Symposium: Building an Effective Movement to Reduce Modern Slavery: Evidence, Innovation and Coordination

24 October 2019
Research Innovation

Laura Gauer Bermudez  | Director of Evidence and Learning, the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery
Sindhu Sagar  | Senior Evidence and Learning Associate, the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery

The UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Ms Urmila Bhoola, recently presented her report on current and emerging forms of slavery to the UN Human Rights Council.  This extensively researched report is a comprehensive and thoughtful overview on the issue of modern slavery including the efforts required to catalyse a global anti-slavery movement in the era of global migration, urbanization, informality of employment, climate and conflict displacement and rapid technological advances.

In response to the Special Rapporteur’s report and introduction to this Delta 8.7 symposium, the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (hereafter GFEMS or “the Fund”) reflects on three underlying themes of the report that resonate with the strategic direction of the Fund–Evidence, Innovation and Coordination.

Evidence – Data on the scale and scope of modern slavery is critical, and this need is prominently featured throughout the report. As a complement to the work of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free Initiative, there is a demand for additional efforts at prevalence estimation with a particular emphasis on sub-national geographies and industry-specific insights. Such data will help tailor interventions in a more nuanced and evidence-informed manner. There is also a need for investment in intervention effectiveness research to understand what is working to reduce modern slavery in various contexts. Simultaneously, evidence on the effectiveness of risk reduction and resilience approaches would add value to the sector, in tandem with efforts at analysing prevalence reduction. Understanding these needs, GFEMS has made evidence a central component of our approach, including tailored prevalence estimation and multi-pronged evaluative efforts that offer actionable insights for key stakeholders.

However, as a sector, we must address the limited pool of researchers actively engaging on modern slavery in order to support the continuous production of rigorous evidence. It is imperative that we reach out to multiple disciplines, drawing on the skillsets of economists, computer scientists, public health professionals and social scientists to partake in prevalence and intervention effectiveness research.  At the same time, we must cultivate the next generation of researchers on modern slavery, expanding outreach to students and junior faculty in academia and other research-oriented institutions across the globe.

Innovation – The report reflects perceptively on the evolution of modern slavery, imploring the anti-slavery community to question whether we are best situated to effectively address the issue.  Given the scale and complexity of the problem, efforts to reduce modern slavery require not just strategic and evidence-informed approaches but also the aid of modern digital technological innovations.

For instance, in addition to prevalence research that draws upon academic approaches, there is also a need for further design and scaling of innovative techniques to detect risk of slavery in supply chains. Predictive modelling and technologies that amplify worker voice are two elements of supply chain risk identification that can provide companies an entry point to the more comprehensive work of risk mitigation and worker remedy.  GFEMS is positioned to both seed and scale innovations in the private sector, not only to help companies comply with recent legislative mandates on supply chain transparency but to work with businesses, in earnest, to ensure decent work at all levels of their supply chain.

While we have cited technological innovations, it should be noted that innovation does not always require technology, and technology is not always innovative. Rather, innovation is the introduction of a better idea or method as an alternative to the status quo—a process often driven by adapting techniques and learnings from other disciplines. Anti-slavery stakeholders should continuously engage across a diverse range of academic and technical sectors to catalyse idea generation, fitting those ideas to our needs and challenges.

Additionally, and undoubtedly most critical within the context of supporting innovative solutions, is the concept of worker and survivor voice. Aligned with the concepts of consultation and survivor perspective outlined in the report, it is imperative that proposed innovations be driven and designed by the needs and rights of vulnerable communities. GFEMS has adapted such consultative processes as an essential procedural step for all new partners, ensuring that those affected by proposed investments are meaningfully engaged from the outset of project design through to project completion.

Coordination – Further, GFEMS agrees that if the fight against modern slavery is to succeed, there is an urgent need to consolidate disjointed efforts. The report, referring to the views of GFEMS and the Pathfinder Initiative, rightly highlights the importance of consolidation and action by Alliance 8.7 stakeholders in coordination with governmental efforts.

There are several ways in which coordination may be improved. Firstly, mainstreaming anti-slavery issues within approaches to other Sustainable Development Goals may yield broader and more expedient impacts. Secondly, coordination between foreign assistance donors can enable a more targeted and less fragmented approach. As a Global Fund, GFEMS offers an avenue for such coordination, ensuring alignment with global priorities as well as host-country objectives. Thirdly, there is a need for coordinated action among private sector stakeholders and a willingness to step outside of non-disclosure agreements to offer transparency on what is working (and where challenges are faced) with respect to these issues of risk detection and worker remedy.

Lastly, echoing the Special Rapporteur’s mention of systems thinking, the anti-slavery community would benefit from mapping and coordinating efforts through a systems lens. It is of critical importance to engage multiple components of a system to disrupt silos and draw out the underlying interconnectedness of our political, social, financial and economic operations. Aligned with this theory, GFEMS simultaneously funds interventions in three pillar areas: Effective Rule of Law, Business Engagement, and Sustained Freedom. The Fund’s three pillar approach aspires to change the status quo by bringing private and public sector actors together in consortiums to collectively implement anti-slavery projects.

Systems thinking should also influence the anti-slavery research community, with thought given to developing research agendas that appreciate the complexity of contemporary forms of slavery, inquiring into the numerous drivers of modern slavery across multiple levels. To do so, there is likely opportunity for innovation through the adaptation of concepts and methods from the health systems literature.

In sum, GFEMS believes that a sustainable reduction in modern slavery is possible with the steadfast commitment of government, the private sector, and civil society. Drawing on the themes of the report and aligned with the Fund’s strategic direction, we believe such commitments will most effectively counter modern slavery if they prioritize the generation and uptake of evidence, increase investment in innovation, and foster strategic coordination.

Dr Laura Gauer Bermudez is the Director of Evidence and Learning at the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery.

Sindhu Sagar is the Senior Evidence and Learning Associate at the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery.

This article has been prepared by Laura Gauer Bermudez and Sindhu Sagar as contributors 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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