When we hear the word “slavery”, it can be easy to dismiss it as a relic, a crime from the history books, a shameful chapter of our past. But sadly it is very much part of our world today.
Slavery, trafficking and forced labour is thriving, entrapping more than 40 million people worldwide. These victims are caught in the supply chains which give us everything from the clothes we wear to the food we eat, to the tech we use every day.
The figures are startling. Right now there are more modern day slaves in the world than the populations of Greece, Portugal, Austria and Belgium combined. A quarter of these victims are still children, and more than 70 per cent of victims are women and girls.
Today, the international day for the abolition of slavery, is a perfect opportunity to refocus our efforts on stamping out this scourge on our societies.
The UK is working hard to eradicate this heinous crime, which costs the UK’s economy alone an estimated £4.3bn a year.
UK aid is working to dismantle predatory trafficking networks across Asia and Africa, strengthen law enforcement, clean up recruitment practices and rehabilitate victims who fall prey to traffickers profiting from this $150bn global trade in human beings. We are tackling the root causes of slavery by creating jobs and sustainable alternative livelihoods, helping people lift themselves out of poverty, and busting myths that tempt people towards dangerous migration routes.
The protection of vulnerable children in particular, is our priority. Working with UNICEF, the UK will reach more than 400,000 girls and boys in the Horn of Africa with child protection measures, including birth registration documents to shelter them from forced labour and underage marriage. Some 212,000 children across Somalia have already been provided with legal identity documents, including birth certificates.
Through UK-based NGO Retrak, we are supporting young girls in Ethiopia tangled in exploitative domestic work, running child protection clubs in schools and setting up a girls’ shelter to provide catch-up lessons that help victims reintegrate.
Along with charities World Vision and War Child, we are equipping up to 400,000 vulnerable people, many in conflict ravaged parts of Africa, with skills training and alternative livelihood opportunities. This “UK aid connect programme” will educate children on the risks of trafficking, help businesses eradicate slavery from supply chains and assist conflict affected families in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Additionally, in a major new programme across six countries in Asia, UK support will shield children against forced labour in the hazardous agriculture industry, and will clamp down on the trafficking of children into sex work.
No single nation can banish this global crime alone. A coordinated international approach is needed. There are now 85 states that have endorsed the call to action to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking that was launched by prime minister Theresa May at the UN General Assembly in September last year.
Just two months ago, the UK and the US, alongside Canada, New Zealand and Australia, launched a set of core principles at the UN General Assembly to help eliminate exploitation in international supply chains. Leveraging our combined purchasing power of more than $600bn, we are committed to eradicating forced labour from global supply chains, a crime which entraps approximately 25 million people worldwide.
In the next few days, my department, in collaboration with the UK’s development finance arm the CDC, the International Finance Corporation, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and others, will be launching a comprehensive guide to help the private sector tackle modern slavery in emerging markets.
With more than 60 per cent of forced labour victims in the private economy, we are committed to ensuring businesses step up their efforts to eradicate exploitation from their supply chains.
We must work together, across nations and sectors. Only then will we consign the hideous crime of slavery to the history books.
Penny Mordaunt is the international development secretary, and the minister for women and equalities
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