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Green Lanes, Finsbury Park, North London, the main drag of an ordinary neighborhood in Britain's prosperous capital city. The street hums with economic activity, cars back up waiting to turn into the parking lot of the supermarket, 100,000 square feet of new retail space is under construction on an adjacent site, pedestrian shoppers head for the Greek bakeries and fishmongers for which this stretch of Green Lanes is famous.

What the people going about their business don't see and couldn't possibly know is how much of the economic activity going on around them is based on illegal migrant labor. In the supermarket, the fresh English asparagus has been picked and packaged by migrants working outside the reach of health and safety laws. On the building site, the laborers are from Eastern Europe and probably paying off debts with interest to the gang masters who got them their jobs, debts that their masters may never let them pay off, and the elite sauna, well the elite sauna is not a place where the local hip crowd goes to relax and get clean. It is a brothel staffed by women trafficked from Moldova, Ukraine and Thailand into sexual slavery.

The situation on this street is not unique, nor is the public's ignorance of it, according to Roger Plant, head of Special Action programs at the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency headquartered in Geneva. "This is a hidden problem," he says. Plant is co-author of the first study into forced labor around the world just published. Twelve point three million people work in forced labor; 2.4 million of them have been trafficked into this modern slavery.

Palermo Agreement
"Trafficking in persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction or fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power of a position of vulnerability or of the giving of receiving of payment or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another persons, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Forced laborers earn $44 billion a year for their employers/masters. Thirty six billion dollars a year is earned by people trafficked into forced labor. Half that money is earned in the industrialized world even though the number of people trafficked there is only a small fraction of those who actually find themselves in this dreadful situation.

The sex trade is one of the primary forces driving the illegal traffic in human beings in Britain. Traffickers go to extraordinary lengths to provide bodies for sexual exploitation in Britain and the rest of Europe. And the age of the person being trafficked doesn't matter much: hundreds of children have been trafficked from Nigeria to Britain and then trans-shipped to Italy where they are prostituted.

Trafficking in women is an even larger and more lucrative trade. In Britain, criminals have discovered that trafficking women from Eastern Europe into forced prostitution is astonishingly lucrative -- the average woman working in forced prostitution earns $67,000 a year profit for her owner. And it's a virtually penalty free way to earn money according to Detective Superintendent Richard Powell of London's Metropolitan Police's clubs and vice unit. "Humans are the commodity," he says. And since the women are often afraid to testify against the traffickers it is hard to make cases. "Get caught with a gun or a bag of dope and you go to prison for a long time," Powell notes. But if you get caught trafficking women and they don't testify against you, you will go free. Powell believes there are several thousand women who have been trafficked into the sex trade in Britain.

The average woman trafficked into sexual slavery is from Eastern Europe. Sonya's story is typical. After graduating college with an economics degree, this young Ukrainian woman found herself unemployed because she did not speak good English. A "friend" of her father arranged for her to travel to London to take classes and even loaned her father the money to pay for them. When she arrived she spent a pleasant week being shown the city by friends of her father's "friend." Then she was informed that she was not going to class after all and driven to a brothel where she was forced into a life of prostitution.

For three years she worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week in brothels and saunas all over London. She was beaten regularly to keep her in fear and obedient. She escaped by chance, during a falling out among thieves that turned violent and the police were summoned to the brothel. But that didn't end her ordeal. The British government began proceedings to deport her back to the Ukraine, where the gang that trafficked her still operates. She fears for her life if they find her.

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