Measurement, Action, Freedom: Assessing Government Action to Achieve Target 8.7

17 July 2019
Research Innovation

Today, the Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free Initiative released Measurement, Action, Freedom, which provides an overview of government action—and inaction—in responding to modern slavery under Target 8.7 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Governments currently report on their own progress towards the SDGs against a global indicator framework through Voluntary National Reviews. However, this approach is hampered by the lack of indicators on Target 8.7 exploitation—forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour—and the voluntary nature of this reporting. The only indicator for Target 8.7 is on child labour. Without clear indicators to measure progress towards the 2030 goal, governments are not able to report consistently, nor can they be held to account.

Our report provides an independent assessment of 183 governments and their responses to modern slavery. Using international frameworks such as the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings and the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, as well as the input of an expert working group and survivors, governments are assessed against their ability to:

  • Identify and support survivors;
  • Establish effective criminal justice systems;
  • Strengthen coordination and accountability mechanisms;
  • Address underlying risk factors; and
  • Clean up government and business supply chains.

The findings shine a light on those taking strong action, identify those that are lagging and highlight the activities that, based on current understanding, should be prioritized.

Making Progress, Slowly

In 2016 an estimated 40.3 million people were in modern slavery, affecting every country in the world. Despite the magnitude and the universal nature of the problem, overall progress to achieve Target 8.7 continues to be slow. Our report shows that legislation does exist in many countries, but it is by no means comprehensive or implemented effectively. As of February 2019, only 31 countries have ratified the 2014 ILO Forced Labour Protocol. Forty-seven countries have still not criminalized human trafficking in accordance with definitions in the UN Trafficking Protocol, and a further 133 countries have not criminalized forced marriage.

If we are to achieve the eradication of modern slavery by 2030, approximately 10,000 people per day need to be freed from slavery. However, rates of identification continue to increase at a glacial pace. Most countries provide training for police or other first responders, but only a fraction of victims is ever identified. Governments cannot extend protection to victims they cannot reach and, at present, they are failing at the first step: identification.

Once identified, survivors are being let down by a lack of services, with limited options for men, children and migrant populations in 95 countries. In 71 countries, victims face criminal charges for crimes committed while exploited, and in 60 countries, victims are deported or detained for immigration violations. Survivors are largely excluded from policymaking, with few governments taking concrete action to engage directly with them to strengthen their policy responses.

Despite there being an estimated 16 million people in forced labour exploitation in the private economy worldwide, engagement with business is limited. Only 40 countries have investigated public or business supply chains to tackle labour exploitation.

Government Action and Inaction

Our research shows that the countries taking the most action to respond to modern slavery are:

These countries are characterized by strong political will, high levels of resources and a strong civil society that holds government to account. However, not all of these countries have matched good policy with effective enforcement. For instance, there are low numbers of identified victims in Croatia, and few prosecutions for labour exploitation in the Netherlands. Countries with otherwise strong responses may have restrictive migration policies, as is the case in Europe, the US and Australia.

The countries taking the least action to respond to modern slavery are:

  • North Korea
  • Eritrea
  • Libya
  • Iran
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Burundi
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Congo
  • Russia
  • Somalia

These countries are characterized by government complicity (North Korea and Eritrea), low levels of political will (Iran), high levels of corruption (Equatorial Guinea), or widespread conflict (Libya). Few victims are being identified, and there are even fewer prosecutions. There is evidence that governments are actively enslaving part of their population, such as forced labour in prison camps in North Korea.

When correlated against their gross domestic product based on purchasing power parity (GDP PPP), some countries stand out as taking relatively robust action when compared with those that may have stronger economies and a greater capacity to act. Countries such as Georgia, Nigeria, Ukraine, Moldova, Ethiopia and Mozambique are notable for taking steps to respond to modern slavery despite fewer resources. In contrast, Qatar, Singapore, Kuwait, Brunei, Hong Kong and Russia stand out as taking relatively limited action despite the national resources at their disposal.

The Way Forward

At the current rate of progress, achieving Target 8.7 is impossible. Without renewed commitment from every country and effective measurement, millions will continue to be enslaved. We are calling on all member states and the UN Statistical Commission to work together to develop and adopt indicators to track progress in eradicating all forms of modern slavery under Target 8.7.

Based on our analysis of current government responses to Target 8.7, we offer the following policy recommendations:

  • Increase identification of, and improve assistance for, modern slavery victims.
  • Ratify the ILO Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.
  • Strengthen existing modern slavery legislation to ensure that all forms of exploitation are criminalized and penalties are severe.
  • Empower women and girls by providing primary education for all.
  • Strengthen national laws to protect labour rights for all workers in both the formal and informal economy.
  • Ensure survivor voices are included in all aspects of the response by consulting with victims and providing avenues for their input.
  • Enforce legislation by providing training and resources for police, prosecutors, judges, and defence attorneys.
  • Remove barriers to victim participation in the criminal justice system, such as ensuring access to visas, compensation and restitution.
  • Develop evidence-based National Action Plans or strategies.
  • Engage with business and strengthen strategic partnerships to tackle modern slavery.

The SDGs were not meant to be divisible nor achieved by a single government acting alone. Therefore, cooperation and coordination are crucial. Governments should participate in regional and bilateral fora to share resources and expertise. International organizations should provide technical capacity to implement the above recommendations, while civil society should work together to hold governments to account. Everyone has a role to play in the eradication of modern slavery.

Katharine Bryant is the Research Manager at the Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free Initiative.

This article has been prepared by Katharine Bryant as a contributor to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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