Walk Free initiative has collected global data on progress towards eradicating modern slavery
Walk Free initiative has collected global data on progress towards eradicating modern slavery

'Disgracefully marginal action' on Global Slavery Index

With 40.3m people around the world classified as ‘enslaved’, actions to eradicate the issue aren’t going far enough, says report.

Despite government leaders agreeing in 2015 to take immediate and effective measures to end forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour, four years later world progress has been “disgracefully marginal” according to Andrew Forrest, co-founder of Minderoo Foundation.

The 2019 Measurement, Action, Freedom report from Minderoo’s Walk Free initiative, which builds on data from 183 countries collected annually since 2014 in its Global Slavery Index, makes for unsettling reading. It shows 95 countries don’t provide support services for victims of modern slavery and a massive 146 countries “do not address risks in business supply chains”.

Click the image below to see the top countries taking action in supply chains:

Click for larger view

The report says no country in the world is exempt from modern slavery: “Even in countries with seemingly strong laws and systems, there are critical gaps.”

And in 20 nations, such as worst-performing North Korea, state-imposed forced labour remains prevalent.

Even with the commitment of all UN member states, progress to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.7, which aims to eradicate modern slavery, has been “incredibly slow”.

“If the world is serious about ending the enslavement of 40.3m people – 15.4m of whom are in forced marriages and 24.9m in forced labour – governments will need to redouble efforts to identify victims, arrest perpetrators and address the drivers,” says the report.

Indeed, governments are “not on track” to achieve the goal to eradicate modern slavery by 2030 and this would only be attainable if 10,000 people per day were freed. While there is a trend towards improvement for around 50% of countries, this means that half of all countries have not made an improvement – or have slid backwards.

Supply chains “most important”

Governments were independently assessed for actions in five categories: to identify and support survivors; to establish criminal justice systems to prevent modern slavery; to strengthen coordination nationally and across borders – with governments held to account; to address factors such as attitudes, social systems and institutions that enable modern slavery; and to stop sourcing goods and services produced by forced labour.

In the procurement world, this latter milestone is the most critical of all, and as such the table above ranks the countries by their ability to meet this supply chain criterion. As one ‘survivor leader’ states in the report: “This is the most important because that’s where the biggest number of child labour and labour trafficking occurs. We need registration of businesses and inspections.”

Since 1 July 2017, countries investigating government and business supply chains for labour violations, including forced labour, has increased. Yet still only 40 countries (shown left) are taking action in this area.

Recent examples of supply chain action include Indonesia’s demand for businesses involved in the fishing industry to put in place a human rights system, including the avoidance of forced labour. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana’s joining of the Harkin-Engel Protocol and the associated International Cocoa Initiative aims to halt child labour in cocoa production. Taiwan’s Bureau of Labour has issued lists of firms that violate its Labour Standards Act and followed up with fines to 44 companies in 2015, though it’s unclear if the country is continuing this, states the report.

But it’s the US that leads in engaging with business on addressing modern slavery. Its 2010 California Transparency in Supply Chains Act requires certain businesses to disclose their efforts combating modern slavery in supply chains.

In addition, US Executive Orders require mandatory reporting and due diligence from all federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure that government agencies do not procure goods and services tainted by child labour, forced labour and trafficking. The closure of a loophole in the 1930 Tariff Act has meant that goods are seized and inspected if they are believed to be produced with forced or child labour.

Despite these steps, the US imports the largest proportion among all G20 countries of products that are at risk of being produced with modern slavery (US$144bn per annum), says the report.

Overall action to meet SDG 8.7

When looking at action in all five categories, the UK scores highest, bolstered by its second interim report on Transparency in Supply Chains produced under the independent review of the UK Modern Slavery Act. It recommended a government list of those that should be reporting under the legislation and increased transparency by establishing a central government-run repository for companies to upload their statements.

Australia also moved up in the overall ranking – to number 10 – with its Modern Slavery Act of December 2018. And Argentina, while scoring zero on supply chain action, is sixth highest overall, with considerable action in government training, counter-trafficking offices and restitution of trafficking cases.

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