Twenty years ago, global leaders from nearly 120 countries joined forces through a new U.N. convention to agree on a universal definition of human trafficking and recommit themselves to ridding the world of it. That same year, the U.S. government enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to close gaps in U.S. law. Yet, despite near-universal pledges to eradicate the crime, human trafficking and modern slavery continue unabated, affecting more than 40 million people worldwide.
This failure poses a global threat: While human trafficking is rightfully condemned as a grave affront to human rights and dignity, it persists unchecked. As the United States renews its commitment to protecting freedom and ending slavery—with its annual observation of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention this month, culminating on National Freedom Day on Feb. 1—it should address the many ways that human trafficking imperils global security. Indeed, this practice supports terrorist and armed groups, bankrolls criminal organizations, enables abusive regimes, and undermines stability, according to a recent Council on Foreign Relations report written with my colleague, Rachel Vogelstein.