Inaugural Lecture

Modern slavery: The British challenge in international context

Statement | University of Liverpool, United Kingdom | 21 February 2014
Presentations such as this inevitably and properly begin with expressions of thanks and of appreciation.

Mine will be no exception. But I do face the challenge of pitching what I say above the level of pure formality to convey to you how important I believe today’s event to be and how honoured I feel to have been invited to give this lecture.

In ascending order of importance, there are personal, institutional and policy reasons for this.

Personally, I could not be more proud to be back in my hometown at the invitation of a University where I studied, and in this brilliant Museum. I remember trying to get in as a visitor on the very day the Museum opened in the summer of 2007. I failed because too many people had the same idea that day but I have been back since, and join with all those who have admired and learned from it.

Institutionally, because the International Labour Organization – the UN specialized agency responsible for labour and social matters – has, since its establishment nearly 100 years ago, taken a historic role of global leadership in the fight against all forms of forced labour. The University of Liverpool’s Centre for the Study of International Slavery, with others in Hull and elsewhere, takes a corresponding role in the study of historic and contemporary manifestations of slavery and their legacy. We are natural partners.

And if this were not enough, there are remarkable ties between this City and our Organization which extend beyond its great labour history. Over nearly a century, the ILO has only had a total of ten Directors-General. Two were born in Liverpool, and a third grew up here and was a student at the University.

But the reasons of policy that bring us together must be paramount. This Museum and the activities of the Centre reflect the need to record and to understand historic slavery, to come to terms with the role of different actors in it, and to acknowledge its complex legacies.

That, in itself, is no easy task. Even the renaming of a city’s streets brings in unsuspected complexities. Slavery too as a fundamental evil and a source of shame lends itself to a Manichean view of history with its well-known heroes and its villains too among whom have been many of the great and the good of this City. It makes for compelling cinema and literature. But what matters above all is that looking back over our collective shoulders at Liverpool’s 100 Years a slave port reinforces our determination and capacity to eliminate the slavery that lives on in our societies over 200 years after the passing of the Slave Trade Act.

The fact that the UK Parliament now has before it a Modern Slavery Bill is, one hopes, because the Government is determined to act on its stated commitment to tackling modern slavery in all its forms and to become a world leader in that endeavour. It is very important that the end result of that endeavour lives up to those expectations. But that is a commitment which we must all applaud as is the role played by local MP Frank Field. Just as the tragedy on Morecambe Bay ten years ago this month led to the creation of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, so we need to maintain the type of awareness of the existence of slaves, slave traders and slave owners amongst us as a spur to action.

For centuries, slavery has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to adapt and mutate into forms which become highly resistant to the measures taken for its eradication.

So, the international context to the current British challenge is this:
  • there are today at least 21 million people in the world in forced labour, trafficked, and held in conditions akin to slavery;
  • about 90 per cent of forced labour is exacted in the private economy. The remainder is imposed directly by state authorities;
  • about one-half of the victims are in the Asia and Pacific region;
  • the highest level of prevalence, that is victims per head of population, is in Eastern Europe, including the States that emerged from the former Soviet Union;
  • about 55 per cent of victims are women and girls;
  • almost half of all victims have moved from their place of origin within or across national borders.
The conclusion to be drawn from our current circumstances is one that was evident already to the early abolitionists: the movement for the prohibition of slavery was the first human rights campaign to recognize the need for concerted action between countries for its success. Indeed it was the anti-slavery movement which led directly to the development of an international treaty regime on human and social rights.

The Congress of Vienna which drew up the post-Napoleonic settlement in 1815 declared in its final act that the slave trade “has been considered by just and enlightened men of all ages as repugnant in the principles of humanity and universal morality” and, in its aftermath, a series of anti-slavery treaties were concluded between European powers.

This remarkable and unprecedented burst of international cooperation came as a prelude or maybe a catalyst to the wider notion which began to take hold from the 1830s that other types of abusive working conditions could and should be combated through international regulation. The evolution of this process is fascinating, complex and an essential part of the birth of social modernity, but also far beyond the scope of our purposes today. Suffice to say, that as this cause passed from enlightened humanitarians to include the nascent international labour movement against a background of industrialization, more extended franchises, and of economic globalization, so a line can be traced from the early fight against slavery to the establishment of the ILO.

When the ILO came into being in April 1919 it was a direct response both to the tragedy of the First World War and to the revolutionary tide which had swept Russia and showed every sign of going much further.

The peacemakers at Versailles had international labour legislation on their agenda and the Bolsheviks on their minds. They made the Constitution of the ILO an integral part of the Peace Treaty and made the deduction from the experience of global conflict that lasting peace depended upon social justice.

The Versailles Treaty did not include the words “slavery” or “forced labour”, but it did state the principle that “labour should not be regarded merely as a commodity or article of commerce”. This was taken up anew in the ILO’s post World War Two constitutional Declaration of Philadelphia which said simply that “labour is not a commodity”.

Thus, the stage was set for the newly constituted League of Nations – the shortlived predecessor of the United Nations, and the ILO to carry forward the modern multilateral system’s fight against forced labour and slavery.

The League of Nations adopted the Slavery Convention in 1926 defining it as the “status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised”. It bound parties to prevent and suppress the slave trade and to end all forms of slavery “as soon as possible”. The Convention in fact recognized that compulsory labour could be necessary for certain public purposes – but only as an exception. In general, it should be progressively abolished.

In the same year, the League charged the ILO with investigating the use of forced labour, especially in territories under colonial administration. The ILO found that forced labour was used extensively in colonies where free labour was difficult to recruit and to retain. Just as the slave trade had 150 years earlier, colonial systems of forced labour relied heavily on tribal authorities. Heated debates followed over the treatment of “natives” and their perceived reluctance to enlist for colonial work projects.

The result – four years later – was the adoption of ILO Convention No. 29 on Forced Labour which still stands today as one of our eight fundamental rights Conventions. Although an obvious product of its colonial era, Convention No. 29 embodies a definition of forced labour which goes beyond its use for public purposes and extends to its exaction for private benefit.

It is for that reason that Convention No. 29 retains its relevance today. And when it was adopted it came as a ground-breaking legal prohibition on widespread colonial abuses. When ratified, it made forced labour a penal offence and required penalties for contraventions. It did allow some exemptions from the general prohibition for some types of compulsory labour for public services but they were tightly defined.

Almost immediately after the adoption of Convention No. 29, the movement of history confronted the ILO with a new and dramatic challenge to the emerging consensus on the progressive elimination of forced labour. The rise of Nazi Germany ushered in an era of authoritarianism whose brutality and racist underpinnings created new space for the systemic exaction of forced labour far removed from the colonial setting. It was a descent into a new barbarism which did not end with the victory over fascism. Countries of the Soviet Bloc also had resort to forced labour not just as an economic instrument but for political coercion too. And thus forced labour became a high profile Cold War flash point. Indeed, together with the right of freedom of association, they came to define the political dynamics of the ILO for some 40 years as East and West competed to have prevail their opposing conceptions of society – with labour rights centre stage.

The ILO’s second forced labour Convention No. 105, adopted in 1957, was one of the products of this Cold War dynamic. Its gestation period was long, beginning in 1949 with the establishment by the newly created United Nations and the ILO of a Joint Committee under the leadership of the Indian diplomat Ramaswami Mudaliar to document forced labour as a means of political coercion and for economic purposes. The target was clearly the emerging Eastern Bloc. But the Committee soon succumbed to what we would today call mission creep and with decolonization looming quickly returned to abuses in territories still administered by Western powers.

From this classic Cold War dialectic emerged Convention No. 105 with its requirement of immediate abolition of forced labour as a punishment for holding or expressing political views, as a method of mobilizing labour for economic development, as a means of labour discipline or punishment, for having participated in strikes or as a means of discrimination.

Today, Convention No. 105, like Convention No. 29, remains as one of the ILO’s eight fundamental rights Conventions and they come immediately after a later Convention on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour as the most ratified of all ILO Conventions. Ratification is the act by which a country accepts conformity with the content of a Convention as a legal obligation. Of the ILO’s 185 member States, 177 have ratified Convention No. 29, and 174 Convention No. 105. Our objective is universal ratification – and, as you can see, we are not so far away.

But having a Convention is one thing. Its application is another. The ILO has a system of supervision of application of its Conventions widely recognized as among the most effective in the international system. Its most weighty procedure involves the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to look into complaints against a Government which has ratified a Convention but is held to be violating it.

The very first use of that mechanism was in 1961 for a complaint filed by the Government of Ghana against the Government of Portugal concerning the forced labour practices of its then dictatorship in its African colonies. The case revealed some weaknesses and strengths of the system. The complaint was under only Convention No. 105 because Portugal had not ratified Convention No. 29. Somewhat to my surprise today, the ILO found that the legislation concerned was largely in line with Convention No. 105 but that there were problems in practical application. But the fact is that the Government accepted recommendations for change and to a degree acted upon them to bring about improvements.

Meanwhile, and in parallel to the ILO’s work, the United Nations was tackling deeply entrenched systems of bonded labour which persisted into the post-colonial era particularly in parts of Latin America and of Asia. The result was a Supplementary Convention on Slavery, the Slave Trade and Practices similar to Slavery adopted in 1956 to cover abuses such as servitude and debt-bondage which had not been covered in the 1926 Convention.

A key innovation at this time was the explicit consideration given for the first time to the situation of children. The new Convention held that a child of under 18 years delivered by parents or guardian to another person for the purpose of exploitation was in a condition similar to slavery.

But all of the international instruments up to this point, even where they contemplate the imposition of penal sanctions, recognized that the elimination of slavery and forced labour would take time. Hence, the inclusion of “transitional measures” in ILO Convention No. 29 – which contemplated continued exaction of forced labour for a period even if under clear restrictions.

The other side of that particular coin was that the international community – for reasons that make historic sense I think – had decided to address the systemic roots, practices, and institutions of slavery and not to tackle individual cases as acts of crime. So none of these Conventions provides specifically for victim protection or for compensation. And there is not much in them by way of guidance on prosecutions.

It was only with the dawn of the new century that the victim took centre stage with the adoption of the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

There is something new not only in the form of the Palermo Protocol but in the motivations behind it too. The give-away is that it is a Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Very clearly, what worried governments now was the security of their borders, the growth of irregular migration and the increased reach of international organized crime syndicates once the iron curtain had been drawn back. That is why most of the Protocol’s substantive provisions deal with criminal prosecution, repatriation and international judicial cooperation. It embodies a criminal justice approach which seeks justice and protection for individual victims.

This twenty-first century approach to trafficking has extensive twentieth century antecedents – a whole strand of international instruments developed in parallel to the anti-slavery and anti-forced labour ones I have already taken you through. They started with an international agreement on the White Slave Trade in 1904 and culminated in the 1949 Convention on the Suppression of Trafficking and Exploitation of Prostitution.

So we see, trafficking was clearly associated with the exploitation of prostitution, and responses mirrored the moral climate and attitudes of their time. The early struggle against trafficking was about emancipation of women. But it was true as well that patriarchal authority was also interested in the limitation of the freedom of women to move to seek a better life, even if at the risk of ending up with something worse. In any case, the answer to trafficking was to ban prostitution. Today, the debate as to whether all sex work is by definition exploitative and hence covered by the Palermo Protocol is still going on.

Either way, it is a major achievement of the Protocol to distinguish, as it does, between the smuggling of migrants on the one hand and the trafficking of persons on the other. The former is a violation of a State’s border; the latter is a crime against a person and can take place inside a single State.

Moreover, trafficking is defined in terms of its purpose and that is “exploitation”. That therefore takes in slavery, practices similar to slavery, forced labour, servitude, the exploitation of the prostitution of others, other sexual exploitation and the removal of organs. That makes the definition of trafficking compatible with earlier definitions of slavery and forced labour and extends beyond them.

The last episode (so far) of this historic odyssey, as far as the ILO itself is concerned, was the adoption in 1998 of its Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. It provides the ILO’s first definition of “fundamental rights” at work including freedom from forced labour along with freedom from child labour and from discrimination, together with the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and commits all ILO member States to their promotion regardless of ratification or not of the Conventions concerned.

The following year, the ILO adopted the Convention for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour which has, as I have said, rapidly become the most ratified in the Organization’s history and includes all forms of slavery, trafficking, and forced labour within its definition.

Ladies and gentlemen,

So there you have, in outline, the development of international law aimed at putting an end to the slave trade, slavery, trafficking, and forced labour. You may find it impressive – or bewildering. Or, in the light of the 21 million still in forced labour, simply ineffective.

Whatever one’s assessment of the historic record may be, turning to our contemporary challenges, it is important to acknowledge that a significant level of confusion has arisen from the different strands of action taken. Definitions have become blurred and legal uncertainty has resulted. That is reflected in the burgeoning literature on what is and is not to be understood by the different terms in use. But what is at stake is not just academic. Definitions are politics and how we define something goes a long way to determine how we deal with it.

For example, does trafficking encompass all forms of forced labour? Or vice versa? The notion of “exploitation” has become important but it remains undefined in international law. Some have observed in recent years a tendency to broaden the definition of trafficking to take in a broader range of exploitative practices – so-called exploitation creep. Should we regard all 85 million children working today in hazardous conditions as trafficking victims and therefore have recourse to criminal law enforcement for their rescue? If bonded labourers are extracted from their captivity should their erstwhile employers be put behind bars? The answers are unfortunately more complex than a straight Yes or No. Those responsible for serious abuse need of course to be brought to justice. But it will take more than that to dig out the roots of entrenched system of bondage, servitude and forced labour.

Similarly, in many destination countries, anti-trafficking legislation was initially applied to the penalization of trafficking for sexual exploitation. It was seldom brought to bear against trafficking for exploitation of labour. The consequence has been that those trafficked internationally for their labour have tended to be considered as illegal immigrants, and as such offenders not victims and hence undeserving of legal protection.

Since the adoption of the Palermo Protocol in particular, the ILO has worked hard to clarify the clear linkages which exist between trafficking and forced labour so that all victims receive proper protection. In these efforts it became rapidly evident that we would need other methods for labour trafficking than those used to address sex trafficking. And on this Palermo provides only limited guidance.

From all of this, the ILO’s political actors – governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations – have drawn the conclusion that there are significant implementation gaps in respect of forced labour and that we need new approaches which link trafficking with forced labour. They have equally agreed on the need for greater efforts to strengthen the coherence of international law to fill those gaps.

That is why the ILO’s annual Conference when it gathers again in Geneva next June will have an item on forced labour on its agenda. Its opportunity is to strengthen the international framework for action on prevention, protection and remedies and to get the forced labour-human trafficking link right.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am aware of course that the Centre has been a leader in the study of the economics of slavery. This Museum too gives extraordinary insights into the historic justifications that have been made for slavery both in economic terms, and even in terms of social welfare. For the latter, apologists have had to trawl the depths of the odious theories of racial inferiority that, in different guises and different contexts, have for centuries served the cause of inhumanity. But for the former economic considerations, the prosperity of those who were responsible for and benefited from the slave trade, directly or indirectly, seemed justification enough.

The 1788 Petition of Liverpool to the House of Commons which is on the Museum’s website is a startling example. In it, and faced by the threat of abolition, the petitioners – led by Mayor John Sparling – praise the enterprising spirit of the people of the City “which has enabled them to carry on the African slave trade with vigour”, a trade which “continues to form a very extensive branch of the commerce of Liverpool and in effect gives strength and energy to the whole” and which “essentially concerns … the landed interest of the Kingdom in general” and whose abolition would “prejudice British manufacturers, ruin the prosperity of English merchants and impair the maritime strength of Great Britain”.

You really could not do better than those Liverpudlians in marshalling personal, civic and national interests, and the interests of agriculture, commerce, manufacturing enterprise and national security behind the cause of slavery.

It is too late to answer them but the ILO has done its work on the economics of forced labour today. The necessary caveat to the economic balance sheet is to recall that forced labour always and inevitably inflicts human damage and violates human rights, and these can never be weighed against any economic benefits. Victims need years to rebuild their lives and some never can.

Forced labour may be big business, but it is also bad economics.

Big business because the ILO’s last estimate of the illegal profits generated annually by cross-border trafficking for forced labour was US$32 billion. Per capita profits were highest in the sex industry. That was in 2005. We will publish new figures in May. All the indicators are that they will be a great deal higher.

So we have a growing global industry with low entry costs, a distressingly high supply of vulnerable and desperate workers, and attractive returns. Research is revealing how proceeds are laundered and often channelled back into legitimate business. But it is obvious – and here the historic parallels loom large again – that where forced labour comes up head to head against legitimate employment of workers then the fundamentals of fair competition are violated and bad business will all too easily drive out good.

Forced labour stunts development too. Our measurement of the costs of coercion, the loss of income suffered by workers because they are not free is $20 billion in unpaid wages. Worse still, at least a further $1 billion is handed over in illegal recruitment fees. These represent the appropriation of resources that should be going to consumption, business creation, education – in short, to development, but cannot. And we know the findings of economic historians concerning the persisting impact of high slavery dependency on the long-term development of societies.

Some here will be familiar with the propositions of Fogel and Engerman, authors of “Time on the Cross” and the ensuing debate of the 1970s. They challenged the prevailing notion that economic factors brought the natural demise of the transatlantic slave trade because emerging capitalism needed a free proletariat not high-maintenance systems of servility. For them the deeply moral nature of the anti-slavery movement – values-led we might now say made all the difference, in mobilizing the necessary political will for abolition.

Some systems of servility did anyway survive until today, either because capitalist modernization passed them by or for want of the application of the necessary political will.
Whenever a dramatic or tragic case of slavery or forced labour comes to public attention – and all the more so when they are close to home – Morecambe Bay or suburban London, for example – the public reactions are firstly of revulsion and then of incredulity. How can this happen? Or, more accurately, how can this happen here?

Because there is less to be surprised about if forced labour takes place in the context of generalized repression and violation of human rights. The ILO is confronting such situations in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, in the case of forced military conscription in Eritrea, and perhaps the highest profile Commission of Inquiry in ILO history has been instrumental in tackling the mass exploitation of forced labour in Myanmar. North Korea is not a member of the ILO.

In Myanmar, the authorities have been moved over a period of years from initial denial, to resistance, to sullen acquiescence and then active cooperation in ILO work for its elimination. This became a central dynamic of the process of political transformation of the country as Aung San Suu Kyi testified when speaking to the International Labour Conference in 2012.

The lesson here is that where it is the State itself that imposes forced labour, then international pressure needs to be exerted on those States for change. The lesson is also that it works. It takes time and persistence but the ILO’s efforts did bring results in the colonial period, they did bring change in Myanmar, and having got a team in to monitor the last cotton harvest in Uzbekistan last year I think we can do so in Uzbekistan as well. And it is the ILO’s Conventions and the mechanisms for their supervision which provides the engine for change.

But the more complex question to answer is how and why forced labour still exists in open and democratic societies, such as the United Kingdom, whose Government as I noted at the outset has committed to give leadership in its eradication.

It is good to be asking these questions exactly at a time when the UK Government is itself striving to provide answers through the Modern Slavery Bill, and I think there are people here that are contributing actively to that process.

The root causes of forced labour have been examined by the ILO in forthcoming research which analyses survey data from ten countries where forced labour appears in different sectors and impacts different parts of the population. This work tells us some significant things about the effects and interplay of market dynamics, state policies, and racial exclusion.

With respect to market dynamics, without concluding that any sector or activity is inherently prone to forced labour, the data shows that the risks are higher where working conditions are already poor and under pressure. Squeezed to produce cheaper and faster, employers may not be able to recruit and retain free labour at home and therefore resort to migrant workers, initially ready to accept lower pay and standards, without significant bargaining power, and eventually susceptible to restrictions on their freedom.
The fishing industry provides an example. In many countries, over-fishing and illegal fishing make it difficult for legitimate enterprises to maintain acceptable conditions and stay in business. Migrants have entered the workforce often through payment of high recruitment fees. Once on board, conditions can be extreme, and resort to forced labour all too easy. It is happening, more and more.

So where businesses find themselves caught in a downward spiral, with strong incentives to cut costs, workers will be more likely to be subject to threats, abuse, intimidation and eventually coercion.

State policy, of course, can make the difference, for better or for worse. Few States still impose forced labour directly. But more Governments do make it easier for private actors to exact or to conceal forced labour through negligence or failures of labour market and migration governance. Two areas of labour regulation stand out as being of particular relevance: recruitment and contracting systems, and wages.

Historically, slavery involved forced movement of people. As I have said, over half of today’s forced labour victims have still moved within or across state borders. The difference is that in the great majority of cases they now move voluntarily.

For that they need information, money, transport, and contacts. And very often they get it from an intermediary or labour broker. Sometimes they may be a benevolent relative or friend or a legitimate private recruitment agency. Sometimes they may be a criminal trafficking network. And most times they will be operating in the grey area in between. Under the spotlight today is the so-called “Kafala” or sponsorship recruitment system operating in the Gulf countries where migrants generally form the majority of the labour force. The system ties the worker to a single employer and is seen by many – including the international trade union movement – as a facilitator of abuse and forced labour.

In any case, the costs of migration have grown exponentially in recent years, with the extortionate fees charged to migrants a main driver. It can take the worker months or years to pay off the debts incurred. They may never be able to do so, especially when deception had led them into very low-paid work at the receiving end of their journey.

Complex contracting and subcontracting arrangements make it more difficult to hold employers to account and make it easier to disguise or conceal abuses such as the non-payment of wages.

It is in this context, where forced labour can be deeply embedded in our labour markets, that the well-known and longstanding instruments of regulation must come into their own. Well regulated labour markets will be resistant to forced labour, so that means ensuring the effective functioning of wage-fixing machinery including minimum wages, labour inspection, and rights of organization and collective bargaining. Not only the right rules but their enforcement too.

Examination of the supply side for forced labour confirms that those who suffer multiple form of discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, caste, or legal status, are more vulnerable than those who are not so socially excluded.

The gender composition of the forced labour force, recalling that 55 per cent of victims are women or girls, varies sharply by sector. The sex industry and domestic work are highly feminized while victims in construction and fishing are mostly men. Factor in other dimensions of discrimination and exclusion and the picture comes further into focus; in Niger, for example, female single heads of household find themselves more often than others in slave-like conditions. Low caste people in South Asia and indigenous people in the Americas tend to be discriminated against in access to the services of the State and so lack the social protection to resist unforeseen shocks and basic literacy skills. Too easily they are trapped in exploitative credit agreements they cannot understand with their own labour pledged as collateral. It can take no more than that to keep an entire family in debt bondage for generations.

It perhaps requires of us here an effort to really comprehend the realities of deprivation and vulnerability that push people towards the abyss of coercion at work. At an ILO Conference to combat child labour in Brazil last year ex-President Lula gave us a graphic explanation. Speaking from his own experience of extreme working conditions in his early days in Sao Paulo, he said that when the alternative is hunger, when a family depends upon it, when the State abdicates all responsibility for the protection of the individual, then he or she will submit to work which is abusive and dangerous. To think otherwise is an illusion.

So, what conclusions can we draw from all of this for the challenges facing the world and what we must do about it?

A first is that we will not get rid of forced labour by criminal prosecution alone. It is needed but it is not enough.

The billions of dollars spent in recent years to criminalize and prosecute forced labour offences – particularly those resulting from human trafficking – have not stopped or reduced what is still a low-risk, high-gain enterprise. UN figures show that about 55,000 trafficking offences were uncovered by law enforcement between 2010 and 2012. Only a small fraction of these led to prosecutions and most of these have to do with sex trafficking. Only a few hundred labour trafficking cases are even recorded in any year.
Of course, tightening up on criminal prosecution will help. But the more compelling conclusion is that we need integrated approaches which recognize the socio-economic root causes of forced labour. We have to get at those roots.

What exactly does this mean?

It means working with employers to strengthen their due diligence against forced labour in their activities – including their supply chains.

It means working with Governments to strengthen law, policy and enforcement.

It means working with trade unions, and with civil society allies to represent and empower those at risk.

In other words, this is very much a tripartite endeavour – and the ILO’s fundamental added value is that we can bring its tripartite constituency of governments, employers and workers to the task.

It is encouraging that, for different reasons, the business community, internationally at least, is increasingly sensitive to its responsibilities. Partly, that is because of international developments and specifically the adoption in 2011 of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights setting out business responsibilities to protect and respect human rights and to remedy their violation. But it reflects too the reputational damage incurred by any company found to be involved with forced labour.
When Parliament failed to pass a Bill to outlaw slavery in 1791 the abolitionists called for a boycott of “slave sugar”, huge amounts of which came to Liverpool aboard slave ships in the last leg of the triangular trade route. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country joined the action. It did not end slavery but it did advance the cause.

Campaign techniques have come a very long way since then and they have proven catalysts for progress. But it is difficult to trace forced labour along complex global value chains and campaigns are always likely to be episodic. So there is need too for sustained partnerships between stakeholders as well as effective statutory regulation.
Brazil has been to the fore in recognizing its forced labour problems and in designing multi-pronged approaches to combat them. There, the Ministry of Labour has set up mobile inspection units as a rapid reaction to allegations of forced labour in remote Amazonian regions and recently extended them to urban areas. Since 2003 more than 40,000 slave labourers have been rescued and millions paid out in compensation. Business using such labour is put on a “dirty list” issued by the Ministry.

In addition, over 200 Brazilian companies have signed up to a National Pact to Eradicate Slave Labour. The Pact requires them not to use or tolerate the use of slave labour or to do business with companies which do – notably those on the “dirty list”. The Pact has a monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance, and is effective precisely because it is linked to statutory regulation and enforcement.

Here in the United Kingdom, the Morecambe tragedy led to the Gangmasters Licencing Act and Authority and was also the trigger for a remarkable alliance of trade unions, civil society, academics, business and Government, which led to some of the worst excesses of exploitation, including forced labour, being addressed by a combination of enforcement and sensitization. It has been welcomed widely internationally as an example of good practice.

The Government of India has acted to break centuries-long cycles of abuse by facilitating access of poor and excluded families to health and other benefits so reducing their dependence on advances of wages from their employers which have too frequently been the prelude to bonded labour.

And India is also one of the countries participating in the ILO’s Work in Freedom Programme funded by DFID here in the UK. This programme empowers young women to migrate safely in search of jobs as domestic workers at home or abroad. It connects directly with the promotion of the latest ILO Domestic Workers Convention No. 189 which has the potential to extend basic labour protections to a 53 million section of the global labour force which has frequently been excluded from them in the past.

There are many more examples to cite but these I hope make the case for this integrated approach, combining criminal prosecution, labour law enforcement, social policy, partnership, advocacy, and international action.

And let me close with one more ingredient. The history of slavery, but also the recent experience in the struggle against child labour which we have reduced by one-third since the beginning of this century, demonstrates the potency of a values led movement which ended slavery historically and is bringing fundamental change. A global alliance against forced labour which holds that it is neither necessary nor tolerable to countenance a form of abuse which has no place nor justification in today’s world seems to me the only acceptable response to the legacies of inhumanity, resistance and emancipation recorded in this Museum and in the work of the Centre.

The ILO is ready to do what it can in such a global partnership with you. What is important about your work is that it gives force and veracity to Wilberforce’s assertion that: “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

Today, we all know, it is time for us all to act and to act together. I hope that this Conference can help provide a prelude for action that is urgently needed.

Thank you.