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La Trata de Personas: An Underground Trade in an Underground Economy

An excerpt from a thesis in progress by Tobi Zidell

Walking down any street in Madrid one encounters various visual stimuli — elderly
ladies pushing their carritos down the sidewalk and young couples, intertwined in lip-
locked arrangements amidst the daily hustle and bustle of busy stall vendors selling fresh
fruit, meat and olives. As the night falls, an entirely different image emerges; one of
bright lights, loud music, and the roaring reverberations of the fiestas that represent
Spanish nightlife. Yet, if one looks closer, the transparency of Spain’s capital city
materializes riddled with hardship, sadness and despair.

Guarding their respective positions, on the crowded streets of downtown Madrid, are
women wearing apathetic smiles and sorrow in their eyes. The majority of these women
are not Madrileñas. In fact, estimations argue 90% of the prostitutes in Spain are illegal
immigrants, brought into Spain through illegal human trafficking. Prostitution however,
is only one form of forced commercial sexual exploitation found in the Mediterranean
country, forced labor for economic exploitation exits within Spain’s borders as well.

Whether attempting to escape life in a politically torn country or coerced into thinking
they will have the opportunity to provide a better future for themselves, hundreds of
thousands of men, women and children are being trafficked across international and
regional borders every year. While some are willing to accept the dangers, others find
themselves driven into the cynosure of modern day slavery.

The topic of human trafficking has been gaining vast public and government attention
over the last decade. Fueled by overwhelming economic instability and the rapid spread
of globalization, human trafficking has become a hotbed for political agendas and
advocacy groups around the world. Roughly, 50,000 people have been trafficked into
Spanish borders alone for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced
labor in 2009.1 What has led Spain to be a transit and destination country for traffickers,

"Country Narrative - Spain." Web. 09 Mar. 2010. <
and how will the current economic crisis affect this clandestine market activity?

As Spain eventually paved its way towards a EU defined commonwealth, its borders
opened and immigrants came flocking. In fact, Spain’s trafficking patterns,
predominately dominated by South Americans and most recently Romanian immigrants,
differs from that of other European countries.2 With a prime coastal, geographical
location and up until recently, a rapidly developing economy, the southern borders of
Spain have become an appealing destination for immigrants and traffickers. Between the
years 2000 and 2007, Spain grew to be the European State with highest active migration
flows. Recent UN data places Spain as the country with the third highest level of inward
migration flows in the world during 1990 and 2005, and the Fundación de las Cajas de
Ahorros (FUCAS) predicted that by 2010 Spain would be host to over six million

Adding fuel to the fire, the Spanish Minister of Labor and Immigration, Celestino
Corabacho estimates that between 16% and 20% of the Spanish GDP belongs to the
underground economy, and due to the current economic crisis, more businesses move
into the black market, avoiding taxes and unionized labor. Inevitably, this fosters
exploitive conditions in which increasingly cheap forced labor magnifies the already
serious problem of illegal trafficking across borders.

The division between the legitimate and illegitimate economies in Spain has a history
that dates back to the early 1970’s just before Spain’s transition period into a democracy.
An underground economy formed in conjunction with a rapid rise in labor cost and
inflation while the social, legal, political and economic policies adapted to a new
government. As in most underground economies, a potential migrant can seek the work
he or she could not obtain in a formal sector. As the current global economic crisis
increases, the threat of illegal migration and human trafficking in Europe, Spain, and the
rest of the world will become more prevalent than ever. While a global demand for labor

Belser, Patrick. Forced Labour and Human Trafficking: Estimating the Profits. Working Paper no.
DECLARATION/WP/42/2005. Geneva: International Labor Organization, 2005. International Labour
Organization. Web. 30 Jan. 2010. <
Gabinet D'Estudis Socials. Spain Country Report. Rep. no. 044272. Undocumented Worker Transitions,
July 2007. Web. 18 Feb. 2010. <>.
decreases and the supply of workers expands, many will find themselves taking greater
risks for economic opportunities, leading to the increase of trafficking in humans for the
purpose of forced labor of migrant workers and women in prostitution.

In addition to establishing a better understanding of what the crime of trafficking

and forced labor entails and refers to, it is of upmost importance to provide a clear a
structural framework inclusive of an understandable definition at the root level, so that
measures for prevention can also be initiated. This has been a source problem for most
scholars and combatants of trafficking, as trying to specify the boundaries of this illegal
activity are as boundless as the problem itself. Constantly defined and redefined, the
term “trafficking” is often misinterpreted. “Trafficking is a complex, diverse, and
controversial phenomenon, which has made the search for a definition a ‘terminological

Trafficking in Persons Report. Rep. US Department of State, June 2009. Web. 10 Feb. 2010.