Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms

Human Exploitation

Cite this article as:
Luã Fergus Cruz and Laila Lorenzon (17/12/2021). Human Exploitation. In Belli, L.; Zingales, N. & Curzi, Y. (Eds.), Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms (online). FGV Direito Rio.

Authors: Luã Fergus and Laila Lorenzon

There is no agreed definition of what human exploitation is; however, international law lists the types of illegal activities related to this practice. Elaborated in 2000, the Palermo Protocol, conceived within the United Nations, is the international legal instrument that deals with human trafficking (Allain, 2013)1.

The Palermo Protocol (UNGA, 2000)2 defines human trafficking by a series of actions (recruitment, transport, transfer, accommodation, or reception) that may be carried out by different means (threat, use of force, other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of authority, taking advantage of the situation of vulnerability of others, delivery or acceptance of benefits – monetary or not – for obtaining the consent of others over whom one has authority) for exploitation, whatever it may be, of a person.

Despite classifying some practices, the list presented is not exhaustive, and other forms of exploitation can and should also be recognized for trafficking. That said, it can be understand that human trafficking and exploitation doesn’t have a singular meaning, yet it covers a number of forms of human exploitation that can appears in the form of sexual exploitation, when someone is deceived, coerced or forced to take part in sexual activity; labor exploitation, when people are coerced to work for little or no remuneration, often under threat of punishment; domestic servitude, when there are restrictions on the domestic worker’s movement and they are forced to work long hours for little pay; forced marriage, when a person is threatened with physical or sexual violence or placed under emotional or psychological distress to be forced married; forced criminality, when somebody is forced to carry out criminal activity through coercion or deception; child soldiers, when children are used for combats and are made to commit acts of violence or within auxiliary roles such as informants or kitchen hands; and organ harvesting, when an organ is removed with or without consent to be sold often as an illegal trade.

Among the major online platforms, Facebook has an extensive exclusive section dedicated to human exploitation in its Community Standards. In addition to the activities mentioned above, it also officially condemns content related to children sailing for illegal adoption, orphanage trafficking, and orphanage voluntourism. Furthermore, platforms usually prohibit content geared towards the recruitment of potential victims, facilitating human exploitation, and promoting, depicting, or advocating these criminal activities.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2018)3, millions of women, men, and children are forced to work in inhumane conditions on farms, in clothing warehouses, onboard fishing boats, in the sex industry, or in private homes, generating billions of dollars a year. In addition, civil society organizations have been warning that social networks are increasingly constituting a recruitment platform for human exploitation, being a tool to identify and contact potential victims.

Other internet-based services are also useful for abusers, such as anonymous online payments and encrypted messaging. On the other hand, technologies can help combat trafficking, e.g., using text analysis tools to identify a writing pattern in sexual ads (Mzezewa, 2017)4.

Finally, it is important to notice the literature discussing whether social media content moderators suffer a form of human exploitation in jobs where they have to see the most violent content daily and decide whether it should remain online or not (Roberts, 2016)5. Even though that there is little literature on the impact of this kind of routine, where some people spend eight to nine hours reviewing a series of suicide, harmful and sexual content in order to keep social media platforms safe from it, it has been proved that a number of workers had developed post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of this activity (Cardoso, 2019)6.


  1. Allain, J. (2012). Slavery in international law: Of human exploitation and trafficking. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
  2. UN. (2000). UN General Assembly. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Available at:
  3. UNODOC. (2018). Global Report on Trafficking Persons. Available at:
  4. Mzezewa, T. (2017). Hacks That Help: Using Tech to Fight Child Exploitation. The New York Times
  5. Roberts, S. T. (2016). Commercial content moderation: Digital laborers’ dirty work.
  6. Cardoso, Paula (2019). Precariado algorítmico: o trabalho humano fantasma nas maquinarias da inteligência artificial. Media Lab UFRJ. Available at:

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