World ‘will not deliver’ on 2030 goal to end slavery

posted by Jennifer Small
24 July 2019

The UK has emerged as the nation “taking the most action to combat modern slavery”, but global progress in tackling modern slavery has been “hugely disappointing” according to Global Slavery Index (GSI) data.

Report authors, the Minderoo Foundation's Walk Free initiative, stated that “the world will not deliver on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.7 by the 2030 target date”. Set by the UN in 2015, SDG 8.7 calls on all governments to “take immediate and effective measures to end forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking, as well as all forms of child labour”.

To date, around 40.3m people are in modern slavery, and 10,000 of those would need to be freed every day in order to eradicate this serious issue, says the report, which calls for governments to take measures including “strengthening existing modern slavery legislation to ensure that all forms of exploitation are criminalised and penalties are severe”.

While 50% of governments have now made some improvement since GSI research began in 2014, report author, policy advisor and modern slavery specialist Katharine Bryant said: “Obviously this also means that 50% of governments have not improved at all. Progress has happened but I have been surprised to see that it has been way too slow.”

Andrew Forrest, co-founder of the Walk Free Foundation: “We know that 47 countries globally have not yet recognised human trafficking as a crime in line with international standards. Nearly 100 countries still fail to criminalise forced labour, or, if they do, the penalty for this form of exploitation amounts to nothing more than a fine.”

Despite there being an estimated 16m people in forced labour exploitation in the private economy worldwide, only 40 countries have investigated public or business supply chains to tackle labour exploitation. This includes mandatory reporting legislation introduced by nations including Australia, the UK and the US, in addition to guidelines for public procurement specialists across the EU.


Ten countries taking the most action:


2019                  VS         2018

  1. UK                         Netherlands
  2. Netherlands           US
  3. US                         UK
  4. Portugal                Sweden
  5. Sweden                 Belgium
  6. Argentina              Croatia
  7. Belgium                Spain
  8. Spain                     Norway
  9. Croatia                  Portugal
  10. Australia               Montenegro           


These countries are characterised by strong political will, high levels of resources and a strong civil society that holds governments to account. However, not all have matched good policy with effective enforcement, the report states. There are low numbers of identified victims in Croatia, for example and few prosecutions for labour exploitation in the Netherlands.

“Countries with otherwise strong responses, such as in the EU, UK, the US and Australia, may also have restrictive and discriminatory migration policies, which continue to be a driver of modern slavery,” said the report.

The Netherlands has lost its top spot for the first time since the report began in 2014. Instead the UK provides the strongest response to modern slavery. This is attributed to “strengthening of government action” in the UK, while prosecution efforts in the Netherlands have been limited.

Conversely, according to the report, the UK has recently increased the capacity of first responders, providing training for foster carers and support workers for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. In addition, 2018 saw the first successful conviction for forced marriage in an English court. 

In Portugal, which the report stated had made “positive steps to respond to modern slavery relative to its level of wealth”, comprehensive victim assistance programmes have been established, including access to free legal services.

Ten countries taking the least action


      2019            VS         2018

  1. North Korea           North Korea
  2. Eritrea                    Libya
  3. Libya                      Eritrea
  4. Iran                         Central African Republic
  5. Equatorial Guinea  Iran
  6. Burundi                  Equatorial Guinea
  7. Dem. Rep. Congo  Burundi
  8. Congo                    Congo
  9. Russia                    Sudan
  10. Somalia                  Mauritania

These countries, said the report, are characterised by government complicity (North Korea and Eritrea), low levels of political will (Iran), high levels of corruption (Equatorial Guinea) or widespread conflict (Libya). Few victims are being identified and there are even fewer prosecutions. There is also evidence that governments are actively enslaving part of their population in some of these countries, such as North Korea, the report stated.

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