Currently, modern slavery exists on a vast scale, with the recent Global Estimates indicating there are 25 million people trapped in forced labour globally. The business of human trafficking generates an annual profit of USD 150 billion and the majority of cases are economically opportunistic, made possible by the existence of vulnerable and migrating populations, a globalised economy and contexts of insufficient law enforcement.
The task of rendering slavery economically unprofitable is therefore critical to the fight to end it. Forced labour occurs across a broad range of industries and geographies: from textiles in Tamil Nadu, to construction in the Gulf region, to the fishing industry in Thailand, to commercial sexual exploitation in Nepal. Slavery is a multi-faceted phenomenon and frontline implementers currently employ a variety of models to address the issue including rights and safe migration education, livelihood development programs, law enforcement capacity building, trade union mobilization, supply chain transparency initiatives, to name just a few.
Fortunately, modern slavery has become an increasing priority in the international community over the last decade and has been bolstered by the increasing concern of reputational risk within global businesses. Targets 8.7, 5.2 and 16.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals have provided a focus for collaboration of governments, businesses and civil society to work toward eradicating modern slavery in all its forms, highlighting the particular vulnerability of women and girls.
The gathering momentum in the fight is further demonstrated by recent legislation enacted in Australia to compel large companies to clean up their supply chains and disclose steps they are taking to eradicate modern slavery in their operations. New technologies are being developed, showing promise in their ability to assist businesses to ensure transparent and slavery-free supply chains. The private sector is beginning to engage not only in efforts to directly maintain their own supply chain transparency, but also through funding research and interventions and engaging in cross-sector dialogue.
If modern slavery is to end, efforts must be focused on seeing a critical mass of businesses using slavery free business models, developing sustainable alternative livelihood and recovery options for victims of slavery and increasing the cost to slave owners by ending impunity. For this to happen, there needs to be an increase in funding of the most effective interventions and collaboration between governments, business and civil society on a global scales.