In light of this year’s World Humanitarian Day, it seems fitting to draw attention to what Prime Minister Theresa May refers to as ‘the great human rights issue of our time’: modern slavery. The enslavement and trafficking of thousands of people in the UK, millions around the world, is a crime that deprives people of their right to life, right to security and right to freedom. It is an evil that demands a humanitarian response, and it is the responsibility of this generation to deliver.
World Humanitarian Day recognises those who tirelessly give to humanitarian work, and rallies others to advocate for action. The theme this year is ‘One Humanity’, highlighting how leaders came together for the World Humanitarian Summit earlier this year and made commitments to support those effected by crises.
Crisis situations are precisely the places where human trafficking and modern slavery thrive. The International Organization for Migration has produced a detailed report on “Addressing human trafficking and exploitation in times of crisis”. The report found that crises such as natural disasters, including the earthquakes in Nepal (2015) and Haiti (2010) and the Indian Ocean Tsunami (2010), and conflict situations, including the wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, not only exacerbated existing vulnerabilities to slavery and human trafficking but also caused new forms to emerge.
Human trafficking and modern slavery are crises of our time and the humanitarians giving time, energy and resource to fight this deserve honour on this notable day. In the UK, hundreds of organisations have built valuable expertise informing policy and reform, and generously fed into the landmark Modern Slavery Act passed last year. These contributions have come from organisations who continue to position themselves on the frontline, identifying and supporting victims of slavery by going above and beyond to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable.
It is vital that we better incorporate protection measures against modern slavery and human trafficking into global humanitarian responses. 65.3 million people are now on the move, fleeing conflict and persecution – a record high. With limited ways to provide for their families, displaced people are highly susceptible to being deceived into exploitation by traffickers promising a better life. This vulnerability can arise in an instant and these crisis situations are resulting in increased levels of human slavery across the world.
In order to boost humanitarian efforts in fighting trafficking and slavery, it is important to note that protection measures do not have to cost vast sums of money. Small and simple interventions carry immense influence. Introducing targeted anti-trafficking awareness into emergency relief programmes can go a long way.
For example, an understanding of human trafficking risks can be incorporated into the training of emergency response workers; trained safeguarding response teams can be rapidly deployed at border posts to identify those at risk; information on false employment offers can be shared in places where those in need may congregate, such as food banks; law enforcement and the military can be trained and ready to respond to the particularities of trafficking in crisis zones. These are simple ideas that will bring safety to many.
Modern slavery is finding its way onto international agendas. This is good news as we hope to improve the humanitarian response to the crime. Ending slavery and trafficking is now enshrined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), placing it firmly on the development agenda for the first time. These goals will shape development priorities of both the UN and its member states over the next 15 years, bringing concerted action, political will and increased funding to the fight against slavery – a huge step forward.
Modern slavery and human trafficking now manifests itself in many complex and different ways. From natural disasters to the refugee crisis, forced labour in the supply chain of global corporations to local businesses, modern slavery is a humanitarian issue impacting us all and to make a change we must first recognise its presence and then demand change.
Countless people fight against this crime and as the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, I recognise, value and honour those individuals. This evil trade in human life cannot continue. It is a crisis of our time and the time for us to act is now.