Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the standards by which people can live their lives. Typically, it is a matter of what is correct and what is incorrect. Ethics aims to help people live good lives. There are various ethical questions, and many people are perplexed by the perception of what is good or bad. People have different beliefs and viewpoints on various topics, backed up by various factors. When it comes to ethical problems, it’s essential to look at the multiple justifications advanced by those on either side of the debate, as well as the views of those in the center who don’t endorse or oppose a particular claim. This paper will use the theories of utilitarianism and deontology as well as the ethical perspective of emotivism to argue that carrying out human trafficking trade is morally wrong.

When evaluating social issues such as human trafficking, the debate is most often centered on ethics. The business of human trafficking is a very lucrative business that yields a lot of profits. This is usually carried out in very organized systems by those who practice this trade. This is an issue that has now become a global threat to people who are vulnerable as they fall prey while looking for better means of making a livelihood (Brysk, & Choi-Fitzpatrick, 2012). At the centre of the business of human trafficking is exploitation. This crime is known to affect those who are vulnerable especially women and children and also men living under poor conditions. Often, before one gets into the trap, there is usually coercion, use of force and use of misleading information. Research shows that most people who become victims of this crime do not go into this voluntarily: there has to be an external push which could either be overt or subtle driving them into making the decision. This is a form of modern day slavery and those who gain from it do so because there is someone else being exploited as a result.

Breach of ethics

Human trafficking comes in various forms including; sex trafficking, forced child labor, forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude and enrolment of child soldiers. This menace thrives because there is tolerance for this crime which may be done either directly or indirectly. In failing to prevent its continuance, governments encourage this crime to thrive in their countries and make it easy to practice this trade.

As stated in the introduction, ethics are concerned with living a good life by showing people how they ought to act under various circumstances. Ethics examine a situation to determine whether taking a certain action would be good or virtuous. Breach of ethics means interference with the happiness of another. Mostly this occurs due to different interpretations of what is ethical. For example, utilitarianism calls for people to look at the common good and look out for the happiness of others while for those who believe in egoism, they’ll look out for what makes them happy. The international community has condemned this practice and the same applies to individual governments. However, the environment created has become permissive for predators to continue doing this business.

Breach of ethics happens when people fail to do their part in fighting unethical issues. The international community has come up with codes of conduct that ought to be adhered to but there is a challenge with implementation. If the rules set by the international community and interested parties are not followed and there is no will power to implement these rules, then it becomes easy for predators of human trafficking to continue their operations. Human trafficking is utmost disrespect for humanity and human dignity but the business still continues. Utilitarianism is one of the ethical theories that this paper examines and according to this theory, one ought to look beyond their interests and consider the interest of others. This theory looks at the possible consequences of a person’s actions. For one to disregard the interests of other people, there has to be a supporting ground. One of the factors why ethics are breached is the widespread corruption in many countries. This is usually driven by greed and people desiring more wealth and yet they are not willing to get it using the right avenues.

Analyzing the ethical perspective in human trafficking

Human trafficking is a crime that affects, the society, the products offered on sale and the general human race. The dignity of each and every person ought to be respected notwithstanding the bad conditions that the recipient of one’s actions is living under. Human trafficking is about control and exploitation of another whom one feels is inferior to them (Lee, 2013). The victims in this case suffer psychologically, emotionally and financially. Utilitarianism seeks that one looks at the consequences of their actions and how their actions would affect other people (Hollander, 2016). In addition, utilitarianism calls for one to examine the common good and what makes majority of the people happy.

Utilitarianism is a concept that focuses on actions whose end result is pressure and not pain. It is morally right to focus on things that will make the majority of the people happy. In this case, human trafficking denies the victims happiness and increases suffering instead of eliminating it. For example, trafficking women for sexual exploitation is morally wrong as increases the suffering of the victims and only brings pressure to the predators. The victims who are the majority sacrifice their happiness and live in misery for their master to be happy.

Utilitarianism is a “consequentialist” theory which means that the important thing is the result. This theory may be used to justify or condemn human trafficking. For example, when women become sex workers, the man gains sexual pleasure while the woman gains an income: essentially both get to benefit. Another angle of looking at this based on the consequences is that human trafficking is wrong as it morally corrupts the society

Deontology is an ethical theory that is based on rules, duties and obligations that one has. An act is morally right if it complies with the rules set. Every human being is supposed to act in a way that they would want what they are doing universal law. For deontologists, human trafficking is morally wrong because the vice cannot become universally acceptable as a good act. It is a universal duty for every person to promote human dignity, stand up for human rights and fight against all aspects of slavery. Human trafficking makes victims slaves to their masters and according to this theory, this is a contravention of duties, rules and obligations to protect humanity and as such these acts are morally wrong, notwithstanding that the consequences may be beneficial.

There are those who support human trafficking in that it provides cheap labor. However, for deontologists, this is morally wrong even if it creates happiness for others and provides a means of livelihood. The reason this is morally wrong is because every human being has the right to have their dignity respected but looking at how this trade operates, there is no respect to the dignity of the victims. This looks at the intention and motive behind a particular action (Hooker, 2012). The focus is on the moral aspect of a particular action.

There are three main perspectives on ethical issues namely relativism, ethical egoism and emotivism. In assessing the human trafficking vice, this paper will focus on emotivism. What emotivism advances is that for one to categorize something as either right or wrong morally, it will depend on the feelings which may either be positive or negative that the particular behavior in action evokes. What this means is that saying that human trafficking is wrong is an expression of a person’s feeling towards this practice and not that it is entire the truth.

Beyond creating the emotive force, emotivism seeks to convince the recipient of that information to agree to what that person is saying (Satris, 2012). There is a public outcry against human trafficking. This expression of disappointment is what has led Non Governmental Organizations to fight against this trade and governments to outlaw acts that lead to human trafficking. However, this is an expression of people’s feelings against the trade but the challenge is convincing other people to see it from their perspective. An expression of one’s attitude as advanced by this perspective is that it is not to mean that the argument is factual. This makes the fight against human trafficking challenging as there are people who see nothing wrong with engaging in this trade.

As stated, interpreting the correctness of an act based on morality is often confusing. One theory may argue that an act is morally wrong and another may justify the act. The arguments here will be used to demonstrate that even when human trafficking on the face of it looks wrong, morally it can be interpreted either way. The three theories used in this paper will be advanced in depth to help understand where this act may be placed on the scale of morality,

Human trafficking has been condemned far and wide. In most countries it is illegal to engage in this business but the challenge is that the same is still being practiced. There are protocols that specifically address this issue, outlawing all acts that lead to human trafficking. However, the revenue that comes from this trade continues to rise by the day. Arguing this issue from a morality angle creates a dilemma as the arguments for and against this trade can be morally justified. As discussed, this brings pleasure to the masters and an income to the victims. On the other hand, it can also be argued that it denies the majority of the people happiness as they sacrifice their comfort and live in misery to please their masters. From a deontologist perspective, every person has inherent dignity that should be respected, notwithstanding the fact that something good could come from it. Human trafficking is illegal and as such, is morally wrong. Looking at these theories leaves one in a dilemma and there is not clear cut explanation why one should go with the argument advanced by one theory and reject the others.


Brysk, A. & Choi-Fitzpatrick, A. (2012). From human trafficking to human rights (1st ed.). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hollander, S. (2016). Ethical Utilitarianism and The Theory of Moral Sentiments: Adam Smith in Relation to Hume and Bentham. Eastern Economic Journal, 42(4), 557-580. doi:10.1057/s41302-016-0003-z

Hooker, B. (2012). Developing Deontology: New Essays in Ethical Theory. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Lee, M. (2013). Human Traficking. Abind don-on-Thames: Routledge.

Satris, S A. (2012). Ethical Emotivism. Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media

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