Every country is affected by modern slavery, and it can be found in many sectors such as agriculture, garment manufacturing, mining and construction. According to the Walk Free Foundation, the top-5 imported products currently most at risk of modern slavery in the United States are electronics, garments, fish, cocoa and timber.
In many parts of the world, the practice is being driven by ongoing conflict, political instability and forced displacement, while factors such as climate change and migration are making people increasingly vulnerable. It is not always easy to detect modern slavery given that it also occurs inside private homes or in settlements for displaced people. Common forms of modern slavery include the following:
Human trafficking: Adults and children are trapped or traded through the use of threats, violence, deception and similar tactics so that they can be exploited by others for commercial gain. For girls, that often results in sexual exploitation while women regularly become trapped in private homes where they are exploited and abused. Men are also victims of human trafficking and a common example is getting tricked into accepting a job with great risks that ultimately turns into forced labour with no avenue of escape. In 2018, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime estimated that around 46% of identified victims of human trafficking were women, 20% were men 19% were girls and 15% were boys. 57% of identified victims were trafficked by a business enterprise type of organised criminal group, 19% fell victim to governance-type of organised criminal groups, 14% were attributed to the opportunistic associations of traffickers while 11% occurred as a result of individual traffickers.
Forced labour: Nearly all slavery practices contain elements of forced labour and it is defined by the International Labour Organization Forced Labour Convention of 1930 as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily”. While the practice affects millions of people, it is most often found in industries with little regulation such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction and prostitution. Governments are finally starting to tackle the problem through the introduction of mandatory requirements for companies to report on suppliers and subcontractors. Through such reporting duties, public monitoring and transparency are enhanced which helps to eliminate forced labour in supply chains. Examples of such legislation include the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law and Germany’s Supply Chain Act. In the future, a new European Supply Chain Act will require EU companies to audit their suppliers along the entire global supply chain with the aim of ensuring compliance with human rights and environmental protection standards. These pieces of legislation will be explored in more detail later.
Criminal exploitation: This occurs when victims are forced to partake in crimes such as cannabis cultivation, shoplifting, drug smuggling, bike theft or pickpocketing against their will. This form of modern slavery is typically controlled by highly organised criminals and it is especially prevalent among the homeless and young men in particular. Vulnerable individuals are known to be approached by criminals in homeless accommodation to be recruited to carry out short-term work for a cash-in-hand payment. People from overseas also frequently become victims of criminal exploitation when they are approached with promises of money and steady work. More and more children are now being targeted by criminals to participate in this practice and victims are often maltreated.
Sexual exploitation and abuse: Victims are forced to perform non-consensual or abusive sexual acts that can include prostitution, pornography and escort work. Frequently, someone’s position of vulnerability is abused (such as when an individual depends on someone for survival, food or transport). Differential power or trust can also prove a factor, and this can be leveraged to obtain sexual favours by offering money or social, economic or political advantages.
Debt bondage: Also known as debt slavery, bonded labour or peonage, this occurs when someone is forced to pay off a debt through work. While it is an old practice, in existence for hundreds of years, it remains one of the most common forms of enslavement today. Along with the duration of the arrangement, the services required to repay the debt may be nebulous or completely undefined, allowing the person in control to demand those services indefinitely. They can also be passed on from generation to generation. Debt bondage is most common across South Asia and it is especially prevalent in Pakistan and India.
Forced/early marriage: Marriage involving children under 18 years of age is still widespread across the world and it violates children’s rights, placing them at high risk of exploitation and abuse. South Asia has the highest rates of child marriage globally and it is widespread in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Child marriage can be referred to as a form of slavery if certain elements are present. These include the child not providing their free and informed consent to enter the marriage, if the child is subject to control and ownership within the marriage, and if the child cannot realistically leave or end the marriage. When girls manage to escape such marriages without support, they often become vulnerable to other forms of exploitation.
Organ harvesting: This form of modern slavery is increasing across the world, and it involves the illegal removal of internal organs for transplant without the donor’s consent. Victims may be manipulated into giving an organ or they may have it removed during an operation without their knowledge. In many cases, victims are trafficked or smuggled into another country after being falsely promised work. They can then be coerced into selling an organ to recoup the costs of travel and accommodation. There is a high likelihood of medical complications due to procedures not being followed while the “handler” often fails to pay the victim the promised monetary sum.
Traffickers involved in different forms of modern slavery are intelligent and avail of strategies to cover up their activities. Tactics for approaching victims are constantly evolving and it is important for the public to remain vigilant.