Symposium: Addressing Modern Slavery’s Root Causes

22 October 2019
Survivor Authored

Nat Paul  | Policy Advocacy Chair, National Survivor Network
Jess Torres  | Co-Chair, National Survivor Network

We would first like to thank the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Urmila Bhoola, for her efforts in compiling the data into this report.

The indication of vulnerabilities fueled by the future of work, demographic trends and migration, economic changes, environmental changes and other trends is a relevant point for assessing current forms of trafficking, as well as future potential changes.  The report notes that 60% of the world’s labour force currently works in the informal sector, which is a critical indicator of susceptibility to trafficking. Particularly, the proliferation of “gig economies” through digital platforms may further perpetuate isolation and marginalization. In order to address human trafficking, we must focus on the core marginalization that drives the risk of being trafficked.

Further in relation to gig economies and the informal sector, we must contend with the ethics around hiring survivor contractors and not compensating them as employees. They are hired contract to contract, and have to provide their own healthcare, daycare and taxes with no benefits from an official employer. This lack of access to employee benefits leads to more marginalization and risks institutionalized poverty. This is also prevalent on gig-based driving platforms where employees pay for their own gas, car insurance, and other necessary expenses without the benefit of company-provided liability and maintenance of vehicles—essentially creating vulnerabilities that are at the expense of “employees”.

The report also indicates that 85.6% of the 25.6 million young people entering the labour market by 2030 will reside in developing countries. We know from scientific data that as the climate continues to change, it will fuel mass migration. We know a growing population with diminishing resources will similarly continue to fuel migration. Increasing migration, in turn, perpetuates vulnerabilities to trafficking, which are further exacerbated by heightening violence and destabilization of entire regions due to conflict and war.

Addressing the impacts on human lives as the globe continues to adjust to climate crisis and lack of resources will become imperative to sustain life—including our anti-trafficking initiatives. The cost of disaster relief and services will only continue to increase. In order for societies to better address these crises, a fundamental shift in global thinking is urgently needed.

These risk factors need to be examined from different directions to weigh their full potential impacts on societies at large. For instance, with rising ocean levels and salinized farmlands along once coastal regions, with sinking cities and lost land—forced migration will only continue to rise. The way we assess needs and distribute vital resources must be changed systematically to address the known impacts on vast numbers of people, especially those who are most vulnerable. Through improved access to more relevant data assessing the impacts of human trafficking globally, we can continue to adjust our efforts in accordance with that knowledge.

The report’s recommendations outline an attainable approach for how anti-slavery efforts can improve and accelerate. Starting with effective measures to address vulnerabilities at the local level and the global level is imperative. No one nation or region can address this issue alone, and the development of not only regional task forces and coalitions but also unified global initiatives will be pertinent to contemplating the need for refuge during a time of growing instability from climate crisis.

It is crucial to listen to and bring in survivors who have the lived experiences of being trafficked to inform better responses to trafficking. In fact, this should be the first step in anti-slavery responses: learning from the lived experiences and assessing best practices from the perspectives of those to whom these efforts are directed.

We need to encourage an ethical business model that reduces the adverse impact on people and the planet and forgoes reliance on cheaper models for quick profits. Instead, we need businesses that foster sustainable models of meaningful engagement. Our finite planet cannot sustain growth for the sheer sake of growth. Efforts to address this problem must be based on sound evidence of what the issues are and how and why they manifest rather than rely on visceral responses that may simplify what are complex phenomena.

The fundamental change necessary in our approach to tackling human trafficking is not the amount of money we spend, but the ways in which we spend that money. Rather than focusing our investments into programmes and services like legal aid, social services, or other programming in the same vein, we could potentially invest in lives. For example, we can combat human trafficking through a community approach, bringing in the local resources to change policing systems and institutions and to invest in community support. Imagine if we invested in education, childcare and healthcare. The long-term benefits would outweigh the short-term costs, and actually empower survivors and potential victims.

We must be cautious of the preconceived biases and stigmas perpetuated by interventionist approaches that leave underlying structural drivers, such as social and economic marginalization, unaddressed. The interventionist models of “rescue” needs to be addressed, since it can in some cases simply fuel supply. The lack of financial stability and fundamental marginalization that perpetuate trafficking must be remedied. We must also reckon with the assumption that refugees and asylum seekers are somehow complicit in their own vulnerability to trafficking. We need a fundamental shift in the way we view borders, and who is and is not eligible for refuge within them.

The conversations about what trafficking is and how to address it need to become far more nuanced. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.

Ms Nat Paul is the Policy Advocacy Chair of the National Survivor Network.

Jess Torres is Co-Chair of the National Survivor Network.

This article has been prepared by Nat Paul 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.

This piece has been prepared as part of the Delta 8.7 “Tomorrow’s Slavery” symposium. Read all the responses below:

Symposium: Tomorrow’s Slavery, Today


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