The ASEM Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2001), stressed the need to encourage research on the demand for the most common forms of exploitation of trafficked women and children, in particular for commercial sex services, and recommended a multi-country study into the
demand side of trafficking as one of its follow-up actions.
In response to this recommendation, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sida and Save the Children Sweden, commissioned the authors to coordinate a pilot research study on the demand underlying two sectors where the labour/services of trafficked persons are known to be subject to exploitation: prostitution and domestic work. This report sets out some of the findings of the pilot study and ongoing research concerning employer demand for domestic workers in private households, and consumer demand for commercial sexual services in selected European and Asian countries.
The research discussed in this report suggests that three related factors are key to explaining the exploitative conditions experienced by many migrant domestic and sex workers: (a) The unregulated nature of the labour market segments in which they work; (b) the abundant supply of exploitable labour and (c) the power and malleability of social norms regulating the behaviour of employers and clients. The continued expansion of any unregulated market is likely to require and facilitate the exploitation of vulnerable labour. Both paid sex and domestic work are peculiar market segments in the sense that there is both political and social unease regarding those who buy and sell in them as workers or consumers/employers. In both sex and domestic work, the absence of effective regulation is one of the factors that help to create an environment in which it is possible and profitable to use unfree labour.