Symposium: An Introduction to Assessing Government Action to Achieve Sustainable Development Goal Target 8.7 

2 December 2019
Research Innovation

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

In July 2019, 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 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals set an agenda to build a better world for people and planet by 2030. The SDGs are the first time that forms of modern slavery have been included in global goals. Primarily covered by Target 8.7, but also under 5.2, 5.3, 10.7 and 16.2, the SDGs represent a commitment by governments to tackle modern slavery, forced labour, human trafficking and forced marriage.

Governments currently report on their own progress towards the SDGs against a global indicator framework. These “Voluntary National Reviews” are hampered by the limited set of official indicators: there is an indicator for child labour under 8.7, and another for human trafficking under 16.2, but no indicators for modern slavery, forced labour or forced marriage are yet in place.

Without clear indicators to measure progress towards the 2030 Global Goals, governments are not able to report consistently, nor can they be held to account. And accountability is further limited by the voluntary nature of current reporting.

In the absence of robust reporting against SDG Target 8.7 and the eradication of modern slavery, the Measurement, Action, Freedom report provides an independent assessment of 183 governments and their responses to modern slavery. 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.

How we assess governments

The assessments presented in the report provide a comparative measure of the legal, policy and programmatic actions that 183 governments are taking to respond to modern slavery. This is based on a conceptual framework—initially developed for the 2014 Global Slavery Index (GSI) and included in three subsequent editions—that sets out the activities that constitute a strong response 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.

Behind these milestones are 88 indicators of what constitutes good practice. These are supplemented by 14 “negative” indicators—that is indicators measuring government action that facilitates or causes modern slavery, such as persistent corruption and complicity. Data presented in the report refer to the reporting period of 1 July 2017 through to 15 February 2019, building on data collected for previous GSIs.

Key findings from the report

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 eradicate modern slavery and 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, the number of those trapped in modern slavery needs to be reduced by approximately 10,000 people per day. However, the pace of identification of those affected remains glacial. 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 rather than provided with protection. Survivors are largely excluded from policymaking, with few governments engaging 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 required examining, or reporting on,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 include the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States, among others. 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 few prosecutions for labour exploitation in the Netherlands. Countries with otherwise strong responses may have restrictive immigration policies, as is the case in Europe, the US, and Australia. The link between restrictive immigration policies and vulnerability to modern slavery is well-documented, most recently in a report released by IOM and Walk Free.

Modern Slavery Data Stories | Government Efforts to End Modern Slavery

The countries taking the least action to respond to modern slavery include, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea and Libya. These countries’ responses (or lack thereof) are characterized by government complicity, low levels of political will, high levels of corruption or widespread conflict. In these countries, few victims are being identified, and there are even fewer, if any, prosecutions. There is evidence that some of these governments are actively enslaving part of their population, as shown by forced labour in prison camps in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Strong action is not necessarily found in the strongest economies. When correlated against their gross domestic product at purchasing power parity (GDP PPP), some countries stand out as taking relatively robust action when compared with those that have stronger economies and may have 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, we believe that achieving SDG Target 8.7 by 2030 is impossible. Without renewed commitment from every country and effective measurement, millions will continue to be enslaved. As a result, 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 SDG Target 8.7.

Based on our analysis of current government responses to SDG Target 8.7, we urge all governments, at a minimum, to:

  • 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.

Beyond these minimum requirements, we recommend that governments:

  • 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 defense 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. The time for action is now if we are to achieve SDG Target 8.7 by 2030.

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:

Symposium: Measurement, Action, Freedom to Achieve SDG Target 8.7

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