Symposium: Improving Measurement for SDG Target 8.7 | A Response

6 December 2019
Research Innovation

Katharine Bryant  | Manager – Global Research, the Walk Free initiative of the Minderoo Foundation

Measurement, Action, Freedom (MAF) aimed to provide an assessment of government action to achieve SDG Target 8.7 by 2030. In the absence of agreed upon comprehensive indicators at the international level to track progress towards SDG Target 8.7 and the subsequent lack of official government reporting through Voluntary National Reporting (VNR) on this issue, this report gives a snapshot of government action to combat modern slavery. It does not make for promising reading—as Alice Eckstein from UNU notes it is widely agreed that we are not on track to achieve SDG Target 8.7 by 2030.

Beyond an independent measure of government action, the MAF report also calls on governments to support the development of modern slavery indicators under SDG Target 8.7. The only current 8.7 indicator relates to child labour, “Proportion and number of children aged 5–17 years engaged in child labour, by sex and age.” There are other complementary SDG Targets and indicators under 5.3 on early, child and forced marriage, or 16.2 on trafficking, or 10.3 on safe migration. However, there remain no indicators covering all forms of modern slavery—forced marriage, forced labour, worst forms of child labour, child prostitution and use of child soldiers.

The need for modern slavery indicators under SDG Target 8.7 is well recognized. When Walk Free released the MAF report, 33 individuals and organizations signed up to join an informal coalition to discuss ways in which we, as civil society representatives and independent bodies, could support the development of indicators.

The work of Alliance 8.7 will be critical here. Already there have been great efforts by the ILO to establish indicators for measuring prevalence of forced labour. The International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) agreed last year to a framework to measure forced labour, for example. The Alliance 8.7 Global Coordinating Group also discussed potential indicators as recently as November 2019.

However, the next time the introduction of new indicators for the SDGs will be discussed is in 2025—five years before the proposed achievement of this goal. Clearly, this is far too late.

Jan van Dijk is correct to highlight that the only measure that really counts is “the number of people living in conditions of modern slavery per country”. However, governments remain tentative and skeptical of prevalence measures. The article from the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirms this—the UK government, despite having the strongest response to modern slavery, will not be repeating Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE) (the technique they piloted) nor look at survey methods. As Jan van Dijk notes, official statistics are also a poor proxy. At best, these give you an indication of how the criminal justice system is functioning, but not how well the government is tackling this issue.

The Way Forward

So, how do we measure the impact of our laws, policies and programmes to eradicate modern slavery?

While measuring prevalence is the ultimate goal for tracking our progress, there are alternative methods to highlight the “glacial” rate of change. ONS points out these alternatives where their emphasis will be on “measuring or quantifying indicators and factors known to be linked to modern slavery.”

This is where measurement frameworks like Measurement, Action, Freedom come into play. Tracking government policy can give us some indication of political will and highlight those governments taking strong action to respond. Combined with official statistics, it also tells us whether policies being implemented, and give some indication as to their effectiveness at arresting perpetrators and identifying victims.

At the UN level, developing indicators such as SDG Target 8.2 “Level of national compliance with labour rights (freedom of association and collective bargaining) based on International Labour Organization (ILO) textual sources and national legislation, by sex and migrant status” provides an alternative to a focus on prevalence. Tracking level of national compliance with the 2014 Forced Labour Protocol or the Trafficking Protocol keeps SDG Target 8.7 firmly on the agenda and means that governments will be reporting on this through their VNRs.

In the interim, we will continue to advocate for the inclusion of indicators under SDG Target 8.7 related to modern slavery, and release independent national measures of government activity, prevalence, and vulnerability though the MAF report and the next edition of the Global Slavery Index. Measuring government responses is but one piece of the puzzle, but a critical one nonetheless. Ultimately each of these measures has a role to play if we are to get better at measuring modern slavery, taking action to tackle it, in order to ensure the freedom of 40.3 million men, women and children in modern slavery.

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 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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