The Continuing Impact of Coronavirus on Human Rights and Modern Slavery

The continuing coronavirus pandemic poses risks to members of society beyond the immediate virus itself. Since governments around the world began introducing new legislation and lockdown procedures to enforce social distancing measures many organisations have highlighted the need to maintain protections for basic human rights, and ensure appropriate safeguards are in place for the some of the most vulnerable in society, such as victims of human trafficking and modern slavery; victims of domestic violence; children at risk of exploitation; and serving prisoners for whom an inability to socially distance may have severe consequences.

Domestically, NGOs and academics have warned many victims of modern slavery and forced labour trapped in exploitative situations will be unable to seek medical assistance or stop working, and many may further actively avoid seeking help for fear of contact with the authorities. Whilst some positive measures have been put in place to aid those impacted by coronavirus and lockdown measures domestically, such as the UK Government’s measures allowing victims of modern slavery to remain in government funded safe-house accommodation for three months, significant concerns continue to be raised for workers in international supply chains. Reductions in international trade have caused thousands of workers to have been left jobless, or facing joblessness, leaving them potentially vulnerable to exploitation and modern slavery. In Cambodia, over 20,000 workers in the garment industry alone faced job losses due to factory closures resulting from a reduction in trade with China, the US and Europe. Similar reports have emerged from other countries, impacting workers across all industries. However, the risks extend beyond becoming trapped in exploitative employment. Loss of income has led some workers and families having to resort to seeking high interest loans in order to survive, leading to many becoming victims of debt bondage; being forced to work to pay off the debt. This has become a particular concern for millions of informal workers in countries such as India, where many workers do not have bank accounts or official paperwork causing difficulties in accessing Government aid.

In addition to concerns for workers across the world becoming extremely vulnerable to modern slavery, forced labour, and other forms of exploitation as a result of losing their job and income, there are substantial concerns for those working in supply chains for high demand items. In particular, manufacturers of personal protective equipment used in medical services, such as rubber gloves, have come under scrutiny for their labour practices; with the conditions of migrant workers in rubber glove factories in Malaysia being described as ‘slave like’. With demand for these items continually rising, human rights organisations have implored governments not to ignore labour conditions and exploitation occurring across global supply chains in their production.

These impacts of the global pandemic may have profound effects beyond the individuals forced into exploitative situations, causing substantial delays in the progress of programmes to improve human rights globally. The UNFPA has conducted an analysis that suggests the economic impact of coronavirus, in conjunction with delays to programmes tackling issues such as FGM and child marriage, could lead to an estimated 13 million child marriages in the next decade, and an additional 2 million cases of FGM above what was previously predicted.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the risks and vulnerability for many in society and will continue to do so for many years after the initial pandemic itself has ended. In addition to those trapped in violent, abusive, and exploitative situations at home, for many around the world the economic impacts of coronavirus have raised their vulnerability to potentially becoming trapped in bonded labour, forced labour or other forms of modern slavery. The raised demand for certain products, alongside an increased demand for work, has also exposed may factory workers potentially exploitative working conditions, and the impact on global programmes focusing on human rights have been delayed; potentially resulting in millions of additional cases in the coming years. It is vital to ensure that in tackling the global public health crisis much of the positive development in addressing human rights around the world is not undone, and Governments and private sector actors continue to address and improve the situations of society’s most vulnerable individuals.

UK Home Office releases new statutory guidance on the Modern Slavery Act 2015

The Home Office has this week published statutory guidance under section 49(1) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The guidance covers indicators of trafficking, support, and the decision making process. The statutory guidance will replace a number of existing documents, namely:

  • Guidance: Duty to Notify the Home Office of potential victim of modern slavery
  • Victims of modern slavery: frontline staff guidance
  • Victims of modern slavery: competent authority guidance
  • Multi-Agency Assurance Panels Guidance

 

The guidance also provides clear and practical explanations on the fundamental definitions of human trafficking and modern slavery under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, providing examples of actions, means employed by offenders, and different forms of exploitation victims may be subjected to, whilst also including a section dispelling commonly held myths about human trafficking and modern slavery; for example, for human trafficking to occur an international border must be crossed. The guidance also provides important information on the distinction between human trafficking and human smuggling (also termed ‘people smuggling), listing a range of factors that might be used to identify the distinctions. More complex cases, surrounding issues such as forced marriages, potential ‘sham’ marriages, and illegal adoption are discussed in the guidance, which indicates how these issues may relate to human trafficking and modern slavery, but also how they may operate as distinct and independent offences.

A link to the full guidance can be found here.

Doorstep Scams, Rogue Traders, Travelling Sales and Modern Slavery

Human Trafficking and Doorstep Scams

Door to door scams and rogue traders have been points of focus recently for their links with modern slavery and human trafficking. However, the links between door to door scams and modern slavery and human trafficking are not new issues. In July 2015 the Polaris Project published a report entitled ‘knocking at your door: Labor Trafficking on Sales Crews‘, exploring the major issues of modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour in the travelling sales industry. The Polaris Project’s report focused specifically on the US context, but awareness of door to door scams and rogue trader’s links with modern slavery and human trafficking has risen in the United Kingdom too.

 

What are Door to Door Scams and Rogue Traders?

The Neighbour Hood Watch provide a general overview of doorstep scams, including who is likely to be targeted by doorstep scammers and what sort of scams might be involved. They identify typical doorstep scams involving ‘home improvements’, where an individual will knock on the door of their victim, without warning, and explain that their home is in need of improvement works, such as gardening, re-wiring, re-roofing etc, and that this work is extremely urgent. However, more recent incarnations of these traditional scams include installing solar panels, exploitation of internet connections, and the creation of false technical service provider adverts on search engines. Aside from these typical doorstep scams, the Neighbourhood Watch also links apparent doorstep sales pitches with distraction burglary and identity theft.

 

Links to Modern Slavery

Door to door scams of the kind noted above are being increasingly identified as being undertaken by victims of modern slavery. Criminal gangs will target vulnerable individuals who are held by the gang and forced to work for little or no pay, with one reported instance stating that a victim had been forced to work long hours 7 days a week for food and tobacco.  These patterns broadly mirror the findings of the Polaris Project’s 2015 report, which found vulnerable young people in need of employment would be offered the chance to work for a travelling sales company. Once in the ’employ’ of the company the victim would be moved around the country, often under threat of violence and/or abandonment, and forced to work for no wages.

Debt bondage can be a common feature of modern slavery and human trafficking involving doorstep sales, scams and rogue traders. Vulnerable victims are initially offered shelter, food, support, and transport, which gets tallied against them as a debt. Continued reliance on the traffickers for these provisions adds to the debt, as well as failures to meet randomly assigned sales quotas.

The noted increase in victims of modern slavery being used to carry out door to door sales and scams has led to authorities calling for greater vigilance from consumers, both to be careful of new incarnations of old scams, but also of who is the individual apparently carrying them out.

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2019

World Day against human trafficking

The world day against trafficking in persons was held on the 30th July 2019. The day is designated by the United Nations as a moment to reaffirm commitments to tackle human trafficking, support victims, and protect those at risk globally. Human trafficking is an exploitative crime that targets men, women, and children for a variety of purposes, including forced labour, sexual exploitation and organ removal. In 2000 the United Nations opened for signature and ratification the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, commonly known as the Palermo Protocol. The protocol delivered an internationally accepted definition of human trafficking as:

 

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

 

Since 2000 the United Nations has collected data on over 200,000 victims of human trafficking identified across the globe. In addition to this the International Labour Organisation published figures stating that in 2016 there were at least 40,000,000 victims of modern slavery worldwide. Despite the introduction of many legislative instruments since 2000 around the world to tackle the issues of human trafficking and modern slavery, such as the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, the French Duty of Vigilance laws, and Australia’s New Modern Slavery Act 2018, the issues of human trafficking and modern slavery continue to pose a vast global challenge.

It is increasingly recognised that tackling human trafficking and modern slavery, crimes that are often of a hidden nature, requires multi-agency collaboration and professional experts from across all sectors. The Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Expert Directory was established in the UK to bring together professionals and specialists who work in the counter-trafficking and anti-slavery sectors from around the world. Victims of human trafficking can be transported within their own country or across borders many thousands of miles from home. The directory addressed a critical need for a centralised global database of experts and professionals to better enable those working in the field to approach an incredibly complex, often international, problem. The HTMSE directory lists a large cross section of professionals and organisations, all of whom have different specialisms and varying qualifications, including  NGOs, charities, businesses, lawyers and law firms, medical practitioners and researchers. The directory is designed as a free resource for all, whether signing up to the directory as an expert or searching the directory in search of an expert.

In 2015 the United Nations presented the Sustainable Development Agenda, which included a target of ending human trafficking and modern slavery by 2030, which according to a recent study is far from being met. However, whilst this year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons focused on calling governments around to world to action it also promotes action by all.

If you are a you are a professional, NGO, charity, business, lawyer, medical practitioner, or other expert or specialist organisation and wish to sign up to the Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Expert Directory and professional network please follow the link here.

 

 

Organised Crime, Modern Slavery and Waste Management

The waste management industry has been receiving increasing attention as a sector at high risk of modern slavery, with figures from the anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice suggesting about two thirds of forced labour victims have worked in the waste management sector.  The waste management sector is a multi-tiered industry with many complex supply chain networks. This complex network of supply chains makes it easy for individuals to be filtered into the system for the purposes of labour exploitation.  Such an accessible system has made the waste management industry very attractive to organised crime groups, with many groups operating in the sector also involved with other major criminal enterprises such as human trafficking, county lines drugs operations and arms offences.

Organised crime is often associated with grand ‘mafia-esque’ organisational structures, but these traditional organised crime groups are giving way to more dynamic fragmented groups that operate more fluidly. In May 2019 the National Crime Agency (NCA) released organised crime figures that suggested that the number of offenders involved in organised crime in the United Kingdom was approximately 181,000 , though this is considered a conservative estimate. As part of the same press release the NCA released its national strategic assessment for 2019 which discussed the changing face of organised crime and outlines the rise in modern slavery and human trafficking referrals. Public awareness of organised crime has risen recently with several high profile reports of prosecutions and police operations to tackle gangs and organised crime groups operating across county lines. However, whilst public awareness of organised crime and modern slavery is rising it does not seem that there is any widespread awareness of how these issues impact the waste management sector.

In 2018 the government published a review of serious organised waste crime, which outlined how organised crime groups would often “colonise” pre-existing legitimate waste markets. These criminal operations would often then function through other criminal enterprises, including modern slavery and human trafficking. In response to the issues of organised crime and modern slavery in the waste sector the Environment Agency committed to taking new measures to tackle these issues. Some of these responses have included increasing inter-agency collaboration to ensure that investigations and operations carry a bigger impact against organised crime, and specially training officers to spot the signs of modern slavery. Whilst public awareness of waste crime and modern slavery in the waste sector such measures by law enforcement and government bodies signal a firm awareness of serious and major criminal activity in the waste management sector, and a commitment to addressing these issues.

The Rise of Technological Responses to Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery

Technology and Human Trafficking

Technology, and in particular mobile applications, is being increasingly identified as an important method of tackling modern slavery and human trafficking. Mobile applications have recently been responsible for the identification of nearly 1000 cases of modern slavery in car washes around the country. With the release of the Modern Slavery Helpline annual report for 2018, which recorded approximately 1 in 7 reports were made by webform submissions or through the Unseen App, it is clear that there is a rising awareness of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK and a significant proportion of reports are made through technological methods.

However, mobile applications are not the only technologies being identified and implemented to help tackle modern slavery and human trafficking. So far in 2019 there have been several reports of new implementations of technology to combat modern slavery and human trafficking. For example, satellite imaging being recently used in a study by Nottingham University to accurately map the number of brick kilns in India. Brick kilns in India, which are associated with the exploitation of labourers through forced labour and debt bondage, exhibit unique features that can be mapped by satellite imaging and it is hoped that other industries associated with modern slavery may be vulnerable to satellite imaging too; scaling this use of technology into a major method of tackling modern slavery in remote areas. By contrast, algorithms that measure activity against a set of variables have been piloted by banks in the Netherlands to identify unusual behaviour that may be indicative of human trafficking or modern slavery.

However, whilst the use of technology to combat human trafficking and modern slavery is advancing in new directions and receiving high profile acclaim concerns have been raised that technology merely constitutes a tool and its use alone may not be enough. TechUK, an organisation responsible for representing approximately 900 companies that develop technology, has raised concerns that for technological tools to be truly effective corporations need to ensure they have a strong anti-slavery culture with a willingness to act. Whilst strong corporate and social anti-slavery cultures are vital, the development of technological tools and processes to target human trafficking and modern slavery demonstrate positive commitments by a wide range of actors to tackling these issues. Many of these technological developments are recognised as new and as these tools are refined it is quite possible that technology will take play a greater role in combating human trafficking and modern slavery.

Modern Slavery Act 2018- What does it do?

Australia_Parliament_House_Lauri_Vain
Photo Credit: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre; Lauri Väin

New Modern Slavery Act 2018 in Australia introduces strict reporting requirements for businesses among other key objectives.

There has been significant interest recently over the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (MSA) in Australia, and its likely coming into force in early 2019. The act will carry with it significant thresholds for businesses to meet in terms of reporting requirements. But what is the new act?

Section 3 (Part 1) of the MSA 2018 details the main objectives of the act are to:

  • Combat modern slavery,
  • Provide assistance and support for victims,
  • Establish an Anti-Slavery Commissioner,
  • Provide for detection and exposure of modern slavery,
  • Raise community awareness and provide education on modern slavery,
  • Encourage collaborative cross-sector and multi-agency responses,
  • Introduce provisions for the ongoing assessment of anti-slavery laws,
  • Criminalise forced marriage,
  • and, penalise further involvement in cybersex trafficking and CSE.

 

Statistically reports of  modern slavery in Australia are low in comparison to other countries, but there are concerns this is because of a lack of awareness on the matter. As part of this, there are concerns that businesses are not fully aware of the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains. Part of the act focuses on supply chain transparency, and appears to be heavily oriented towards tackling these issues. The focus on business accountability and corporate supply chains suggests a main focus on forced labour, which is not unsurprising given forced labour accounted for approximately half of all modern slavery cases in the ILO’s 2016 statistics. However, the objective statements of the act regarding forced marriage and child exploitation demonstrate the wide reaching and comprehensive aims of the act to eradicate modern slavery in all forms.

A link to the act itself can be found here.

Forced Labour in Technology Companies’ Supply Chains

PICTURE CREDIT: Alexandru-Bogdan Ghita/Unsplash
PICTURE CREDIT: Alexandru-Bogdan Ghita/Unsplash

On Monday a list was released by KnowTheChain ranking the top 40 global technology companies according to their methods to the address the risk of forced labour within their supply chains. The ranking considered factors including ‘purchasing practices, monitoring and auditing processes’. Within the production of tech goods there are many small components that are often sourced from places aimed at cheap production, in which the workers are vulnerable to exploitative and forced labour conditions. Despite this seeming removed from the end glossy product, supply chain regulation accounts for the network of all actors involved from the production, manufacture and distribution of the product, from which the company will profit.

According to this list, Intel, Hewlett Packard and Apple were the three consecutively highest-ranking companies. The assessment indicated that there is an evident correlation between large company size (and likely CSR budget) and the capacity to address the risks of forced labour within supply chains.

Since the list was initially complied in 2016, there has been progress made by most of the 40 companies. This is likely due to the growing pressure applied by modern slavery compliance legislation, which forces business practices to put their mind to the issue of forced labour. The UK’s Modern Slavery Act was considered the global benchmark solution to ensuring corporate supply chain transparency, and the USA & Australia have followed suit with similar supply chain provisions. Generically, this obliges commercial organisations submit a slavery and trafficking statement.

On top of this greater regulatory pressure, the rise in social media and accountability has led to higher consumer pressure on major technology companies to address the issues of forced labour.

For the full ranking by KnowTheChain, read here. 

North Korean Slaves in Foreign Territory Finance Regime 

Credit: BBC Panorama
Credit: BBC Panorama

Recent investigations have suggested that over 150,000 North Korean citizens are sent to work abroad in Poland, Russia and China in conditions alluding to ‘slavery’. The revenue produced is estimated over $1 Billion USD per year, the majority of which is funnelled back to North Korea to finance the dictatorship regime of Kim Jong-un.

In Russia, a worker anonymously reported that they are ‘treated like dogs here’ and they have to ‘give up being human’. They are paid over just $500 per month, of which almost all is paid to their North Korean ‘captain’, which is sent directly back to North Korea as ‘Party Duty’ or ‘Revolutionary Duty’. In Poland, around 800 North Korean labourers work primarily on shipyards, with extremely limited rights and substandard conditions. Although the company JMA denies having North Korean slave labourers, reporters were shown around the workplace and the ‘hotel’ in which the workers live on-site so they have no reason to leave. Furthermore, the Polish government suggests that all workers are under EU slavery regulations and there is no evidence of money being sent back to North Korea.

Defended in some respects as a positive system as workers are given the opportunity to have a ‘glimpse of the world’ when sent abroad to work, the conditions in which they are working is undoubtedly modern slavery. In December 2017, the UN sanctioned North Koreans working abroad with host nations having 2 years to comply, to prevent the finances fuelling the North Korean army, nuclear program and the luxurious living of Kim Jong-un.

For a video report on North Korea’s Secret Slave Gangs, see here. 

Trafficking Victims Forced Into Illicit Massage Business

There are over 9,000 known illicit massage parlours within the USA, with an estimated annual revenue of $2.5 Billion. This accounts for the second highest bracket of human trafficking.

Workers ​in illicit massage parlours are often criminalised or punished for a job they may have been forced into. While some sex workers make the conscious decision to enter the line of work, many within the illicit massage business are victims of human trafficking and therefore work under conditions of force, coercion, fraud and deceit. Due to the underground nature of the business, crime lords and business owners have the ability to protect themselves and their own identities amongst the vast network of people involved. This poses a major issue as employees lower in the supply chain bear the consequences, on top of working under inhumane conditions.

Trafficking cases within massage parlours accounted for the second highest bracket in the USA in 2017, (to escort services as the first) with 2,949 out of 32,000 cases of trafficking recorded by National Human Trafficking Hotline. There are over 9,000 known illicit massage parlours within the USA, with an estimated annual revenue of $2.5 Billion.

However, these figures are a small estimation in the total scope of the problem. Naturally it is a crime that is difficult to quantify, as victims often do not know they are being taken advantage of or are manipulated into keeping quiet​, through threats and control mechanisms​. The victims are statistically most often women from China or South Korea, in their 30s-50s who have had children, speak very little English and are in positions of debt or financial pressures, in which they would have been taken advantage of by seeing this opportunity.

The perpetrators may use these vulnerabilities to fraudulently or deceitfully recruit women. The recruitment advertising often hides the sexual element of the work and also understates the pay, leading victims into debt to their traffickers. In addition, they may use coercion, legal and emotional manipulation, cultural shaming or deportation threats to force victims into commercial sex on an on going basis. Typical scenarios may be when women are told these circumstances are “normal in the USA” or “police are corrupt and will not help them”, or using blackmail by threatening to tell victim’s families of their sexual experiences. Their access to money, communication and national identification are most often confiscated.

The underlying cause of illicit massage businesses is to feed larger crime networks. ‘Front’ businesses are operated, including nail salons and laundromats, in order to launder money through and move victims between. However customers who engage in this business create the demand and therefore sustain the business.

According to the Polaris Project report, there are some obvious indicators as to which parlours are operating commercial sex, even if they do not openly advertise it. If they do, they promote to primarily male clientele through online sites such as Backpage.com and Craigslist. They will typically offer lower market price reflecting the wages of the women, if any. There will be private presentation of the business, often with windows covered and locks on doors with buzzer entry only. A significant indicator of trafficked victims is when the women live on site of the parlour.

The most effective way of combating trafficking in the massage industry is effective and local-national scale legal framework, with increased risk for the traffickers themselves rather than their employees forced into criminality or prostitution, with thorough law enforcement and consistent regulation. In the USA, 46 states reference industry standards for massage orientated businesses, yet these are usually only regulated on county or city level. Business operations including open hours, profit transparency, landowner responsibility should be enforced, and online advertising banned. On a broader scale, cross-state investigations into trafficking and crime rings should aim at the root of the issue, as well as avoiding media framing of ‘sex workers’ as the criminals rather than victims.