Global gains in tackling human trafficking in recent years must not be undone by the coronavirus pandemic, several experts said on Thursday to mark World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
The United Nations has warned that the fallout of COVID-19 - from lockdowns and business closures to shut borders - could drive more people into forced labour or sexual exploitation, and mean victims are less likely to be rescued or receive support.
About 25 million people worldwide are estimated to be victims of human trafficking - a trade worth $150 billion-a-year - according to the U.N. International Labour Organization (ILO).
As the world strives to meet a U.N. goal of ending modern slavery by 2030, the Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to leading advocates about the priorities of the anti-trafficking movement and how it can best weather the myriad impacts of the pandemic.
Here are their responses:
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Covid 19 Time Series
KATHARINE BRYANT, GLOBAL RESEARCH MANAGER, WALK FREE
"People at risk of modern slavery are even more vulnerable due to the impacts of COVID-19. The biggest priority for the anti-trafficking movement is to ensure that the pandemic doesn't undo the gains made in recent years.
Although limited, there has been progress in the strengthening of laws, and supporting survivors.
The pandemic has highlighted underlying systemic inequalities and discrimination - but it has also shown us that we can make changes to solve these problems at scale.
Many countries around the world implemented policies of universal basic income or cash transfers to support the most vulnerable. These policies reduce vulnerability to modern slavery and are essential to allow countries and economies to rebuild to protect those at risk of modern slavery."
DAVID WESTLAKE, CEO, INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE MISSION UK
"As the world combats COVID-19 it is essential that human trafficking doesn't fall off the agenda of global governments – especially at a time when some groups are more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.
Anti-trafficking efforts from governments, law enforcement, business and civil society must be prioritised - and increased – if we are to stop trafficking.
This is especially important as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates circumstances which can leave people vulnerable to trafficking - like unemployment, poverty, insecure immigration status and debt."
NICK GRONO, CEO, THE FREEDOM FUND
"The biggest priority, to my mind, is generating political will among government leaders to prioritise the fight against modern slavery.
Given that slavery is illegal under international law, and in every country, yet thrives almost everywhere, there's a gap between the laws and implementation, and a failure to prioritise measures to build resilience amongst those communities most vulnerable to slavery.
The anti-slavery movement's biggest challenge is to generate that political will - to work in a collaborative and impactful way to push governments to give the fight against slavery the priority it deserves and requires."
VALIANT RICHEY, CO-ORDINATOR FOR COMBATING TRAFFICKING, ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION IN EUROPE (OSCE)
"I would say that the biggest priority today is really countering impunity.
It is estimated there are some 25 million victims of human trafficking globally. Yet in 2019, just a little more than 11,000 traffickers were prosecuted - roughly one prosecution for every 2,154 victims. ?
On one hand, more effective strategies are needed to prosecute more and better the traffickers behind this atrocious crime, and on the other hand we must address and openly discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation that lead to trafficking."
LIZZY JEWELL, HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS, STOP THE TRAFFIK
"Human trafficking is such a prolific, far-reaching crime, that in order to effectively combat it, the anti-trafficking sector needs to have a collaboratively focused solution.
To date, attempts to tackle human trafficking have been fragmented - law enforcement work can operate in isolation from rescue or prevention operations, meaning that the lucrative business of human trafficking can continue undeterred.
By sharing intelligence, we will ultimately be able to build a clearer picture of trafficking, effectively target it with preventative strategies from every angle."
RYNA SHERAZI, HEAD OF FUNDRAISING AND COMMUNICATIONS, ANTI-SLAVERY INTERNATIONAL
"Elevating the perspectives of people affected by trafficking must be a major priority. Their experiences are critical to finding the right solutions to ending trafficking.
A considerable challenge to the anti-trafficking movement remains the extent and depth of discrimination – on the basis of their caste, ethnicity, faith, immigration status and gender.
When governments do not offer protections for those people, it is a gift to a trafficker. For victims, access to justice can prove a monumental task. While laws exist all over the world that are aimed to protect people from trafficking, they are insufficiently implemented, and people suffer as a result."
SUZANNE HOFF, GLOBAL COORDINATOR, LA STRADA INTERNATIONAL
"The biggest global priority for the anti-trafficking movement today is to ensure that systemic root causes for human trafficking are seriously and effectively addressed and that legislation and policies in place are binding and effectively implemented.
It is concerning that much of the attention - and action - in the field is symbolic and does not lead to real improvement for the persons at stake, also due to lack of real governmental commitment to address the systems that facilitate and cause exploitation and abuse."