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BigLogo.gif UN Member States on the Record
Human trafficking: new data and a new Goodwill Ambassador
12 February 2009 / 04:55

[Dateline: New York | Author:  iSeek/UNODC]

Global Report on Trafficking in Persons The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued the first-ever Global Report on Trafficking in Persons  on Thursday, 12 February, and appointed a new Goodwill Ambassador, the award-winning actress and human rights supporter Mira Sorvino.

Based on data gathered from 155 countries, the report, launched in New York by UNODC's Executive Director, Under-Secretary-General Antonio María Costa, offers an unprecedented view of the scope of human trafficking and what is being done to fight it, including global trafficking patterns and the legal steps taken in response.

USG Costa launches the report | Credit: Fred Fath/iSeekReport launches also took place at UNODC field offices in Brazil, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam.

USG Costa explained that “This Report increases our understanding of modern slave markets, yet it also exposes our ignorance. We have a big picture, but it is impressionistic and lacks depth. We fear the problem is getting worse, but we can not prove it for lack of data.”

Calling on governments and social scientists to improve information-gathering and -sharing on human trafficking, Costa warned, “If we do not overcome this knowledge crisis we will be fighting the problem blindfolded.”

The report emphasizes the following points:

Although the number of convictions for human trafficking is increasing, conviction rates are still proportionately much lower than the estimated number of victims.

The most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls, and, surprisingly, in some countries, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers.

Forced labour, the second most common form of trafficking according to available statistics, is less frequently detected and reported than trafficking for sexual exploitation. “Their numbers will surely swell as the economic crisis deepens the pool of potential victims and increases demand for cheap goods and services,” Costa predicted. 

Worldwide, almost 20 percent of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and Asia, children are the majority, especially in places where small fingers are exploited to untangle fishing nets, sew luxury goods, or pick cocoa.

Although trafficking seems to imply people moving across continents, most exploitation takes place close to home. Data show intra-regional and domestic trafficking are the major forms of trafficking in persons. There are also notable cases of long-distance trafficking. Europe is the destination for victims from the widest range of origins, while victims from Asia are trafficked to the widest range of destinations.

The United Nations Protocol against Trafficking in Persons – the foremost international agreement in this area – entered into force in 2003. The Report shows that in the past few years the number of Member States seriously implementing the Protocol has more than doubled (from 54 to 125 out of the 155 States covered). However, there are still many countries – particularly in Africa – that lack the necessary legal instruments or the will to do so.

UNODC Goodwill Ambassador and Actress Mira Sorvino | Credit: Fred Fath/iSeekRelated event and new UNODC Goodwill Ambassador, Actress Mira Sorvino

Also in New York, a ceremony was held at 3 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber that included a panel discussion on trafficking in persons called “Exposing Denial and Benign Neglect.”

Members of the panel were:

-Antonio María Costa (UNODC)
-Minister Valentin Rybakov (Belarus)
-Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz (Egypt)
-Kevin Bales (Free the Slaves)
-Robert Bilheimer (Filmmaker)

At the event, Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino, was appointed as UNODC Goodwill Ambassador’s to Combat Human Trafficking.

Ms. Sorvino is a critically-acclaimed and award-winning actress, producer and an accomplished human rights advocate. 

In 2006, Ms. Sorvino was honored with Amnesty International’s Artist of Conscience Award, which is given to those who have displayed longstanding philanthropic and humanist efforts. She has been a supporter of UNODC anti-trafficking initiatives since 2007.  She was a Golden Globe Award nominee for her performance in the miniseries Human Trafficking.

The United Nations has a tradition of enlisting the volunteer services and support of prominent individuals from the worlds of art, sport, literature and entertainment to highlight the Organization’s priority issues and draw attention to its activities.

The Secretary-General designates the Messengers of Peace, a programme that was begun in 1997.  Goodwill Ambassadors are designated by Heads of UN Agencies, Offices, Funds and Programmes. No individual in either programme is compensated for their time, and the United Nations has specific guidelines that each celebrity advocate must follow.


UNODC is the lead UN agency fighting all forms of human trafficking including sex slaves, child soldiers, forced labor, illegal adoption and illegal organ transfers. UNODC works with governments, the private sector and NGOs by raising public awareness, engaging in preventative activities and enhancing the capacity and skills of criminal justice professionals and policymakers.

In March 2007, the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, UNODC launched UN GIFT, the UN Global Initiative to Fight human Trafficking.