the lesser-known consequences of the russia-ukraine crisis

by Marianne Mokken | August 24, 2022

My colleagues, David du Plessis and Evan May, wrote an insightful piece on the financial consequences of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. There is, in addition to the obvious financial impact, the unfolding humanitarian crisis1.

People have fled the affected areas and have become refugees hoping to be accommodated by neighbouring countries. One instance that sticks out in my mind is the mom who sent her eleven-year-old son on a solo 600-mile trek to the Slovakian border. In this instance there was a happy ending when he was reunited with his family2. The story could, however, have had a very different ending and probably does for many others.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ global conflict tracker there are at least 27 ongoing conflicts across the globe that impact US interests on varying levels3. All these conflicts translate into an increase in refugees. According to the Pew Research Centre (“the Centre”), the Syrian civil war, for example, has displaced 6.8 million people. This represents 35% of the population of Syria4. As at March 2022 the Centre ranks the Russian invasion of the Ukraine as the sixth largest refugee crisis since 1960 if the number of refugees is considered:

Just as much as a war in 2022 has been unthinkable for many people, slavery also seems to be a concept that rather fits into the distant past. People trying to escape conflict areas are very vulnerable to falling prey to slavery and its close relatives human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage.

According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“the Palermo Protocol”), human trafficking is defined as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, 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 labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.5

Slavery is defined as the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised and includes debt bondage, serfdom and forced marriage.6 7

The South African connection

War and conflict are not the only factors that can fuel human trafficking. Poverty, natural disasters, migration, homelessness, and lack of support from family or community also make people vulnerable.8

South Africa is seen as a source, transit country, and destination country for trafficked individuals.9 10 Reliable statistics are not available due to the illicit nature of human trafficking. It is however estimated that around 155 000 people live in slavery in South Africa.11 One need only follow the news headlines to realise that it is an ever-growing problem.12 Our good infrastructure (reliable internet and cellphone networks, and banking system), poverty, unemployment and corruption make our country a prime target for criminal operations.13

The gatekeepers

Human trafficking is said to be the third largest criminal enterprise in the world, after drug trafficking and counterfeiting.14 The operators of these enterprises would want to make use of the regulated financial system to move and launder their dirty money across the globe. Here financial institutions act as the gatekeepers to the financial system, and they have been identified as one of the categories of service providers that may be vulnerable to being used by money launderers. Accordingly financial institutions (amongst other entities) are subject to the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) and must apply compliance measures such as a risk management and compliance programme, training of staff, and due diligence processes before establishing a business relationship.

As indicated in one of my previous articles15 though, all business owners, managers of a business and employees have an obligation in terms of FICA to report suspicious and unusual activities or transactions. This would include a suspicion related to human trafficking.

Ultimately, human trafficking cannot be stopped without addressing the root causes such as poverty that make people vulnerable to human trafficking and other related crimes.

If you are a victim of human trafficking or if you suspect human trafficking activities, you can seek confidential assistance 24/7 from the South African National Human Trafficking Resource Line on 0800-222-777 Their website address is should you wish to contact them online.


  6. Article 1 of the 1926 Convention Against Slavery as amended by the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery.
  7. In South Africa the Palermo Protocol and the right to freedom as expressed in the Constitution of South Africa, 1996 is given effect in the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act, 7 of 2013.
  10. Source countries are countries that supply the victims of the crime, transit countries are mediums/stopping points which the victims travel through, and destination countries are the final locations to which they are brought.
  15. Don’t forget the laundry, 11 May 2021


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