Symposium: Effective Measurements for Change

5 December 2019
Research Innovation

Alice Eckstein  | Project Director - Delta 8.7

The Measurement, Action, Freedom report released by the Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free Initiative assesses government progress in addressing Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals. In doing this, Walk Free examines the current state of country-level engagement with international treaties, national legislation and measurements of modern slavery prevalence. The resulting report establishes a broad and detailed global landscape of anti-slavery measurement and response.

The ability to accurately measure the number of people who are either vulnerable to or are currently living in conditions of modern slavery is critical to implementing and analysing the effectiveness of policy measures taken by governments, the private sector and civil society. Among the factors hampering anti-trafficking efforts has been the lack of data identifying potential or current victims, and Katharine Bryant notes the “glacial” pace of victim identification at the country level. Delta 8.7 works to highlight existing data and new research in its Forum and through symposia such as this one. Additionally, Delta 8.7 country dashboards use data visualization to provide an overview of the best available data on the national prevalence of child labour, forced labour and human trafficking. In doing this, the project compiles baseline data against which countries can measure their progress in ascertaining the numbers of victims within their borders as well as in creating policies to reduce those numbers and protect vulnerable populations. By highlighting the existing data, this project points to the same significant gaps in measurement identified by Measurement, Action, Freedom: the lack of indicators in many countries for forced labour, human trafficking or forced marriage.

Exactly how are these gaps to be addressed? The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) Centre for Crime and Justice proposes an approach they believe might be suitable for governments where overall prevalence of slavery is low. Their goal is not to measure the “hidden” numbers of people living in conditions of slavery using Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE) or survey sampling. Rather, they will quantify indicators linked to slavery that include, for example, government and public response by studying criminal cases and data indicating public awareness and engagement. ONS intends for this data to support the United Kingdom to measure its progress toward achieving Target 8.7 of the SDGs.

Jan van Dijk identifies some risks inherent in reading official statistics as reflecting the actual prevalence of slavery within a country. He argues that the number of recorded victims rises along with that government’s attention to the abuse. However, and more critically, he notes significant inconsistencies among countries’ methodologies to measure levels of slavery, forced labour or human trafficking within their borders. Many countries only count identified victims and as a result significantly underestimate the actual population in need of intervention. Dr van Dijk calls upon these countries to develop research to more accurately measure prevalence.

These tensions in deciding what data is “good” can be inherent in any process involving multiple actors from national statistics offices, multilateral agencies and foundations invested in a variety of methodologies to gather data. Ongoing conversations about various methodologies used by researchers, whether MSE or other techniques, indicate a lively engagement with sourcing the best data possible. Ultimately, the goal of these conversations must be the improvement of methodologies for data collection. Policymakers must have credible research available in order to know both the numbers of people affected and the efficacy of any measures to prevent or end conditions of slavery.

The Walk Free Initiative notes that the international community is not currently on track to achieve Target 8.7 of the SGDs by 2030. This assessment is widely shared, as is the recommendation that all countries adopt standardized indicators on modern slavery. The difficulty of accurately and consistently counting the number of affected populations remains an ongoing challenge to accelerating the policy response to modern slavery. Delta 8.7 has focused on measuring the prevalence of slavery with this exact challenge in mind. Whatever methodology is employed (estimating hidden populations, tracking numbers of reported victims, or measuring other indicators linked to modern slavery) the value of this measurement will be in fostering an ongoing dialogue among the research and policy-making communities to understand where we are in modern slavery prevalence and what actions can be proven to reduce these numbers.

This article has been prepared by Alice Eckstein 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 authors and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

This piece has been prepared as part of the Delta 8.7 “Measurement, Action, Freedom to Achieve SDG Target 8.7” symposium. Read all the responses below:

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