17 Jul 2019

New data reveals widespread failure by governments in tackling modern slavery

Walk Free’s new report ‘Measurement, Action, Freedom’ is the most comprehensive assessment of global progress towards the eradication of modern slavery.

  • Lack of government accountability sees millions continue to suffer globally
  • 10,000 people must be freed each day if we are to eradicate modern slavery by 2030
  • Leading anti-slavery civil society organisations call on governments, facilitated by the UN, to develop indicators on all forms of modern slavery to improve measurement and accountability

Governments are already significantly behind in their commitment to eradicate modern slavery and achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 by 2030, new data reveals.

The ‘Measurement, Action, Freedom’ report, the world’s most comprehensive on the issue of modern slavery, launched today at the United Nations by Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free initiative, finds that just four years on from SDG 8.7 being pledged publicly, governments are already well behind schedule in meeting it.

The results highlight that more needs to be done to spur action and to hold governments to account through an agreed set of measurement indicators on all forms of modern slavery, with 10,000 people currently needing to be freed each day to eradicate the issue by 2030.

‘Measurement, Action, Freedom’ provides an independent assessment of 183 governments and their responses to the exploitation of the 40.3 million people in modern slavery. In it, governments are assessed and scored out of 10 on their ability to:

  • Identify and support survivors,
  • Establish effective criminal justice systems,
  • Strengthen coordination mechanisms and be held to account,
  • Address underlying risk factors, and
  • Clean up government and business supply chains.

While there is a trend toward improvement the pace of change falls far short.

“At the current rate of progress, achieving SDG 8.7 by 2030 is impossible,” said Andrew Forrest, the Australian philanthropist and businessman who founded Walk Free.

“Based on best available estimates, we need to free some 10,000 people per day in order to eradicate modern slavery by 2030. This is a burden of government inaction. Global progress in tackling modern slavery has been hugely disappointing since the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed in 2015.

“We know that 47 countries globally have not yet recognised human trafficking as a crime in line with international standards. Nearly 100 countries still fail to criminalise forced labour or, if they do, the penalty for this form of exploitation amounts to nothing more than a fine. Less than one third of countries protect women and girls from the terrible harm of forced marriage. This is not a situation that any of us should tolerate.”

The UN measures progress towards the SDGs with a global framework of indicators and Voluntary National Reviews, where governments report on their own activities against these indicators.

For SDG 8.7, this approach is hampered by the lack of indicators on all forms of modern slavery under SDG 8.7. Without clear indicators to measure progress toward the 2030 goal, governments cannot report systematically and consistently, nor can they be held to account.

“Today, Walk Free joins with other leading anti-slavery organisations to call on UN member states to develop indicators to track progress towards the eradication of all forms of modern slavery under SDG 8.7,” Mr Forrest said.

Measurement, Action, Freedom should provide a startling wake up call for all governments and the United Nations. The world requires a far more aggressive rate of change to achieve SDG 8.7 and end the suffering of millions but without government accountability, this report reveals the motivation is clearly not there. This is simply not good enough and until the private sector and public sector work together in tackling the issue, it will likely remain the norm.”

The anti-slavery civil society organisations include:

  • African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect Liberia
  • Anti-Slavery International
  • Challenging Heights
  • Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (UK)
  • Devatop Centre for Africa Development
  • Engage Now Africa
  • Freedom Collaborative
  • Freedom Fund
  • Freedom Now International
  • Freedom United
  • Hope for Justice
  • Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
  • Justice Centre Hong Kong
  • Liberty Shared
  • Lumos Foundation
  • Mekong Club
  • Migrant Care
  • Minderoo Foundation (Walk Free)
  • Mission for Community Development Program
  • National Freedom Network
  • Rahab Uganda
  • Rights Lab at University of Nottingham
  • Seefar
  • Survivor Alliance
  • Sustainable Development Solutions Network
  • UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery
  • Unseen Uganda
  • Utthan, a survivors’ collective in India
  • Voice of the Free
  • Willow International 

“When discussing responses to modern slavery, we must remember the severity and impact of this human rights abuse,” said Sophie Otiende, a programme consultant at HAART Kenya, an organisation working to stop human trafficking.

“Victims and survivors must be at the centre of all our efforts because this crime affects them the most.  The more modern slavery is seen and understood, the better the world can respond. Government measurement guided by UN indicators is therefore critical. This problem will never go away unless governments are willing to stand up and identify it. They have a responsibility to create legal and social frameworks to protect vulnerable people. This can only be done with evidence-based practice from data that we collect and study.”

With a background in education, majoring specifically in business, Otiende has worked with grassroots organisations for the last decade, primarily in program development. As a teenager, Otiende was held captive and abused by an uncle who promised her parents he would send her to school.

‘Measurement, Action, Freedom’ found the 10 countries taking the most action to respond to modern slavery are The United Kingdom, The Netherlands, The United States, Portugal, Sweden, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Croatia, and Australia.

These countries are characterised by strong political will, high levels of resources, and a strong civil society that holds governments to account. However, not all these countries have matched good policy with effective enforcement. Countries with otherwise strong responses may also have restrictive and discriminatory migration policies, which continue to be a key driver of modern slavery, as is the case in the EU, UK, the US, and Australia.

The 10 countries taking the least action to respond to modern slavery are North Korea, Eritrea, Libya, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Russia and Somalia.

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, approximately 6.9 million people were in some form of modern slavery in these countries. This amounts to 17 per cent of the total number of people in modern slavery living where there is limited if any, government action.

“Governments around the world are making progress to tackle modern slavery domestically, as seen by the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 and Australia’s Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act 2018,” said UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Sara Thornton.

“However, modern slavery and human trafficking is a global issue that knows no borders. To achieve our goal to eradicate all forms of modern slavery under SDG8.7, governments must work together and place more value on collaborative, measurable action and implement the appropriate indicators to force focus and deliver genuine progress.”

Data collected for the ‘Measurement, Action, Freedom’ report was part of a collaboration with the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (UK), and Regenesys.