Today, some 30 million people worldwide live in slavery, a significant portion of them children. Yet slavery is strictly prohibited by international law. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, enslavement is even in some cases prosecutable as a crime against humanity or, arguably in some narrower cases, a war crime. As Zeid Ra’ad al-‐Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted in his inaugural speech to the Human Rights Council, the exploitation of workers in a wide range of industries continues, apparently all but unimpeded by the shadow of domestic and international criminal liability. Slavery currently exists in every region of the world, including diverse states such as India, Brazil, Russia, and Ethiopia, and in such diverse economic sectors as the farming, mining, manufacturing, domestic worker and personal-‐care service industries.
Why is there such a gap between law and practice? What can be done to improve the contribution of international criminal justice norms and institutions to the eradication of modern slavery, whether through domestic or international courts, state peer review arrangements, civil litigation, corporate prevention efforts or the UN and ILO’s supervisory machinery? This background paper highlights some of the key issues that will be discussed in a joint policy research initiative currently being carried out by UN University, the Journal of International Criminal Justice, the Freedom Fund and the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations.