Today is International Human Rights Day. This is the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. A document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as human beings, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Many people believe the modern slavery only exists overseas, but the British Government estimates that tens of thousands of people are in modern slavery in the UK today. The 2016 Global Slavery Index, from the Walk Free Foundation in Australia, defines modern slavery as:
‘situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception’.
An estimated 40.3 million people are victims of modern slavery around the world. Ten million of them are children, 24.9 million are people in forced labour, 15.4 million are people in forced marriages, and 4.8 million are people in forced sexual exploitation.
Most commonly, people are trafficked into forced labour in industries such as agriculture, construction, hospitality, manufacturing and car washes. Many women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation and domestic slavery. Others, often times children, are forced into crime such as petty theft or begging.
The Modern Slavery Act was passed in the UK in 2015 to combat present-day slavery and assist victims of trafficking. This act made prosecuting traffickers easier by consolidating existing slavery offenses, increasing sentences for slavery offenses, making big UK businesses publically report on how they tackle slavery in their global supply chains, and establishing an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to overlook the UK’s policies in tackling slavery.
The Modern Slavery Act was a step in the right direction, but there was too much focus on policing and it did not provide enough protections for victims. The law requires organizations conducting business in the UK with worldwide revenues of £36 million to publish an annual slavery and trafficking statement each year. One problem with this act is that businesses are not forced to investigate or pinpoint slavery in their supply chains. The victims in the system do not receive justice or support through this act. Unfortunately, transparency in businesses does not necessarily lead to action for victims. Although these companies are producing annual reports, this may not be effective in actually identifying if there are people who are victims of slavery.
Children are also left behind and not given support. The Act does not include a system of guardianship for unaccompanied children in the UK. Children also face additional challenges, such as not being believed about their age, their background and their health history. This act does little to help children who may not be believed about their circumstances.
There should be tougher penalties for businesses in order to prevent modern slavery from occurring. Companies should publish a list of potential risks that could lead to modern slavery through human rights abuses and dangerous work environments. Such measures would increase awareness and engagement of the issue. Society also needs to understand how prevalent modern slavery is in various businesses and supply chains. Many people are unaware that the companies they buy products from could be subjecting their workers to barbarous conditions. Multinational corporations are at the centre of attention when it comes to the need to get serious about eradicating the threat of modern slavery from their supply chains.
Modern slavery can best be eradicated through a gloabl effort from many nations. One practical step would be to have various forms of surveillance, auditing and periodic review. This would lead to easier identification of existing and future victims.
When it comes to protecting children, individuals who write the protection policies for their company’s supply chains need to identify the type of operations in which children may be allowed to work, in accordance with internationally accepted standards and laws. These individuals must also identify tasks and operations that should not be performed by children of any age. These are tasks that are considered hazardous or that use toxic chemicals or physical agents to which children should not be exposed.
It is also important to educate ordinary people about the presence of modern slavery. Companies and organizations should make the definition of modern slavery known. Vendors and suppliers must know unambiguously what constitutes slavery and which practices are and are not acceptable within the corporate supply chain.
It is also important to report on real-life stories and discuss the experiences of individuals caught in the cycle of slavery. These practices have been shown to go a long way in helping to raise awareness, understanding, and sympathy for those caught up in the various forms of forced labour and human trafficking.
The public, managers, and employees all need to better understand modern slavery and their roles in combating it within their organizations and communities. The Anti-Slavery organization reports on real-life accounts of modern slavery and how everyone can come together to help stop it. Their work informs employers and ordinary people about its existence and how they can take effective measures to combat it
Despite the prevalence of modern slavery, it is generally accepted and even passively condoned by society — since the negative effects are not widely publicized. And this is an important obstacle to making progress. The economic and social consequences of slavery need to be clarified and reported. The underlying conditions — including occupational injuries and illnesses, in host and home countries that lead to the growth of slavery — need to be studied and reported on more broadly.
A better understanding and greater awareness of slavery as a modern-day phenomenon is the best step to motivating various organizations and groups in becoming involved in antislavery activities.