10 Jul 2024

Combatting modern slavery with robust evidence, policy change, and grassroots action

The Global Slavery Index remains a pivotal tool to drive policy change and empower individuals to tackle modern slavery.

Lady in blue sits under quote that reads “No more will we tolerate atrocity. We will claim our rights.” Varanasi, India, 2015. Photo Credit: Grace Forrest.

Walk Free’s Director of Operations Katharine Bryant spoke on Grant Thornton’s podcast, The Remarkables, about the importance of evidence and engaging with survivors to inform policy change to eradicate modern slavery.

“10 years ago, there was a real gap in data on modern slavery. Without measuring the problem, we couldn’t address it,” says Bryant. This led to the creation of the Global Slavery Index, which aims to raise awareness and provide concrete actions to tackle modern slavery.

The statistics on modern slavery are staggering


Tents from the United Nations sit inside a refugee camp. Beqaa Valley, Lebanon, 2016. Photo Credit: Grace Forrest.

An estimated 50 million people globally were in forced labour or forced marriage in 2021. This is a 10 million person increase, largely caused by increasing levels of conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Global Slavery Index provides a country-by-country ranking based on the number of people in modern slavery and an assessment of government responses.

Countries with higher prevalence tend to have authoritarian governments, are in volatile regions, and have experienced political instability and conflict. Countries like North Korea, Eritrea, and Afghanistan top the list due to high levels of conflict and state-imposed forced labour.

What is the scale of the research?

The methodology behind the Global Slavery Index involves extensive surveys, desk-based research and outreach. “We’ve conducted surveys in about 75 countries, interviewing over 110,000 individuals,” Bryant explains. This data allows us to understand the global scope of exploitation.

The assessment of government responses involves detailed research and collaboration with NGOs, updating around 25,000 data points each time the Index is published.

Working with governments is crucial

“We engage directly and are open to having conversations with all governments. We’re also not afraid of holding governments to account,” Bryant says. The Global Slavery Index serves as a tool to drive these conversations, pushing for necessary legislative and policy changes.

The link between modern slavery and conflict


Skyline of the city’s centre. Amman, Jordan, 2016. Photo Credit: Grace Forrest.

The link between conflict and modern slavery is complex, making data collection challenging. Conflict can cause modern slavery to increase as the breakdown in law and order allows individuals to operate with impunity.

However, there have been some good practices. In the immediate aftermath of the Ukraine conflict, proactive measures by neighbouring countries like Poland helped prevent a spike in human trafficking. This underscores the importance of strong trafficking responses that are resilient to times of crisis.

Consumers play an important role


Woman sews while she tells her story of migration to the Middle East. Amman, Jordan, 2016. Photo Credit: Grace Forrest.

Forced labour is prevalent in many global supply chains. Take the garment industry as one example- forced labour exists at all levels of the supply chain from picking cotton through to manufacturing.

Nearly half a trillion US dollars worth of goods at risk of being produced by forced labour enter G20 countries annually. Consumers are urged to ask questions of their favourite brands, ensuring that they are not inadvertently using forced labour in the production of goods and services.

In recent years, we’ve seen changing regulations and increased business awareness, which are positive developments. The UK and Australia led the way with their mandatory reporting legislation.

Walk Free’s advocacy efforts, alongside other organisations, have led to significant legislative developments, such as the introduction of the Australian Modern Slavery Act and the EU Corporate Sustainability Directive on Due Diligence.

The importance of engaging with those with lived experience

There are also positive stories from grassroots levels, including Walk Free’s work with Survivor Alliance and Kasma in Ethiopia. “We work with a group of 15 individuals to review our research, to then give us feedback on what we’d said about the Ethiopian Government. We then help them do their own advocacy off the back of the workshop,” says Bryant.

“It becomes this beautiful circle of we have identified these individuals; we can provide them support. We provide them with the support where they’re then able to come back to us, give us feedback on our own work, and then take that and make their own change off the back of it.”

The fight against modern slavery requires a multifaceted approach

To eradicate modern slavery, we need robust data and evidence, engagement with governments and businesses, consumer action, and grassroots advocacy, all while ensuring we are engaging with and centring those with lived experience.

The Global Slavery Index remains a pivotal tool, driving policy changes and empowering individuals worldwide to make a difference.

Listen to the full interview on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.