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. Many of the victims in California do not come from a foreign country, but 80 percent of these women and underage girls are from the US. According to Mohr (2017), in the attempt to escape these environments, some of these individuals commit crimes just to be sent to prison. These victims feel that incarceration is the only environment that will keep them safe but in actuality, it’s not. According to Vejar (2013), written in a report by UNODC, in 30 percent of countries where gender data was recorded, more women were prosecuted or convicted of human trafficking than men. The next two sections that are to follow will provide insight as to why human trafficking is unethical.


Utilitarianism is the classical ethical theory that states, we should act in such a way that produces the best results for the greatest number affected by that choice (Mosser, 2013). When viewing human trafficking form this perspective, it is straightforward to see a moral violation exist. The only individuals that benefit from human trafficking are the exploiters. They will use their victims’ as a renewable asset that can be resold time and time again or even multiple times in one night to multiply their profit. Smith and Martin (2014) found the exploitation of people as property for forced labor, sexual exploitation, and organ trade generates about $32 billion in revenues annually. The sad aspect is, in some cases, extreme poverty can lead to individuals trafficking their family members for profit. And this leaves the victim with the feeling of betrayal, unloved, and unwanted. There are more victims than traffickers. Therefore, the utilitarian theory does not maximize the utility of all those who are affected by the act of human trafficking.


According to Mosser (2013), deontology is the classic ethical theory that focuses on the reason the act is done, rather than the consequences of an act. Many years ago, human rights were non-existent. It wasn’t until December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted which lists 30 articles of fundamental freedoms all people should enjoy. Taking into account the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the deontology theory, human trafficking is unethical. When viewing human trafficking from the perspective of a deontologist, there is a breach in ethical behavior because the exploiters fail the universal rule test which is to ask; would human trafficking be the right thing to do for everyone in the same predicament? As a society, we would not want to be out trafficking humans for sex, sweatshop labors and domestic servitude. Even though the exploiter’s utility is increased by making a profit, at the same time the victims’ utility is decreased by performing acts and services they are not getting a profit from. Deontologist Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) acknowledged that we have a duty, or an obligation, to treat other people with respect; human beings have dignity, and we must take that dignity into consideration when dealing with them (Mosser, 2013).

Ethical Egoism

Ethical egoism is the alternative ethical perspective that states, our moral evaluations should be made in terms of our desires and goals (Mosser, 2013). With ethical egoist there is always a goal in mind. Therefore, the decisions that are made out of self-interest, are for future success. In my opinion, this ethical perspective is what I would classify human traffickers under. They will act in a way that maximizes their self-interest, by abducting someone and making them work for no profit or to harvest their organs so they can make a profit. Also, human traffickers will base all of their moral evaluations upon their self-interest, which is money. These exploiters are in the business purely for making money, and whoever interferes with what they want, or even prevents them from achieving their goal for making a profit, is said to be wrong.


Emotivism is an alternative ethical perspective that is not very complex. This perspective sees our moral evaluations as merely the expression of whether we respond to a given act by liking or not liking it (Mosser, 2013). It is an emotional response that one can have toward any kind of behavior. To those with a good heart and a care for people believe exploiters have an undignified unethical way of making a profit. But through the exploiters perspective, they are gratified by luring vulnerable people to make a substantial amount of income; they feel right about it. And those who are customers of the traffickers are like-minded and think that their actions are reasonable. Unfortunately, those who at one point where the trafficked victim can become the trafficker. They may feel because it was done to them that it is appropriate behavior to do to others and see nothing wrong with their actions.


The exploitation of a race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity is unacceptable in a respectable society. When an individual falls into human trafficking, their human rights are violated. Exploiters will often lure victims with the promise of a better life but do not deliver their promises. The utilitarian theory was used to show that there isn’t a benefit for all, the only person who benefits is the exploiter. As I have noted, when viewing human trafficking from the perspective of a deontologist, because the exploiters fail the universal rule test their actions of human trafficking can’t be universalized. Again, to figure this out, the question to ask was, would human trafficking be the right thing to do for everyone in the same predicament. Not only are their rights violated but it goes against the deontologist theory; where we have the duty to treat people with respect and dignity. Transitioning to the emotivism perspective, that is the view that something is good or bad based on ones’ emotion. The traffickers and the customers’ emotional response will indicate what they are doing is good. Finally, the ethical egoism perspective only benefits human traffickers’ self-interest. Victims that lose their right to freedoms as a result of lies, deceit, and coercion to make a profit is no way in any shape or form ethical.


Jacobs, D. (2013). Contemporary human trafficking in the united states: An analysis of sexual

trafficking (Order No. 1524258). Available from ProQuest Central. (1461390791).

Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.prox

Mohr, G. (2017). The impact of human trafficking. Corrections Today79(6), 22-90.

Mosser, K. (2013). Ethics and Social Responsibility (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint

Education, Inc.

Smith, K. T., Martin, H. M., & Smith, L. M. (2014). Human trafficking: A global multi-billion

dollar criminal industry. Retrieved from

Vejar, C. (2013). Human trafficking. Research Starters: Sociology (Online Edition).

Wilson, Deborah G., Walsh, William F., & Kleuber, Sherilyn (2006) Trafficking in Human

Beings: Training and Services among US Law Enforcement Agencies, Police Practice and Research, 7:2, 149-160, DOI: 10.1080/15614260600676833

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