Issues

5 Human Trafficking Documentaries You Can Watch Online

Even though human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry, most people don’t know that much about it. Why is it such a huge issue? Where is it happening? A good documentary can provide the most essential information in an engaging way. Available online, these five human trafficking documentaries cover topics such as sex trafficking, forced labor, and efforts to solve the crisis.

Brides and Brothels: The Rohingya Trade (2018)

Available on: Youtube | From: Al Jazeera English

After escaping Myanmar’s brutal military, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya girls and women seek safety in Bangladesh. However, the refugee camps are anything but safe. This 25-minute documentary from Al Jazeera English centers on what happens in those camps which shelter almost a million refugees. Facing financial hardships, families sell their female relatives into child marriages. Many also end up in brothels after being promised good work. The documentary, which is available on Youtube, follows the stories of three girls. It reveals that the risk of trafficking doesn’t go away after people escape a conflict. While the world may believe that the Rohingya women are safe once they leave Myanmar, in reality, they’re entering a new hell.

Owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network, Al Jazeera English is the first English-language news channel headquartered in the Middle East. It was launched in 2006 and since 2017, it’s won more than 150 awards. In addition to its Youtube channel, the network is available online via live streaming on its website.

Ghost Fleet (2019)

Available on: Apple TV, Prime Video, FandangoNOW, Xbox  |  From: Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron

With an original premiere at TIFF in 2018, this documentary focuses on the slave trade that powers the world’s seafood industry. Following a group of activists, the film pulls back the curtain on Thailand’s fishing industry. Being responsible for a huge part of the world’s seafood supply is a tall order and there aren’t enough fishermen. That’s where human trafficking comes in. People from Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and other places are sold to these fishing fleets for a few hundred dollars. Abused and kept in cages, these enslaved fishermen can go for months or even years without leaving the ships.

While many human trafficking documentaries focus on sex slavery, it’s important to remember that forced labor also affects millions of people. “Ghost Fleet” brings the situation to light and draws awareness to the commitment of activists. Viewers are also forced to reckon with their own ethics and consumption of seafood that likely came from sources that use slave labor.

Sex Trafficking in America (2019)

Available on: PBS Frontline  | From: PBS (directed by Jezza Neumann)

Filmed over three years, this 54-minute documentary from PBS Frontline takes a look at sex trafficking in the United States. At 16, Kat was kidnapped and trafficked by men she met online. Through her story, the film explores how victims are chosen, groomed, and sold. In the documentary, Kat says that she didn’t even know something like that was possible in the US. The film also follows a unique police unit based in Phoenix. They’re dedicated to fighting sex trafficking through techniques like undercover social media operations. While “Sex Trafficking in America” reveals the trauma of trafficking, it also offers a glimmer of hope.

Director Jezza Neumann and producer Lauren Mucciolo seek to let people know that trafficking happens in the United States. Neumann, whose first film was about trafficking in China, became interested in the issue in the US after talking to Kevin Bales, a professor specializing in modern-day slavery. PBS Frontline has been running since 1983 and focuses on hard-hitting topics. Each broadcast is a stand-alone feature-length documentary. “Sex Trafficking in America” is available to watch for free on the PBS Frontline website.

I Am Jane Doe (2017)

Available on: Netflix  |  From: Mary Mazzio (director)

For years, human traffickers sold young girls for sex through Backpage.com, a classified ad website once owned by the Village Voice. In this documentary narrated by Jessica Chastain, the girls’ mothers take up the fight and bring legal suits against the website. The mothers face significant pushback from judges, corporations, and outdated laws, including one that allows websites to deny responsibility for ads that sell girls. “I Am Jane Doe” explores the girls’ stories, the lawyers involved in the suits, and the members of Congress who get involved.

Mary Mazzio is an award-winning filmmaker and producer of this film along with Alec Sokolow. 50% of the film’s profits went to nonprofits that focus on child survivors of human trafficking. On Rotten Tomatoes, “I Am Jane Doe” has a 91%. It was screened at a private event with members of Congress. In 2018, Backpage.com posted a notice that the FBI had seized the site. While change is slow, films like “I Am Jane Doe” let the public know what’s happening.

The Dark Side of Chocolate (2010)

Available on: Youtube | From: Miki Mistrati and U Roberto Romano (directors)

For decades, slavery has fueled the chocolate industry. Places like West Africa depend on child labor for their cocoa production. The filmmakers begin in Germany where the director questions vendors about suppliers. The journey continues to Mali and then the Ivory Coast, where children are enslaved on cocoa plantations. Huge corporations like Nestle use that chocolate, and despite promises to stop, very little changes have been made. Deadlines for complying with new rules kept getting pushed back. In 2010, the filmmakers went to find out what the situation is.

Director Miki Mistrati and U Roberto Romano used secret cameras to film much of this documentary. It’s available for free on Youtube. In 2012, it was nominated for the Adolf Grimme Award in the Information & Culture category. Have things changed much since this film came out? In June 2019, three of the biggest cocoa producers in the world – Nestle, Mars, and Hershey – could not report that their chocolate was slave-free.

About the author

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Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.