The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery was marked earlier this month on December 3rd as adopted by United Nations General Assembly. The day emphasizes the need to redouble our global effort to eradicate modern day slavery including human trafficking, sexual exploitation, child labour, forced marriage, and the use of children in armed conflict. This is an important day as there are an estimated 40.3 million people engaged in modern slavery including 15.4 million people in forced marriage and 24,9 million people in forced labour. This means for every 1000 people in the world, 5.4 are victims of modern slavery, and of these victims a quarter are children.
The global responses have focussed on enacting national legislation. Australia’s Modern Slavery Act 2018 and its state counterparts require large companies to actively eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains by producing annual reports on how they have identified their modern slavery risks and how they have addressed it. Similarly, California passed the Transparency in Supply Chains Act which requires companies to report how they are tackling modern slavery in their supply chains.
In the United Kingdom, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was passed to combat modern slavery by consolidating previous offences of slavery and trafficking, establishing an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, providing means for seizing traffickers’ assets and use to pay compensation to victims. France passed a similar law to the U.K. and while it applies to less companies, it requires more specific disclosure and also allows victims and concerned parties to bring forth a case.
The reason why the response to combat modern slavery has not had the impact it needs to have to eradicate slavery is because of the shortcomings of the national laws.
First, the legislation aimed at addressing modern slavery has not focussed on money being the catalyst of modern slavery, especially forced labour as it adds $150 billion dollars of profit. The importance of money is conveyed by how of the 24.9 million modern slaves, 16 million are exploited by the private sector, including in construction, agriculture, and domestic work, 4.8 million people are in forcibly sexually exploited, and 4 million people are engaged in modern slavery as imposed by the state who reap the rewards of forced slavery. Therefore as long as money remains such an important incentive, it will be difficult to address the issue.
Second, most legislation has not gone far enough in addressing how to combat modern slavery. For instance, the Australian laws which require a companies to publish public statements on the risk that their supply chain has engaged in modern slavery has increased awareness of modern slavery in the business community. However, not much is being done to aid victims and survivors of modern slavery and trafficking. Carolyn Liaw, a researcher at Anti-Slavery Australia, a research and legal centre which supports victims of modern slavery and trafficking, states that frontline staff and government workers have limited awareness of warning signs and limited knowledge of how to respond if they do come into contact with someone who is being exploited as a modern slave or trafficked.
Finally, anti-modern slavery legislation has not been implemented fully where it has been enacted. For example, the U.K. law required the establishment of an anti-slavery commissioner who produced a report on how the government can combat modern slavery. However, the U.K. government criticized the report as excessively critical and decided not to implement any changes recommended in the report. Furthermore, Kevin Hyland, the first commissioner resigned from his position and opined that he did not enjoy full independence as required by the law. By not fully implementing existing laws, governments are hindering their countries from doing as much as they can to tackle modern slavery.
National laws are a great method to combat modern slavery but their shortcomings needs to be addressed. First, legislation needs to focus on the money slavery adds to the economy and disincentivizing it. This can be achieved by adding heavy sanctions for companies not complying with the law’s disclosure requirements. This is why the French law is considered the best because there are sanctions built into the legislation because if companies default on their requirement to record and implement their anti-slavery plan, they can be fined as much as 10 million euros. Second, legislation merely requiring disclosure of the company’s risk of modern slavery being a part of their supply chain and how they are planning on addressing it is not enough. Finally, legislation targeting modern slavery needs to be better implemented.