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Big and welcome news in the fight against modern slavery

September 22, 2017

Many of us have toiled for years, and some for decades, in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking. It’s an unremitting struggle, with incremental steps forward, and frequent reversals. However, over the last week, there have been a number of important announcements – on measurement, funding and government commitments to action – which should encourage all of us that real progress is being made in the fight to end this global scourge.

On Tuesday, the International Labour Organization and the Walk Free Foundation released the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. This is the first time these two organisations have come together to jointly measure the scale of modern slavery around the world, and they deserve a lot of credit for doing so. Their report found that 40.3 million people around the world are in modern slavery today, of which 24.9 million (62%) are in forced labour and 15.4 million (38%) are in forced marriage.

Of the many conscience-shocking numbers in this report, one that stands out is that this crime disproportionately harms women and girls, who comprise 71% of those enslaved. While these findings are appalling and unacceptable, it is encouraging that we are seeing a focus on better measurement at the highest levels. Over time, these efforts will drive increased impact and greater government accountability.

There has long been a need for significantly increased government funding to combat slavery. The limited resourcing currently available is a small fraction of the $150 billion in illicit profits that the perpetrators derive each year. So it was big news when the U.S. Government announced on 14 September that it was committing $25 million to the new Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. This was followed on Tuesday by the UK Government committing a further £20 million ($27 million) to the Global Fund, as part of its doubling of its overall aid spending on modern slavery to £150 million ($204 million). We hope other governments will follow the impressive lead of the U.S. and the UK on this.

Finally, this week UK Prime Minister Theresa May hosted an event at the United Nations during which 37 governments committed to a Call to Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. Given that slavery is illegal in every country, but still rife around the world, there is a pressing need for governments to dramatically step up their efforts. And Theresa May is to be commended for the UK Government’s willingness to lead the way.

We can all celebrate these big and welcome developments. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof has rightly labelled this progress against trafficking as “inspiring” in his column this week.

But as we rejoice in this progress, let us remember that right now there are still over 40 million children, women and men around the world being subjected to horrendous exploitation, on a daily basis. We have a long way to go to break the back of this crime, but events of this week show that the global anti-slavery movement has real momentum, and it is increasing. Working together, we can end modern slavery.

Written by
Nick Grono