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.

HTMSE’s Founder and Director Appears Before Home Affairs Select Committee on Modern Slavery

Earlier this year our founder and director Philippa Southwell was called to give oral evidence as a legal expert in the Home Affairs Select Committee Modern Slavery Inquiry. As well as giving oral evidence our director Philippa also gave written evidence. Issues that were raised during the inquiry concern the Modern Slavery Act 2015, in particular the section 45 modern slavery defence and excluded schedule 4 offences, and section 54 corporate modern slavery compliance. Also of note were concerns regarding the exploitation of British national minors involved in child criminal exploitation in the forms of forced drug possession, robbery, burglaries, and weapons running. Philippa gave legal analysis on all of these topics. Further areas of focus by the inquiry were:

  • The detention of Modern Slavery victims in immigration removal centres, and the adequacy of policy in relation to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking being held in immigration detention centres.
  • The role of the independent anti-slavery commissioner and the relationship between the different law enforcement agencies, e.g. the police, NCA, GLAA, etc, with the national referral mechanism was a major focus of the evidence given by law enforcement professionals and the former Independent UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
  • and, Victim, and victim support services’, perspectives on policy and support available to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.

The evidence for the inquiry was presented as a combination of oral and written evidence and is drawn from a wide variety of professionals and organisations representing a broad spectrum of sectors. At present those who have given evidence include legal practitioners from a wide range of specialisms; the NGO sector; law enforcement professionals and organisations, including the Home Office, NCA, Local Authorities and multiple police forces; Academic institutions and the research sector; various corporate bodies; and multiple individual experts and specialist organisations.

The Home Affairs Select Committee Modern Slavery Inquiry is ongoing, with oral evidence continuing to be heard. The final findings have yet to be announced. Both the written and oral evidence that have been heard as part of the inquiry, including those submitted by Philippa Southwell, can be found here.

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.

 

 

UK Government response to the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

In July 2019 the UK Government released it’s response to the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which was published earlier in the year. The Review appointed experts to advise on the following four sections of the act, making a total of 80 recommendations:

  1. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (s 40-44)
  2. Transparency in Supply Chains (s 54)
  3. Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (s 48)
  4. Legal Application (specifically s 3 on the meaning of exploitation, s 8-10
    on Slavery and Trafficking Reparation Orders and s 45 on the statutory defence).

 

The response to the Independent Review sets out several actions the UK Government will be taking to address some of the recommendations, including the launching of a public consultation about transparency in supply chains and the announcement of £10 million for the development of a new modern slavery policy and evidence centre. The policy and evidence research centre will involve academics, charities and firms. However, whilst the new centre has been described as having great potential to improve knowledge on human trafficking and modern slavery there are some concerns that the new initiative is being developed while policy is failing in other areas.

The full UK Government response can be found here.

Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 Released

Independent Review Modern Slavery Act 2015

The Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has was published this week on the 22nd May 2019. The review has identified eighty recommendations for improvements to the operation of the act and wider policies to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking in the United Kingdom. The review makes significant recommendations for how legislation should be amended to increase compliance by businesses and improve supply chain transparency, including:

  • Recommendation 25: Failure to fulfil modern slavery statement reporting requirements or to act when instances of slavery are found should be an offence under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.
  • Recommendation 22: The legislation should be amended to require companies to consider the entirety of their supply chains [in respect of modern slavery]. If a company has not done so, it should be required to explain why it has not and what steps it is going to take in the future.
  • Recommendation 18: In section 54(5) ‘may’ should be changed to ‘must’ or ‘shall’, with the effect that the six areas set out as areas that an organisation’s statement may cover will become mandatory. If a company determines that one of the headings is not applicable to their business, it should be required to explain why.
  • Recommendation 32: Section 54 should be extended to the public sector. Government departments should publish a [modern slavery] statement at the end of the financial year, approved by the Department’s board and signed by the Permanent Secretary as Accounting Officer. Local government, agencies and other public authorities should publish a statement if their annual budget exceeds £36 million.

The recommendations would significantly increase the responsibility on businesses to address anti-slavery in their supply chains, and afford the government greater power to punish companies that do not comply.

The full report can be found here.

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.

Global Supply Chains: 4 Principals Adopted Against Modern Slavery

The UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA have made progress in the movement to expel modern slavery and labour exploitation from global supply chains.

These five partner countries have created a set of 4 principles designed for nations all over the world to adopt, in order to promote ethical supply chain compliance within their jurisdictions. The principles are aimed at policy level, addressing both public and private sector procurement, supply chains, recruitment and encourages the need for cooperation between such actors.

The four principles are as follows:

Governments should take steps to prevent and address human trafficking in government procurement practices

  • analyse, develop and implement measures to identify, prevent and reduce the risk of human trafficking in government procurement supply chains
  • provide tools and incentives and adopt risk assessment policies and procedures that require their procurement officers and contractors to assess the nature and extent of potential exposure to human trafficking in their supply chains
  • take targeted action, including adopting appropriate due diligence processes, to identify, prevent, mitigate, remedy, and account on how they address human trafficking

Governments should encourage the private sector to prevent and address human trafficking in its supply chains

  • work in partnership with business, workers and survivors to set clear expectations for private sector entities on their responsibility to conduct appropriate due diligence in their supply chains to identify, prevent and mitigate human trafficking
  • provide tools and incentives to the private sector to encourage meaningful action and public reporting of their efforts, including through programmes policies or legislation

Governments should advance responsible recruitment policies and practices

  • advance responsible recruitment practices, including by implementing polices that incentivise and support responsible practice, and by support initiatives such as the ‘Employer Pays Principle’
  • contribute to the growing knowledge base of promising practices for protecting workers from fraud and exploitation in the recruitment process

Governments should strive for harmonisation

  • make reasonable efforts to share information and work with other committed governments to align existing and proposed laws, regulations and polices to combat human trafficking in global supply chains

 

The UK,  leading global efforts in anti-slavery policy, is encouraging governments at the UN General Assembly to adopt these principles. By leveraging the combined $600 billion purchasing power of the partnered nations there is the capital to influence high-level actors in both public and private sectors.

The principles provide a clear and progressive framework for cooperating governments to aim towards. The major drawback, however, is the lack of enforcement of these principles, which in many instances is controlled by  legislation. However, for these principles to be effective in practice rather than theory, strict and coherent sanctions are critical. The further challenge is to address cross border transactions, and encourage non-cooperative countries that produce the majority of global slavery statistics to adopt and enforce such principles.

Growing Awareness of Labour Exploitation at Waste Recycling Facilities 

8% of MRW survey participants stated they witnessed possible cases of labour exploitation in the last year
8% of MRW survey participants stated they witnessed possible cases of labour exploitation in the last year

New statistics report that over a third of rescued modern slavery victims in the UK have, at some point over the course of their exploitation, been used for labour at waste or recycling processing plants. This work involves long strenuous hours in harsh, dirty environments, ‘picking’ and sorting materials that come into the depot. These cases highlight the recycling industry as one of the increasing target points for human traffickers, where the victims maybe moved between known industries such as car washes and factory work.

Surveys from the Materials Recycling World industry insight have claimed that 8% of those who took part stated they witnessed possible cases of labour exploitation in the last year. Reports suggest eastern European gang members are accompanying the victims posing as ‘friends’ to help interpret where there were language barriers. A case recorded by Hope for Justice recounted that the ‘friend’ would accompany the victim to the bank to set up a bank account, and manipulate the situation into gaining access to the account and take the wages from the worker. As suggested by Neil Wain, International Programme Director at Hope for Justice, such “findings suggest there may still be a limited awareness of the factors that cause and contribute to modern slavery in this sector of the economy, and that more training and understanding would be beneficial.”

The NCA has recorded 1,631 referrals of modern slavery in the first 3 months of 2018. There is growing awareness around the waste industry as a key sector for the skills and labour sets of human trafficking victims. These findings point to the need for tightening of regulation around waste and recycling supply chains, particularly those attached to local government. As a government utility, it is critical that waste collection and treatment systems do not facilitate modern slavery. The private sector waste companies need assessment around the UK’s Modern Slavery legalisation.

For further reporting on by Materials Recycling World, read here.