Boost for fight against modern slavery

LexisNexis Legal & Professional, Business Insight Solutions, August 2016

Saturday 30 July marked the United Nations (UN) World Day against Trafficking in Persons, an international awareness day officially declared via resolution in 2013 by the General Assembly.  The day aims to: "Raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights."

The World Day against Trafficking in Persons was introduced by the UN General Assembly during its appraisal of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons.  The plan urges Governments worldwide to take coordinated and consistent measures to defeat modern slavery and human trafficking.  This year's campaign generated a huge response on social media, with hundreds of people posting messages of solidarity with the trending hashtag #IGiveHope.  The campaign also encouraged strong political dialogue on the issues in both the UK and the United States. 

The emerging link between migration and trafficking

Despite recent advances in anti-human trafficking legislation with the introduction of the UK Modern Slavery Act and increased awareness of the issues globally, criminals are taking advantage of what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called "the biggest refugee and migration crisis since World War Two" to force more victims into forced labour.

The European Commission has released its first report on human trafficking since the adoption of its anti-trafficking Directive in 2011.  The report highlights children as most vulnerable to falling victim to human trafficking and notes that "the phenomenon has been exacerbated by the ongoing migration crisis" in Europe.  The report states that there is "strong evidence that the migration crisis has been exploited by criminal networks involved in trafficking in human beings to target the most vulnerable".

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Statement in support of World Day against Trafficking in Persons also highlighted increased migration as a key barrier for anti-trafficking progress: "While not all migrants are vulnerable to being trafficked, the forthcoming UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2016 identifies a clear pattern linking undocumented migration to trafficking in persons."

The UNODC report will be released later this year and will highlight in more detail the links between human trafficking and refugee flows from countries including Syria, Eritrea, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Strong political dialogue

The UN campaign encouraged strong political dialogue on the issues in both the UK and – at a critical time in the election process – the United States (US).  Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton made modern slavery a campaign issue at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), inviting modern slavery survivor and advocate Ima Matul Maisroh to address the convention.

The Democratic Presidential Candidate recently addressed her stance on modern slavery in a post on blogging site Medium: "As first lady, I championed this issue… As secretary of state, I oversaw nearly 170 anti-trafficking programs in 70 countries, and pressed foreign leaders to step up their efforts… And I strongly supported President Obama's initiatives ensuring that American tax dollars don't fuel demand for forced labour."

The UK's new Prime Minister, Theresa May, highlighted the positive effect of the UK's landmark legislation in a national newspaper article, explaining that it has: "delivered enhanced protection and support for victims and a world-leading transparency requirement on businesses to show that modern slavery is not taking place in their companies or their supply chains."  The Prime Minister announced that she will be setting up the first government-led task force to combat modern slavery.

As part of the Prime Minister's commitment, Caroline Haughey – a barrister with a track record of successfully prosecuting slave drivers – was commissioned to lead an independent review of the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act.  The review found good progress has been made: 289 modern slavery offences were prosecuted in 2015 and a 40 per cent rise in the number of victims being identified.  There is, however, "still further to go on raising awareness of these despicable crimes" and the strong media profile of the campaign to end modern slavery must continue if global momentum is to be maintained.

Maintaining momentum in the media

Analysis from Nexis Analyser shows that reporting of the issues in the UK national media has grown steadily since 2011, when very few articles were published on the subject.  Maintaining awareness – both in social and traditional media – will be crucial if this trend is to continue.

Modern Slavery media mentions create increase in awareness

Reviewing the media profile of several key terms associated with modern slavery over the last three years shows that increased awareness and campaigning can have a practical effect on the outcome of policy decisions.  In the second half of 2014 publication of Home Office statistics suggested that up to 13,000 victims of modern slavery were trapped in the UK.  Previous data from the National Crime Agency's Human Trafficking centre in 2013 estimated the number to be far less: 2,744.

Analysis of media mentions of human trafficking keywords

The announcement marked the beginning of a campaign that resulted in a supply chain clause being added to the Modern Slavery bill.  The clause requires businesses to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year.  These statements encourage transparency in the efforts companies are making to remove slavery and human trafficking from operations and play a crucial part in bringing accountability to large businesses. 

Articles relating specifically to modern slavery have remained at a consistent level since the addition of the clause and subsequent introduction of the legislation, indicating that accountability for business is an effective tool in maintaining awareness levels.