Over the last two decades, increasing attention has been given to trafficking in persons globally. Governments, international organisations and the media generally assume that trafficking is immensely profitable. This paper problematises this assumption in light of ethnographic research within the sex industry along the Thai-Lao border. It argues that the cross-border recruitment of Lao women into the Thai sex industry constitutes a mixture of capitalist logic and patron-client relationships. It is therefore not possible, as some antitrafficking programs attempt to do, to read probabilities of trafficking out of mechanical models of profitability and unilateral maximisation of social actors.