19 Jun 2024

Leaders commit to addressing human trafficking and modern slavery at Sri Lanka Summit

Government and business leaders from the Bali Process Government and Business Forum met in Sri Lanka to address modern slavery in the Indo-Pacific region.

Sri Lanka Summit
Capital Maharaja Group Group Director Chevaan Daniel, CMG Chairman Sashi Rajamahendran, IOM Head of Protection Unit Minoli Don, CMG General Manager Ravi Gamage. Photo Credit: Capital Maharaja Group.

Leaders have discussed regional challenges, best practices, and actionable solutions to help end modern slavery.

The Summit explored the work required to implement the Acknowledge. Act. Advance Recommendations pathway. This approach enhances supply chain transparency, promotes ethical recruitment, safeguards worker rights, and improves redress mechanisms.

Modern slavery in the Asia-Pacific region

Sri Lanka Summit

Photo Credit: Capital Maharaja Group.

An estimated 30 million people are living in modern slavery in the Asia-Pacific region.

Focus was placed on Sri Lanka where modern slavery remains a pressing issue with 139,000 people in situations of forced labour or forced marriage.

However, many more experience modern slavery outside their home country – migrant workers are three times more vulnerable than non-migrant workers.

“From migrant workers experiencing forced labour in global supply chains to those who are trafficked and forced to work in scamming centres in Southeast Asia. Modern slavery risks can look very different in each country,” Walk Free’s Business and Human Rights Director Serena Grant said.

“The one thing they all have in common is that their freedom is taken away. They are trapped in a situation of exploitation that they cannot escape.”

The Forum explored forced scamming and trafficking for forced criminality, underscoring the lack of awareness and regulatory mechanisms to monitor and reduce these practices.

Protecting migrant workers

Sri Lanka Summit

Global Migrant Workers Network Founder Mahendra Pandey. Photo Credit: Capital Maharaja Group.

Migrant workers shared perspectives about the systemic barriers to accessing ethical jobs.

There was discussion around the issues faced by businesses in ensuring ethical recruitment and the exposure of migrant workers to exploitation by unauthorised intermediaries.

The critical role of businesses and governments was highlighted in protecting migrant workers and ensuring ethical practices in recruitment and employment.

Human rights and global supply chains

Sri Lanka Summit

Adaro Energy Chief Executive Officer Garibaldi Thohir, Capital Maharaja Group Director Chevaan Daniel, Fortescue Founder and Executive Chairman Dr Andrew Forrest. Photo Credit: Capital Maharaja Group.

The link between human rights and global supply chains was emphasised. Combating modern slavery requires an approach integrating human rights advocacy with the supply chain due diligence.

There was a focus on how businesses can instil transparency and accountability throughout the production process, and how workers can be empowered.

Businesses are urged to conduct thorough due diligence to ensure their operations are free from forced labour and to ensure remedy is provided where exploitation is found. This is a core part of businesses’ responsibility to respect human rights. It also helps build sustainable business practices and mitigates reputational risks and legal liabilities.

The growing demand from consumers and investors for transparency and ethical sourcing means businesses must prioritise human rights in their practices.

The Colombo Commitment

Chevaan Daniel, Bali Process Business Leader for Sri Lanka, proposed the Colombo Commitment, which was endorsed by other Bali Process business leaders at the Summit.

The Commitment reads:

We commit to raising awareness and taking action to address human trafficking, forced labour, the worst forms of child labour and modern slavery.

We acknowledge the vital role that migrant workers play in our economies and the serious human rights risks they face throughout their recruitment, migration and employment. We commit to upholding the dignity, respect and freedom of migrant workers and to tackling unethical recruitment practices.

We acknowledge that business has a responsibility to respect human rights and that fulfilling this responsibility includes conducting human rights due diligence across value chains and providing or enabling remedy where the business has caused or contributed to workers being harmed.

We recognise the need for stronger laws to protect workers and drive better business practices across supply chains, including human rights due diligence laws and modern slavery legislation. We commit to using our influence to build support for these laws and to working with governments to implement them.

We commit to sharing updates on our progress with the Bali Process Government and Business Forum to support further collaboration and action on these issues.

Taking action

Business leaders also made individual commitments to ensure they take further action to help address modern slavery.

Continuing to engage with government and business leaders is crucial to raising awareness and contributing to solutions that address modern slavery.

Walk Free would like to thank all the attendees as well as Capital Maharaja Group for organising and hosting the forum.