Human trafficking is a global scourge which knows no borders and peddles in cash. Every year tens of thousands of persons are smuggled across borders in cramped containers, or cast out to sea in broken rafts with the promise of a better future. More often than not these people die, drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean or asphyxiated in a dockyard.

Smuggling people is a criminal enterprise which preys on the most weak and vulnerable. Those fleeing persecution or economic hardship are offered a “one way” ticket out, their travel documents seized, until they arrive at their destination. Often, human traffickers are more subtle, offering a “generous” work contract in a stranger’s home or steady income with an “established” business. Tragically, victims end up as domestic servants or pimped for sex.

Like citizens from others countries, Colombians are easy prey to human traffickers. Their journey often begins with the recommendation from a “friend” with a fake job posting on internet. And every year, Colombians head overseas illusioned by false promises. Once they arrive, their situation is heartbreaking. They are subjected to miserable working conditions with less, or none, of the promised funds.

Colombia’s Foreign Ministry through its diplomatic missions, as well as state Migration entity, Migración Colombia, have been trying to bring back nationals living in abject conditions after “sold” on the idea of a future in a foreign land. To prevent others from a similiar fate, the Ministry has launched an emotionally-gripping campaign entitled: “Reaccionemos en Cadena.”

The new advertising campaign uses internet as it main visual platform and cast actors to be chained to park benches, bridges and other open spaces, without the public’s knowledge. Once hidden cameras were installed, it was just a question of time to see who would “react” and how ordinary people could break the padlocks and chains. The production was centered in three cities: Bogotá, Cali and Pereira. Cities where human traffickers are known to operate. “We wanted to know who would help their fellow citizens, and who would ignore them,” states Ambassador Javier Higuera, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Division. Each 3 minute video employed actors from all walks of life, given the reality that human trafficking exploit both men and women.

The production of this “social experiment,” as the Foreign Ministry calls it, took eight months and the “reaction” of more than 500 Colombians who stumbled across these chained-up actors, unaware that they were being filmed.

The “reaction” is poignant. In one scene, actress Thelma Ramírez sits weep- ing in Lourdes Square, her right hand vis- ibly chained to a wooden bench. People shuffle past her, going about their business on a typical working day. Then, a group women appear and console the young woman. Men pull out keys to try and find the right combination to the padlock. Two members of the National Police also try to break the chains that bind. There is shock at the heart of Chapinero.

After much effort – by many- a middle age man appears with a saw. Thelma’s chains come free. “How would we have reacted in a situation like this, had I not been the one chained to the bench, but rather a man from the street?” remarks Ramiréz. “I have changed as a person after this campaign.”

These candid scenes are repeated in Cali’s Plaza de Caicedo and the Plaza de Bolívar of Pereira. In each video, the chains eventually come loose, driving a message home that one can never turn a blind eye to human trafficking.

“We didn’t know what might happen,” states Ana María Caldas of the Cancilleria. “Even though we had the support of the Police, the actors were at the mercy of the people.” The careful profiling of the actors was coordinated between creative director Felipe Forero, the Foreign Ministry and the International Organization for Migration (OIM).

With the campaign cleared to go viral, Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín believes the message addresses more than the plight of victims, but a broad context of complacency which works in favour of traffickers. “We just can’t keep on saving people. We need to have preventive measures.” According to Holguín, Colombians are sold in sham marriages and bad working conditions from Argentina to China, Ecuador and Japan.

A recent report by the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, states that the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The second most common form of human trafficking is forced labour (18%). Worldwide, almost 20 percent of all trafficking victims are children.

The campaign #ReaccionemosEnCadena includes a toll free number to report cases of abuse. The Ministry will also make the campaign visible in airports and overland border posts. The Ministry believes this campaign will be effective in drawing attention to the dangers posed by traffickers and the other criminal activities they finance.