Human Trafficking from Perspectives of Deontology, Utilitarianism and Egoism



Human trafficking is a modern practice of oppression characterised by heinous acts such as recruiting, transferring, and harbouring a person using coercion, kidnapping, and trickery, among other intimidating means. This practice has grown into an international problem.

About two centuries ago, slavery was an everyday business in many countries, especially in the western world where Whites oppressed Blacks. Today, this unethical behaviour still exists in fairly different occurrences where individuals are mostly promised good jobs and a better future only to end up being abducted.

Countries have diverse philosophies, sentiments, and perceptions of various ethical issues that surround human trafficking. By definition, human trafficking is the smuggling of people for forced labour or commercial sex among other disreputable purposes.

Ethical issues are central to the prevention of human trafficking. Individuals, organisations, or nations should play their parts in ensuring the alleviation of this act by embracing and practising the right morals and codes of conduct.

Moreover, governments have a crucial role in the implementation of zero-tolerance policies to wicked practices such as human trafficking. Upon using the theories of deontology and utilitarianism together with the perspective of egoism, it can be said that human trafficking is unethical since it deprives victims of their rights to safety and freedom thereby increasing viciousness, self-indulgence, and unproductivity.

Understanding issues relating to human trafficking requires one to keep an open mind. Does the smuggling of people for involuntary labour or commercial sex infringe their rights to protection or self-determination? Is it acceptable to let the victims serve as a means to an end?

Are factors such as greediness and forcefulness rampant in this area of concern? It is obvious that people perceive human trafficking as ethically wrong practice. This discussion provides insight into this area of concern (using deontology and utilitarianism theories, as well as the perspective of egoism) with a view of showing whether it is ethical or unethical to abduct people for forced labour, commercial sex, and other involuntary activities.

Utilitarianism Theory on Human Trafficking

Utilitarianism is a theory that postulates that “an act is good if it positively impacts the biggest number of people” (Gray & Schein, 2012). For instance, in the wake of technological advancements in almost every industrial sector, machines have been known to replace human labour.

This tendency results in the retrenchment of employees and is deemed unethical. On the other hand, deontology seeks to establish whether doing an act is indeed good or bad. For example, the intention of making an attempt to save your neighbour’s house from an inferno can be taken as ethical behaviour. Finally, this paper will discuss the perspective of egoism, which depicts the selfish behaviour of abductors.

According to utilitarianism, moral action is one that brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people (Gray & Schein, 2012). The application of this theory to human trafficking reveals that the victims are deprived of their rights to safety and freedom since they are held against their will.

It follows that many people would disagree with trafficking because it fails to create happiness for the greatest number of people. It only benefits a small number of people who are actively involved in the act guided by greed and coercion (Nelson, Bruskotter, Vucetich, & Chapron, 2016). Further, human trafficking lessens the importance of the abducted individuals in society.

Victims encounter a number of atrocious events such as victimisation and rape, which leave them physically and mentally tortured. As a result, these folks are rendered invaluable in society (Nelson et al., 2016). In a utilitarianism perspective, such ordeals do not create happiness for the great number of people in society and, thus, are deemed unethical.

Looking into the benefits that accrue from the human trafficking “business” compared to the number of perpetrators, the activities involved still do more harm than good to the victims. Perhaps, it can also be argued that the act has a positive influence on the economy; hence, it benefits many people (Conway & Gawronski, 2013).

However, the size of the affected population outweighs that of the beneficiaries to a large extent. The happiness of one person is traded for the benefit of another person. Some acts involved in the smuggling of human beings across transnational borders include violence, denial of movement, fraud, and falsification of working conditions and terms, among others.

In this process, a migrant at one point becomes a trafficked person in another stage (Conway & Gawronski, 2013). Therefore, it can be deduced that human trafficking is an unethical act, and the perpetrators should be seized and subjected to the law.

On another perspective, utilitarianism theory can be applied where the devastating effects of human trafficking in the society are far-reaching. Every day, thousands of people, especially those who lack proper education, financial stability, and outright maturity, fall into the traps of traffickers. For instance, the United States alone receives over fifty thousand trafficked individuals each year.

The effects of this trend are scary, as evidenced by the economy of the country. Victims, especially young women and children, are often exploited sexually and abused with others being forced into commercial sex. This situation increases their risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Traffickers being the only beneficiaries from the ordeals, the society is deprived of happiness as resources are used to treat, educate, and/or deport some of the saved victims (Duong 2015). In this sense, human trafficking can be regarded as unethical since it wrongs not only the victims but also the society in the destination.

In their home country, further resources are used by the victim’s family, society, and state to search for lost individuals in cases where forceful abduction is involved. Overall, human trafficking disgraces the whole society; hence, it is an unacceptable practice.

Deontological Theory on Human Trafficking

Deontological theory plays a great deal in determining whether an act is morally right or wrong. From a deontological perspective, an act is considered ethical if it is accepted unanimously (Conway & Gawronski, 2013). Along these lines, it means that a tendency that is condemned universally is morally wrong. Deontology creates a strong argument about the inappropriate nature of human trafficking.

This ethical theory postulates that actions and motives remain unethical unless they are embraced by everyone in the society with a view of promoting a good system.

For instance, if everyone would accept to buy slaves or traffic people across regional and transnational boundaries, then human trafficking would be regarded ethical since it would be universally acceptable. However, since it is not an accepted practice among world’s societies, it is a doomed exercise that is rejected by the proponents of deontology (Gray & Schein, 2012; Conway & Gawronski, 2013).

Prostitution is a prime aspect of human trafficking, especially among young women who fall into this trap. Although commercial sex can be viewed from a number of perspectives depending on the intentions of the people engaging in the act, various issues are raised when it occurs in an abduction setup (Elezi, 2011).

Kant’s deontology theory is framed about judging a person’s intentions to decide whether a particular activity is morally right or wrong. The theory states that people should “treat others as ends in themselves, not as a mere means to an end” (Gray & Schein, 2012). This statement implies that people should evade from deriving benefits on the accounts of others.

The existence of several theories supporting the same ethical issue renders the discussion about human abduction a vastly contested topic among theorists. In a personal opinion, the deontology theory provides a stronger argument on the wickedness of trading human beings for tailored interests. In this ethical theory, a practice is only considered right when it is universally accepted by society (Gray & Schein, 2012).

The utilitarianism theory discussed above only counts on the happiness created amongst a majority of the people for an act to be deemed morally correct. Although it has its stake on the rejection of human trafficking, it leaves out some groups of people who are either involved in the heinous act or are undecided on its relevance or incorrectness.

The perspective of Ethical Egoism

A perspective that comes up from this discussion is egoism, where the perpetrators are seen as selfish individuals who only think about the potential benefits that accompany human trafficking; they do not regard the consequences of their actions to families and societies at large (Danovitch et al., 2013).

Ethical egoism is a moral dogma in which individuals exclusively promote self-interest. Freedom is one of the key facets of societal morality and ethics that allows people to come up with personal selections without interrupting the liberties of others. However, egoism, as seen in human trafficking, directly denies the victims their rights to freedom. One person becomes the property of the other.


Human trafficking is a wicked act that can be prevented by upholding deontological and utilitarianism theories. Utilitarianism tells us that moral acts result in happiness amongst the greatest number of people. Therefore, people should embark on acts that make others happy but not those that deprive them of their rights and freedoms. On the other hand, deontology theory holds that an act is moral if it is acceptable for the whole society.

This underpinning renders the abduction of human beings for atrocious interests a forbidden activity that should be abolished. The society can play a great role in discontinuing modern forms of slavery, including human trafficking.

This objective can be accomplished through legislative means, awareness campaigns, or by the ratification of petitions amongst nations. Although such efforts may seem insignificant, they can make a huge difference for victims of human trafficking.

Deontology theory provides a stronger argument in the discussion on human trafficking and, thus, should be embraced in solving dilemmas of the menace. However, the efforts of individuals, education, and the creation of awareness of the consequences of human trafficking worldwide through relevant institutions will play a tremendous role in stopping the act.


Conway, P., & Gawronski, B. (2013). Deontological and utilitarian inclinations in moral decision making: a process dissociation approach. Journal of personality and social psychology, 104(2), 216.

Danovitch, G. M., Chapman, J., Capron, A. M., Levin, A., Abbud-Filho, M., Al Mousawi, M.,…& Jha, V. (2013). Organ trafficking and transplant tourism: the role of global professional ethical standards – The 2008 declaration of Istanbul. Transplantation, 95(11), 1306-1312.

Duong, K. A. (2015). Doing human trafficking research: Reflections on ethical challenges. Journal of Research in Gender Studies, 5(2), 171-190.

Elezi, A. (2011). Fighting human trafficking. Juridical Current, 14(1), 77-91.

Gray, K., & Schein, C. (2012). Two minds vs. two philosophies: Mind perception defines morality and dissolves the debate between deontology and utilitarianism. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 3(3), 405-423.

Nelson, M. P., Bruskotter, J. T., Vucetich, J. A., & Chapron, G. (2016). Emotions and the ethics of consequence in conservation decisions: Lessons from Cecil the Lion. Conservation Letters, 9(4), 302-306.

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