April 21, 2019



You’re listening to Episode 38 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Ariel Niforatos. In this episode, we’ll learn about organ trafficking and what makes it so difficult to stop.


Organ donation can be a beautiful thing that saves many lives even while the donator is still alive, or even after they’ve passed way. There are many ways to legally donate an organ, but if someone is forced, threatened, or unknowingly gives up an organ while undergoing another surgery, then this is considered organ trafficking. Not only is the nonconsensual or coerced removal of organs a crime, but the use of or paying for these organs are also illegal. Organ trafficking is estimated to be 10% of all transplanted organs worldwide – this form of human trafficking is often more hidden than sex trafficking and forced labor. This makes it harder to identify.


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said that organ trafficking exists because of a high demand for organ transplants, especially kidneys, but too few organ suppliers, This means that people turn to the black market “organ trade” to get the organs they need.


But this kind exploitation can be hard to identify because of the many different tiers of people involved. The UN states that the first level includes the recruiters, or brokers, who search for highly vulnerable people who usually live in extreme poverty and are persuaded into selling their organs through promises of financial or medical benefits. At the next level, medical professionals such as transplant surgeons and anesthesiologists actually remove the organ in exchange for money. Because physicians are involved, whole health care facilities and hospitals sometimes function as brokers. Additionally, “minders” are the enforcers who make sure organ removal or harvesting actually happens. A lot of times, corrupt law enforcement officers allow organ suppliers to illegally cross country borders to perform the operation.


As I mentioned earlier, the recipients of these organs are usually desperate to obtain them for medical reasons and can’t be on years-long waiting lists for transplants. Also, these patients often travel to the country where they are buying the organ they need so that the operation can be performed there. This is known as “transplant tourism.”  Although most organ recipients are unaware that the organs they purchased come from human trafficking networks, experts are currently debating whether these patients can be held legally responsible since they are benefiting from this exploitation. Finally, the organ suppliers themselves suffer a number of consequences from the illegal harvesting of their organs, such as the false promise of monetary rewards, social stigma, psychological stress, physical health problems, and in some extreme cases, even death.


Another way to identify organ trafficking is through the financial industry. As an article published last year in ACAMS Today magazine points out, one way to spot organ trafficking is to spot money laundering tactics, such as wire transfers of large amounts of money to organizations that seem to be related to medicine and payments between charities and medical tourism websites.


If you are interested in learning more about organ trafficking, I would recommend reading more of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Assessment Toolkit: Trafficking in Persons for the Purpose of Organ Removal, which gives a very thorough description of each aspect of this crime and suggestions for strengthening the fight against it.  However, if you are looking for a faster read, I’d suggest reading the article Organ traffickers lock up people to harvest their kidneys. Here are the politics behind the organ trade, which offers a unique perspective on fighting organ trafficking.  Another good article for learning about the costs of this illegal market is Body Snatchers: Organ Harvesting For Profit.


Finally, what can you do to combat this form of exploitation?  Well, if you or someone you know needs an organ transplant, you can educate them to ensure that they go through trustworthy and well-researched health care facilities. Even if you don’t know someone who needs a transplant, you can always advocate for legal organ donations or, when you’re old enough, even sign up to become a legal organ donor yourself. Finally, you can support politicians and legislators in your country who advocate for increased surveillance of the organ donation industry.


This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Ariel Niforatos. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next episode which will be released on May 5th at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.




ACAMS Today article:


Washington Post:


Psychology Today:


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