Acton Commentary

Enlisting the Private Sector in the Fight against Human Trafficking


Human trafficking is a scourge in our world, and there are many ways to fight it. Typically, we think of NGOs and charitable organizations, but more and more of the private sector is taking up the cause. In a special report, the Business As Mission Global Think Tank offers concrete ways for-profit businesses can be a vital component in this battle.

Specifically, the think tank studied how the Business as Mission (BAM) movement can put the traditional business model to work against sex trafficking. All businesses, of course, are meant to make a profit and meet a marketplace demand. BAM companies, on the other hand, explicitly work to further God’s Kingdom, transform lives and/or work among the poorest and least evangelized people.

According to the think tank report, “A Business Takeover: Combating the Business of the Sex Trade with Business as Mission,” the private sector is in a unique position to fight sex trafficking.  By working with NGOs and charitable organizations, businesses are able to create jobs that allow survivors of trafficking to find employment, support themselves and their families, and learn valuable skills, including saving, budgeting, and working in a professional environment.

The idea that business can be used for positive social change is not a new one. Philosophers, economists and business people have all pondered this. In The Good That Business Does, (Acton Institute, 2006) Robert G. Kennedy summarizes how businesses can contribute goodness to society. First, businesses can do good by embracing collaboration and competition, fairly, honestly and openly. Second, business provides a sound financial structure, not only for the employees, but for investors and consumers. Third, businesses follow just laws and regulations that create a stable, economically-viable structure. Finally, business does good by effectively and efficiently utilizing technology, thereby staying competitive in the marketplace.  By following these methods, Kennedy asserts that businesses can create abundance and prosperity, not merely for their owners, but for the community. “A Business Takeover” puts it this way:  businesses “create jobs, add economic value, and focus on profit and strategic growth for sustainability.”

Human trafficking feeds on the vulnerable, and that includes the poor. Children are especially at risk, as they can be sold by parents into slavery and have little or no education or means of self-support. For the Business as Mission movement, this means intentionally focusing on areas that are economically depressed and unstable.  Businesses can prevent trafficking by creating alternative and wholesome sources of income, and they can also offer “restoration” for survivors of trafficking. If a person is going to escape from the life of sex slavery, there must be an alternative, safe, sustainable source of income.

One business built on this model is International Sanctuary, or iSanctuary, which has operated in Mumbai, India since 2007 and Orange County, Calif. since 2010.  In Mumbai, iSanctuary works with girls as young as 14. The women in Orange County tend to be a bit older, and come from all over the globe. In an interview, Michelle Johnson, iSanctuary’s marketing and public relations coordinator, described the work of iSanctuary.

The organization, she said, works with about 250 women in Mumbai, all survivors of sex trafficking. These women receive aftercare, which includes tutoring, medical care and counseling. The women are also trained to make jewelry. iSanctuary hopes to open an education academy in 2014, which will provide a fuller education curriculum for the women. There is also room for growth in job experience; women can move into management positions.

In Orange County, iSanctuary operates a nine-month program of on-the-job training. The women in this program receive and fulfill orders for the company’s jewelry, learn to work in a professional work environment while receiving help with resume writing and other basic job skills, and receive aftercare services regarding sex trafficking.

As a business, iSanctuary works to be profitable. Johnson stated, “The more jewelry we sell, the more women we can help.” They focus on being a socially responsible business, helping their employees grow, earn a living wage and gain skills in order to build a life outside of the sex trade. 

Business is often marginalized when people talk about ways to create positive change in the world. Business people and businesses are cast as greedy or self-interested. The Business as Mission movement demonstrates the power of profit for positive cultural change. In The Entrepreneurial Vocation, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, put it this way:

The entrepreneurial vocation will require that they continue to be watchful practitioners in the art of discovery, for by it they will create employment opportunities for those who would otherwise go without.

For survivors of sex trafficking, building a profitable business can literally saves lives. As these types of businesses grow, they can prevent sex trafficking by creating economic opportunities in areas where none exist. This is a positive transformation of our world.