It is hard to believe that slavery was abolished more than 150 years ago, and yet it is reported that there are more people today enslaved today than in any other time in history.
The Walk Free Foundation released its 2016 Global Slavery Index estimating almost 46M people worldwide are deployed in modern slavery. With the ILO estimating only 21M globally, the group who studied forced labour in 167 countries, found that the number of people living as modern slaves is significantly higher than previously forecasted.
Definitions of modern-day slavery are typically derived from the 1956 UN supplementary convention: "debt bondage, serfdom, forced marriage and the delivery of a child for the exploitation of that child are all slavery-like practices and require criminalisation and abolishment".
Slavery is an economic disease. Driven by our demand for cheap goods, the combined volume of goods has forged an industry that is estimated to generate $150B a year in global profits (Source: CNBC, May 2016). As manufacturing continues to be subcontracted to cheaper countries, corporate supply chains are often the channels for demand, particularly in the industries of textiles, agriculture, fishing, and manufacturing. This makes every one of us a participant, in a global industry, ranked in size and profitability only behind that of the illegal drugs and arms trafficking industries.
Multinationals have long profited off lax labour standards in developing countries in order to drive margins. However, while Companies have faced pressures from both consumers and investors to address the issues, even after tragedies like the Foxconn suicides or the collapse of the textile factory in Bangladesh, the tolerance for systemic child labor violations or the lack of a living wage suggests that the price being paid is not high enough. Recent economic research has also shown that forced labour has broader social and economic costs, in terms of impeding economic development and increasing or perpetuating poverty. (Image Source: ABC News)
Women and children are always the most vulnerable. Today 168 million children worldwide are in child labour. Frighteningly, this accounts to almost 13 per cent of the global child population (ILO, Unicef 2015). Children in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development make up more than half of all child labourers - 85 million. Many are trafficked into either forced labor or sexual exploitation.
North Korea has the largest population, with 1 in 20 people estimated to be enslaved. India is estimated to have 18 million modern-day slaves. In fact, 58 percent of people living in modern slavery are in only six Asian countries: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, North Korea and Uzbekistan - all who have large numbers of people in forced labour conditions, largely from the agricultural sectors.
Forced labour is where people are forced to work, typically without any payment, and coerced through violence or intimidation. Many are trapped, without their passport, in a foreign country, and are unable to escape.
However, forced labour conditions are not only a disease of emerging countries, they can also be found in almost every developed nation. The Global Index found that there is a high risk of slavery in almost 60% of countries.
Often slavery is intergenerational, where people become bonded labourers after their family falls into debt and other members of the family are forced to work for free in an attempt to repay it. With unreasonable interest applied, many will never pay off their loans. This also gives rise to descent-based slavery: where people are born into a slavery family and the status of "slave" passes from mother to child.
Even documented migrant workers are susceptible to slavery, in particular, domestic workers, and construction site workers, many who have their passports taken from them and are subjected to forced labour.
To put it in context, Singapore is estimated to have 9,200 working in slave-like conditions or at 0.165 per cent of the population, placing the country in joint 45th place, with Mauritius, out of a total of 52 rankings.. Two years ago, Singapore was reported to have just over half that number at 5,400 people, or 0.0998 percent of the population. This indicates that the number of workers living in slave-like conditions is rapidly on the rise. Singapore was ranked lower than Vietnam and 23 other countries.
For more than 150 years, in almost every country around the world, slavery has been legally abolished. Brazil was the last to legislate against slavery in 1888. However bonded and forced labour, trafficking and exploitation continue.
5 practical steps can you take to help eradicate modern slavery?
What practical steps can Companies take?
Based on primary interviews with Asia-based Supply Chain Directors, Companies would be best served by deploying this simple 6 step action plan to play their part in eradicating slave labor from their supply chains:
For more on the topic, see the highlights on Youtube from the 2016 Trust Women Conference, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual flagship conference. Tune into the livestream of the keynote addresses from thought leaders (global corporations, lawyers, government representatives and pioneers in the field of women’s rights) and human rights activists discussing the growing business of human trafficking: The Keynote is compelling viewing. Former Italian Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino speaks of the 10,000+ refugee children that have disappeared from Italy since landing on its shores.
Join in the conversation and Tweet using #twc2016 and #ichoosetosee.
Singapore Panel Speakers:
Eva Biaudet, Former Finnish Ombudsman for Minorities - Champion Anti-Trafficking
Laina Raveendran Greene, Founder, Angels of Impact and GETIT Inc
Robert Houston, Associate, K&L Gates
Leesa Soulodre, Chief Risk Officer and Managing Partner, RL Expert Group
Julia Walker, Head of Market Development, Risk, Asia, Thomson Reuters (Moderator)
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