- Can you recognise 21st century slaves? - 15/09/2019
- The cost of the Yemen war: Is Britain trading arms for lives? - 10/08/2019
Today more than forty million people around the world are enslaved or subject to forced labour. Shockingly this number is the highest ever, worse than ever before, three times the transatlantic slave trade. At a time when awareness of human rights is at its strongest, how can people be suffering conditions we associate with the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?
Types of slavery
Slavery in the today’s century can be hard to detect, taking the form of forced labour, sex work or forced marriage. The seemingly ordinary workers you see in your local café or nail salon might be slaves. The vulnerable include migrants deceived by the promise of jobs abroad and young women trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced marriages.
The importance of profit
How can this still happening, let alone increasing? Expert Siddharth Kara calculates that modern day slave traders can earn up to thirty times more than their transatlantic forebears, with gangs globally making $150 billion a year.
The criminal justice system can encourage slavery by judging potential victims by their immigration status, not as victims of crime, according to Anti-Slavery International. Those in the UK from outside the EU are four times less likely to be recognised as victims of trafficking, making it more probable they will be deported not protected. This is troubling because someone enslaved is a victim regardless of their country of origin. The lack of recognition makes it unsurprising that a third of victims may be re-trafficked. Countries have to look beyond borders if they are to offer full protection.
The International response
The UK has taken important steps to tackle modern day slavery, promising £5.5 million to support commonwealth countries confronting the issue, but the international response among Asian-pacific countries remains weak. Only 38 countries have criminalised the practice of forced marriage meaning 15.4 million girls across the world to become wives and mothers at an early age. It’s difficult to legislate on cultural practices around the world, yet the rest of the countries have also agreed to empower girls under Strategic Development Goal 5.
What can we do?
We unknowingly contributing to the issue of modern day slavery when we buy products from companies whose supply chains are contaminated by forced labour. The UK government imposes a legal requirement on businesses with a turnover above £36 million to certify in their annual reports that they have checked for forced labour in supply chains. Consumers, whether individually or by banding together, can influence how a business makes its profits. Boycotting businesses, and choosing not to invest in brands that use forced labour, is an effective way to get them to listen.
We often go about our daily lives without questioning our surroundings, unless there are obvious clues that disrupt our habitual behaviour. In the UK police forces and local authorities have to notify the government of cases of slavery, with NGOs and others encouraged to make voluntary notifications but any of us can look for signs of forced labour.
It’s our responsibility to keep an eye out for others.