Governments responses to modern slavery

Governments responses to modern slavery

Globally, governments have taken important strides in the fight against modern slavery since the publication of the 2016 Global Slavery Index. Overall, the Government Response Index suggests that national legal, policy, and programmatic responses to modern slavery are improving, with an increasing number of countries with a BBB and BB rating in 2018 over 2016, and fewer CCC and CC ratings. However, there are some responses that appear to be going backwards, with a small increase in the number of countries that were rated C or D in 2018 compared to 2016.

In 2018, 122 countries have criminalised human trafficking in line with the UN Trafficking Protocol, while only 38 countries have criminalised forced marriage. There are now 154 countries that provide services for victims, compared to 150 in 2016, although important gaps remain. Eighty-two countries report gaps in the provision of services to either migrants, men, and children, or a combination of these. More countries are now coordinating their responses, with a three percent increase in the number of countries implementing National Action Plans covering some, if not all, aspects of a modern slavery response.39 One of the more striking findings in 2018 is the growing government engagement with business and the increasing political interest in the investigation of government procurement, with 36 countries taking steps to investigate forced labour in private or public supply chains. This is a significant increase from the four governments identified in 2016.

This year, for the first time data on all 53 Commonwealth countries in our government response database was included, bringing the total number of countries included in assessment to 181. As data for the smaller island nations of the Commonwealth are limited, we have not provided an overall rating for these individual countries. However, taking these countries into account in global analysis of key indicators does reveal an encouraging narrative: when including all Commonwealth countries, the number of countries criminalising human trafficking increases to 135, with 164 countries providing services to victims of modern slavery. Due to the ongoing conflict and extreme disruption to government ratings for Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen were not included.

In 2018, the governments taking the most action to respond to modern slavery are:

  • The Netherlands
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Sweden  
  • Belgium
  • Croatia
  • Spain
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Montenegro

These countries are characterised by strong political will, high levels of resources, and a strong civil society that holds these governments to account for their actions to respond to modern slavery. These results are similar to 2016, but with some slight shifts in the positioning of Australia downwards as Belgium moves upwards. While the positive conclusion of the Australian inquiry into an Australian Modern Slavery Act is to be commended, we strongly encourage the government to pass legislation that incorporates an Independent Commissioner. On the other hand, we welcome the issuance of public procurement guidelines in 2017 in Belgium which incorporate suggestions on how to implement ILO Conventions, including the abolition of forced labour and the pilot initiative looking at the application of ILO standards in the personal protective equipment sector in Ghent.

It is not just governments at the top of the table that are taking positive action to respond to modern slavery. Other countries are taking notable action, as well. Morocco and Côte d’Ivoire passed comprehensive trafficking legislation in 2016, which has resulted in improved ratings from CC to CCC and from CCC to B respectively. Chile has improved its victim protection mechanisms by launching the Blue Campaign, a website to help improve identification of victims, establishing guidelines to help first responders identify and refer victims, and supporting the implementation of the National Referral Mechanism. As a result, Chile has moved from a B to BBB rating.

As with the 2016 findings, when correlated against GDP (PPP) per capita, some countries stand out as taking relatively strong action when compared with those that have stronger economies. Countries including Georgia, Moldova, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Mozambique are taking positive steps to respond to this issue relative to their wealth. Sierra Leone’s coordination body, the InterAgency Human Trafficking Task Force, resumed activities in 2015 and approved the 2015-2020 National Action Plan.

In Georgia, the government adopted a victim-centred approach by establishing victim witness coordinators from the initial stages of investigations through the end of court proceedings.

Since the 2016 Index, more countries have proactively implemented reporting requirements for businesses to detail actions taken to investigate their supply chains for labour violations, including forced labour. Twenty-seven EU member states, have fully transposed the EU non-financial reporting Directive (Directive 2014/95/EU) into domestic legislation. The Directive requires large companies to disclose certain information on the way they operate and manage social and environment challenges. Although not specific to forced labour, the Directive offers an opportunity for more businesses to demonstrate action taken to combat forced labour beyond those already reporting under the UK government’s Modern Slavery Act. The first non-financial statements will be included in businesses’ annual reports from 2018 onward.

Governments are beginning to recognise that public procurement is also at high risk of modern slavery. The United States leads the way with Executive Orders 13627 (2012) and 13126 (1999), which require mandatory reporting and due diligence from all federal government contractors and subcontractors. Guidelines and training on forced labour are provided to all government procurement officials, while the closure of a loophole in the 1930 Tariff Act (19 U.S.C. § 1307) has meant that goods are regularly seized and inspected if they are believed to be produced with forced or child labour. In Europe, Article 57 of Directive 2014/24/EU allows for the exclusion of contractors from public procurement where there has been a conviction of human trafficking or child labour. At the time of writing, these have been transposed into domestic legislation of all European countries apart from Luxembourg and Austria. Interestingly, there is also evidence that the Chinese government has investigated incidents where subcontractors in government contracts have failed to pay wages and the Paraguayan National Secretariat for Children and Adolescents has an inter-institutional agreement with the National Bureau for Public Contracts to ensure that any goods or services procured by the government are not produced through child labour. Across Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, general government procurement spending equalled nearly 12 percent of GDP in 2015. Tackling government supply chains to reduce instances of forced labour therefore has enormous potential to reduce the number of people in modern slavery.

Governments are increasingly collaborating with businesses to eradicate modern slavery. In 2017, the Bali Process launched the Bali Process Business and Government Forum (BPGBF), which is a subsidiary body to the existing intergovernmental Bali Process. The BPGBF is a cooperative initiative to combat modern slavery and human trafficking in the Indo-Pacific region. The Forum brings together government representatives from 45 countries, three United Nations organisations, and the private sector.

The initial meeting provided a unique opportunity for information sharing and implementing partnerships with the joint goal of ending modern slavery. Looking ahead, the Forum is expected to have the joint outcome of promoting good business practices across the private sector while also encouraging legislative changes by government.

Countries have taken steps to strengthen criminal justice responses to modern slavery. As of 15th June 2018, the 2014 Forced Labour Protocol is in force in 17 countries, with an additional seven ratifications coming into force in the next 12 months.58 This is important as the Forced Labour Protocol brings the framework created by the 1930 Convention on Forced Labour into the 21st century. The Indian government has taken recent action to reduce the worst forms of child labour by ratifying the ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. In line with the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 56 countries have criminalised the buying and selling of children for sex or sexual services, and 27 have criminalised the use of children in armed conflict. Despite these promising steps, in 64 countries penalties for modern slavery crimes remain disproportionate to their severity, as perpetrators can be penalised with a relatively small fine or conversely penalised with corporal punishment (itself a breach of international human rights standards).

The existence of legislation is not in itself enough to deter modern slavery crimes and in many cases the lack of effective implementation of legislation indicates a significant gap in a government response. While 145 countries have provided at least one training session since 2012 for their front-line police officers on identification of victims and investigation of modern slavery crimes, 11 of these did not subsequently identify any victims, suggesting poor execution or low quality of the training provided. Fewer countries have provided training to judges and prosecutors, with 108 and 109 governments respectively providing training for these groups since 2012. Regular training was provided to judges and prosecutors in South Africa, Bolivia, Jordan, and Serbia, among others, however there are reports that this has not resulted in the most stringent of sentences for identified traffickers and exploiters, with some evidence of suspended sentences or conviction for lesser crimes.

Access to justice and protection for identified victims has improved in some countries. For example, despite an overall poor response in Hong Kong, children and vulnerable witnesses may now give testimony via video conference. In Indonesia, the government has opened a child-friendly integrated public space in East Jakarta where child and adult victims of trafficking can report trafficking crimes to trained counsellors. Fifty-eight countries have a National Referral Mechanism for victims of modern slavery. In Albania, the establishment of a National Referral Mechanism has been supplemented by Standard Operating Procedures, that are used by regulatory and non-regulatory bodies that may come into contact with victims, including those covering teachers, doctors, and people working in the tourism sector. Since 2016, 118 governments have provided funding to shelters or victim support services.

Longer-term reintegration services are less frequent, with 97 governments offering measures for foreign victims to remain within the country and 71 governments providing longer term support. Of those 97 countries, only 37 governments offered visas on humanitarian or other grounds not tied to participation in a court case.

While many positive actions were taken by governments around the world in 2018, those taking the least action to combat modern slavery are:

  • North Korea
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Libya
  • Burundi
  • Eritrea
  • Congo
  • Central African Republic
  • Sudan
  • Iran
  • Mauritania

Those countries with weaker responses to modern slavery are characterised by government complicity (as is the case in North Korea), low levels of political will (as is the case in Iran), fewer available resources (as is the case in Equatorial Guinea), or high levels of conflict (as is the case in Libya).

These results are broadly similar to our 2016 assessment, with some small improvements in Papua New Guinea, Guinea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Hong Kong.

Following the launch of the 2016 Global Slavery Index, the Hong Kong government began to take some steps to recognise that modern slavery is a problem by training front-line police and establishing a specialised police force. The fact that the government is starting to respond is to be commended, however, more remains to be done, including criminalising of modern slavery offences and providing those exploited within Hong Kong with alternative options to deportation.

Responses in certain countries have worsened since 2016.

Protection measures for identified victims of modern slavery in Pakistan are limited, with evidence that victims are detained in prison-like shelters where traffickers are able to enter and force inmates into prostitution. Services for men, including victims of bonded labour, are also lacking.

Progress remains slow in Mauritania despite improvements in 2015 to legislation, such as allowing third parties to bring cases on behalf of slavery victims and establishing special tribunals to investigate slavery crimes. There are reports that police and the judiciary are reluctant to implement the new legislation and that several cases of slavery have been reclassified as lesser crimes. In Nepal, the government lessened protections for refugees, a cohort highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In Nepal, refugees from Pakistan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, among others, are required to pay prohibitive fines of up to US$5 a day and a penalty of US$500 to obtain an exit permit. These refugees also lacked legal access to education and the right to work.

Despite these countries taking fewer actions due to limited resources or ongoing conflict, there are wealthier, more stable countries that have taken little relative action when it comes to combatting modern slavery; when correlated against GDP (PPP) per capita Qatar, Singapore, Kuwait, Brunei, Hong Kong, and Saudi Arabia stand out as countries taking relatively limited action despite the size of the problem and resources at their disposal.

Corruption continues to be a serious impediment to any effective response to modern slavery. Almost every country in the Global Slavery Index has criminalised corruption, including bribery of officials, however around 68 countries have conducted limited, if any, investigations into alleged cases of government complicity in modern slavery cases. This ranges from alleged complicity of police and border officials in Madagascar66 in trafficking of Malagasy citizens overseas through to the alleged complicity of high ranking government officials in El Salvador in child sex trafficking cases. Diplomatic officials from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Benin, Saudi Arabia, and Eritrea are also alleged to have been complicit in modern slavery cases.

In 2017, the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery produced the first robust measure and typology of state-imposed forced labour. For the Global Slavery Index 2018, we have updated our assessment of state-imposed forced labour to identify those governments that meet these criteria by using ILO Committee of Experts comments and observations in combination with recent reports of exploitation at the hands of the government. As a result, 20 countries in 2016 and 2017 showed evidence of forcing their population or sub-populations to work under threat of menace or penalty. This includes concerning allegations of forced labour in privately run administrative detention centres in the United States and Belarus and compulsory prison labour in public and private prisons in Russia.71 In Vietnam and China we found evidence of forced labour in drug rehabilitation centres where inmates are forced to work as part of their recuperation. In Belarus, we found abuse of civic duties in the practice of Subbotniks, which requires government employees to work weekends and donate their earnings to finance government projects under the intimidation or threat of fines by state employers. Abuse of civic duties also occurs in Burundi, Myanmar, Rwanda, and in Swaziland, where there is evidence of the continuing practice of Kuhlehla, under which the community is forced to render services or work for the King or local chief. Forced labour for economic development occurs in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where the practice of forcing parts of the population to work in the annual cotton harvest is well documented. In Venezuela, Resolution No. 9855 of 19 July 2016 establishes a system of transition labour that is compulsory for all work entities, public and private. The resolution allows the government to transfer workers to entities in the agro-food sector, which requires additional support to increase production. These entities are also able to request additional workers, thus creating a system of forced recruitment to reinforce agro-food production to ensure food security. As noted, there is strong evidence, including recent interviews with defectors undertaken for research by the Walk Free Foundation, of the prevalence of forced labour imposed by the North Korean state.

Abuse of conscription becomes state-imposed forced labour in cases where conscripts are forced to perform work of a non-military nature. We find evidence of this in Colombia, Egypt, Madagascar, Mongolia, and Mali and perhaps most significantly in Eritrea. Under the pretext of “defending the integrity of the state and ensuring its self-sufficiency,” the Eritrean government has developed a system of national service in which conscripts are exploited and forced to labour for indefinite periods of time. These forced labourers are required to build infrastructure and work in other projects for economic development that help to prop up the Eritrean government. Also, in 2016 there were wide reports of slave markets in Libya, where migrant men, women, and children are sold off to the highest bidder. Alongside this, there are reports of state involvement from the Libyan Coast Guard and the Department for Combating Irregular Migration forcing people who are in migrant detention into forced labour.


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