Ending the instability in which modern slavery thrives

The UN Security Council is pushing for cooperation on cross-border prevention, protection and prosecution in fighting the widespread denial of basic human rights.

News | 17 March 2017
In addressing the cruel trade in human beings, governments at an open debate on modern slavery in the UN Security Council spoke about the countless families and societies torn apart by trafficking and its singular focus on exploitation that denies basic human rights and the dignity of a person.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the 15-member Council that “slavery is not a thing of the past” and that “modern manifestations of servitude may touch and even implicate us all.”

“Global supply-chains have transformed many lives for the better – but not always without costs. In some situations - clothes, food, smartphones, jewelry and other consumer goods may bear, wittingly or unwittingly, the traces of exploitation. Gleaming new skyscrapers may owe some of their shine to the sweat of bonded laborers” he said.

In outlining a number of UN tools that exist, Secretary-General Guterres he called upon member States to focus on prosecution, protection and prevention. These tools include the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol, ILO Conventions and the complementary Global Plan of Action on Human Trafficking.

Several Ambassadors highlighted the important role the newly established Alliance 8.7 could play in accelerating and intensifying action on eliminating forced labour, child labour, modern slavery and human trafficking. Alliance 8.7 is a global coalition of key stakeholders committed to achieving Sustainable Development Goal Target 8.7 as well as contribute to relevant targets.

In his capacity as the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the United Kingdom took aim at the international communities’ efforts by saying that “if we could hear the millions who are being coerced and exploited today, their unwavering message to us would be that we have simply not done enough.”

Ambassador Rycroft said that “we need a more forceful and unified UN approach to human trafficking and modern slavery and forced labour. We look forward to the Secretary-General’s report in November on exactly that. And we encourage him to focus on making existing structures work effectively, including the Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons.”

The UK government has shown leadership on slavery with the passage in 2015 of the Modern Slavery Act, the first UK legislation focusing on the prevention and prosecution of modern slavery and the protection of victims. 

Kevin Hyland, the independent UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner, noted in his statement to the Security Council that terrorist organizations are openly advocating slavery as a tactic of war, such as Da’esh, and were targeting minority groups and establishing slave markets. He continued by stating that “conflict created environments in which modern slavery could flourish” and that “erosion of the rule of law enabled transnational trafficking networks to act with impunity”.

The new US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said that “standing up to modern slavery and forced labour was an element of United States foreign policy” as well as efforts to advance human dignity. She informed the chamber that the US has created a new programme to finance transformational projects intended to end modern slavery and aimed to raise funds from public and private sources.

The Australian Minister for Women, Employment and Public Service, Michaelia Cash, stated that the international community has a shared responsibility to disrupt the modern slave trade and sexual violence, and to address their root causes. No State or organization could do that alone, she emphasized, and noting that while individual efforts were important, regional and global cooperation would be the key to success. Minister Cash spoke about the recently established Migrant Worker Taskforce, which would develop strategies and make improvements aimed at stamping out the exploitation of vulnerable workers.

In his presentation, Houtan Homayounpour, Senior Forced Labour Specialist from the ILO, noted several ways it was tackling forced labour, including through strengthening international legal frameworks to protect workers, particularly migrant labourers.

He stated that “everyone has a role to play in fighting modern slavery, and that unless we all come together and unite against it, we are going to face an uphill battle”. He spoke about Alliance 8.7’s commitment to accelerating the fight against forced labour, modern slavery and child labour and that it was working to ensure that slavery did not infiltrate supply chains.

A number of activities addressing the issues of modern slavery, forced labour, child labour and human trafficking are being held at the UN and globally in preparation for the high-level meeting in October 2017 to review the progress achieved in the implementation of the UN’s Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons.