According to the International Labour Organization, human trafficking brings in $150 billion per year. The sale of human beings can be found in every country in the world. Despite the prevalence of the problem on a global scale and attempts to raise awareness, the industry continues to thrive due to factors like poverty, climate change, and conflict. Women and young girls are especially vulnerable, but all impoverished, desperate people are at risk. To learn more about what drives human trafficking and the people caught in the cycle at every level, here are 11 human trafficking books everybody should read:
#1. Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight
#2. Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not For Sale
#3. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy
#5. Human Trafficking: The Complexities of Exploitation
#6. Fishermen Slaves: Human Trafficking and the Seafood We Eat
#7. Migrant Crossings: Witnessing Human Trafficking in the U.S.
#8. Unbroken Chains: The Hidden Role of Human Trafficking in the American Economy
#9. The Great Escape: A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America
#10. Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World
#11. Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry
Author(s): Stephanie Hepburn and Rita Simon
Each chapter of this book examines trafficking and how it’s addressed in 24 different countries such as Australia, France, Japan, India, Mexico, and South Africa. This makes it one of the most thorough explorations of human trafficking. Authors Hepburn and Simon combine statistical data with interviews and personal accounts of both traffickers, those who’ve been trafficked, and those working to stop trafficking. The detailed study also highlights the causes of trafficking in each country on a cultural, economic, and geopolitical level, as well as the legislative problems that prevent real change.
Stephanie Hepburn is an independent journalist with a background in law. Rita Simon works as a university professor, author, and editor of Gender Issues. The two writers have published another book together called Women’s Roles and Statuses the World Over.
Author: Rachel Lloyd
When she was a teenager, Rachel Lloyd survived the commercial sex industry in England, eventually escaping her pimp. In Girls Like Us, Lloyd explores the world survivors come from and relates the history of her nonprofit organization Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS). This book gives a personal, riveting account of human trafficking and the illegal sex industry, while also showcasing the good work being done to combat it.
Rachel Lloyd founded GEMS in 1998. She has also worked to change legislative policies, especially in New York City. Her advocacy on the “Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act” helped make New York the first city to recognize sexually exploited kids as victims, not criminals. Girls Like Us is currently her only book.
Author: Kevin Bales
In this book, human trafficking expert Kevin Bale examines stories from Pakistan, India, Thailand, Brazil, and other countries. Because of the dramatic increase in population in these areas, millions of people are poor, desperate, and vulnerable to trafficking and slavery. Through case studies, Bales concludes that what makes modern slavery different than slavery in the past is that these slaves aren’t viewed as long-term investments. They are cheap and disposable because a trafficker or slaveholder can always get someone else. Disposable People was nominated for a Pulitzer.
Kevin Bales is the co-founder and former president of Free the Slaves, the world’s largest abolitionist organization. He’s the author of numerous books on trafficking and a consultant to the United Nations Global Program Against Trafficking in Human Rights. All Bales’ royalties from this book go to help fund anti-slavery projects.
Author: Patricia McCormick
The only fiction book on this list, Sold was a National Book Award Finalist in 2007 and one of NPR’s Top 100 books of 2007. Organized into vignettes, Sold follows the story of a 13-year-old girl from Nepal sold into prostitution in India by her stepfather. The novel, written in free verse, is disturbing and gripping. McCormick went to Nepal and India to interview women and collect details to ensure the book’s accuracy and realism. A film adaptation produced by Emma Thompson was released in 2014.
Patricia McCormick is an American journalist and writer. She’s been a finalist for the National Book Award twice. Her other books include Never Fall Down and I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, which she wrote with Malala Yousafzai.
Editors: Margaret Malloch + Paul Rigby
A more academic text than some of the other books on this list, Human Trafficking offers findings from original research, insights from human rights practitioners, and perspectives beyond political and media discourse on human trafficking. The book places human trafficking in a theoretical and legislative framework, considers global responses and victim support, and collects expert contributions. If you’ve ever wondered what human trafficking really is and how it’s discussed in expert circles, this is a good book to read.
Margaret Malloch is a Reader in Criminology at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Stirling. Paul Rigby is a Lecturer in Social Work at the same university.
Authors: Martha Mendoza, Robin McDowell, Esther Htusan, and Margie Mason
The Associated Press has frequently examined exploitation and human trafficking, which touches every part of our lives through the products we buy. This report, which focuses on trafficking in the seafood industry, earned the AP the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The report led to the release of more than 2,000 slaves.
The four authors are all award-winning journalists with the Associated Press. In the course of their investigation, they risked their own safety. Company officials threatened to ram their speedboat and for four days, they hid in the back of a truck to record the names of ships carrying tainted seafood.
Author: Annie Isabel Fukushima
Using an interdisciplinary approach, Migrants Crossing explores the experiences and representations of Asian and Latina/o migrants trafficked into the US. With sources like press releases, law enforcement campaigns, theater performances, the law, and court records, the author examines how society views victimhood, citizenship, legality, and criminality. Readers will analyze questions about “perfect victimhood,” the legal system, colonialism, racism, and how society’s understanding of “victim” affects how we see human trafficking survivors.
Annie Isabel Fukushima is an Associate Professor in the Ethnic Studies Division at the University of Utah’s School for Cultural and Social Transformation. Migrant Crossings received the American Sociological Association Asia and Asia American Section Book Award: Asian America.
Author: Melissa Ditmore
With a two-decade foundation of research on the US and international human trafficking industry, Ditmore investigates how forced labor exists in many industries other than commercial sex work. This book tells the stories of nannies working for New York City’s elites, door-to-door magazine salespeople, agricultural workers, and many others. Readers will also find detailed maps, trafficking documents, and archival pictures and texts. Unbroken Chains will be released on May 9, 2023.
Melissa Ditmore is a freelance consultant and writer whose work focuses on gender, development, human rights, and health. Her clients have included the United Nations and the US Agency for International Development. Her writing has appeared in places like Huffpost, the Daily Beast, and The Guardian.
Author: Saket Soni
In 2006, young community organizer Saket Soni received a call from an Indian migrant worker in a labor camp. The caller said he and 500 other men had each paid $20,000 for a work “opportunity,” but upon arriving and putting their families in debt, they were fed rotten food, housed in filth, and trapped behind barbed wire. In this book on one of the largest human trafficking cases in modern American history, Soni recounts how the workers fought for justice and traveled on foot to Washington, D.C. The Great Escape releases on January 24, 2023.
Saket Soni is the founder and director of Resilience Force, a nonprofit that focuses on the workforces formed to help after climate disasters. Soni has been profiled in USA Today as “an architect of the next labor movement” and has testified before Congress on immigration and labor rights.
Author: Kevin Bales
Kevin Bales returns to our list with Blood and Earth, a book that examines the aligned crises of environmental destruction and human trafficking. In his travels, Bales noticed that in areas where slavery thrived, there was also environmental destruction. Readers will learn where human rights and the environment are being violated, as well as how some of the most common products in our homes – like computers and smartphones – are being produced in these same places.
Kevin Bales is currently working as a professor at the University of Nottingham.
Author: Carol Off
The global chocolate industry, which is worth over $127 billion, has been the site of countless human rights violations. In Bitter Chocolate, Carol Off investigates the evolution of chocolate from its Aztec origins to factory production at candy corporations like Hershey, Mars, and Cadbury. Human trafficking and exploitation are deeply entrenched in the industry, especially in the Ivory Coast, where most of the world’s cocoa beans come from. While this book was originally published back in 2007, human trafficking remains a huge problem for the chocolate industry.
Carol Off is an award-winning journalist and former co-host of As It Happens, CBC radio’s current affairs program. She’s covered conflicts in places like the Balkans, Haiti, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union.