Taking Action Against Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery

Photo Credit: Walk Free Foundation

Oct. 18th 2014 marked Anti-Slavery Day in the U.K. and Anti-Trafficking Day in Europe. It provides an opportunity to highlight the significance of the global anti-slavery movement at a time when there are more people in slavery than in the entire 350-year history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Strong commitment and effort to eradicate forced labour from supply chains, end bonded labor in India, and sex trafficking in Europe have been ongoing but need to be relentless; legislation alone is not sufficient. Only when direct multisectoral action is taken to combat this largely hidden and brutal crime can absolute freedom be delivered to all those enslaved by the hands of others.


Anti-Slavery Day was created by Act of Parliament in order to raise awareness of modern slavery and help mobilise efforts to eliminate all forms of slavery. It follows from the groundbreaking Anti-Slavery Bill that became law in 2010 and provides criminal prosecution for acts it defines as amounting to forced labour, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation.

This can take many forms, including:
• Labour exploitation, where victims suffer mental or physical abuse or threats.
• Controlled or owned by their 'employer', who may withhold pay and/or dehumanise.
• Bought and sold as commodity, often in exchange for services or money.
• Freedom of movement is restricted or victims are confined to their place.

In recognition of the fact that many trafficked children pass through UK airports, ECPAT UK, the leading organisations fighting trafficking in children, has marked Anti-Slavery Day by raising awareness at Heathrow, the UK's largest airport where thousands of trafficked children pass through every year. They have partnered with Border Force to help staff at Heathrow identify victims and keep vulnerable groups safe when they arrive at UK airports. In 2013 alone, the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre's report identified 3,000 potential victims of human trafficking, of which 602 were children.

The responsibility is on states to ensure the protection of victim's rights and commit to the prosecution and prevention of this crime. Therefore, it is imperative that governments adopt the UN Protocol to Prevent and Suppress Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children and the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings.


Europe is home to 1 in 8 trafficking victims. Countries in the EU are commonly considered destination countries for traffickers and their victims however they are also countries of origin. There has been a notable increase in victims of trafficking, especially from Albania, whether for sexual exploitation, forced labour, begging or a combination.

In light of Europe's active trafficking problem, the EU Strategy for the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings provides instrumental assistance to the EU and its Member States in identifying victims and combating trafficking networks.


India topped the Global Slavery Index 2013 with the highest number of enslaved people, estimated at 14 million, which is nearly half the total world-wide. The index indicates that India exhibits the "full spectrum" of the different forms of modern slavery.

Bonded labour is one of the most common forms of slavery and one of the main causes of intergenerational forced labour exploitation. Many bonded laborers, in return for loans to help them survive, are found working long hours in quarries, brick kilns, on farms or as domestics throughout Southern India.

Despite the Indian government outlawing the practice in 1976 and providing the legal protection for their freedom, the practice is widespread. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that there are 11.7 million bonded laborers in India. Even for those who have regained their freedom, their former owners retain power and significant influence to make sure they don't get employment, are not served in shops or receive treatment by doctors. Local organizations such as Volunteers for Social Justice are using the law to mobilize greater enforcement, help free bonded laborers and save further vulnerable groups from exploitation.


The average U.S. citizen eats over 11 pounds of chocolate per year but many are unaware of the rampant practice of child slavery involved in more than 70 per cent of the world's cocoa production. Brian Woods and Kate Blewett are groundbreaking film-makers who have exposed child labour in the Ivory Coast, which has over 600,000 cocoa farms amounting to 30 percent of the entire economy. Children are bought from their parents or stolen where they are then shipped to the Ivory Coast to work as slaves in cocoa farms. The children are frequently beaten, severely malnourished, often not paid, and are forced to do hard manual labour 80-100 hours a week. For most, they will never see their families again.

It is critical that chocolate suppliers certify their products to be free from forced labour, child labour, and human trafficking. The $13 million U.S. chocolate industry is dominated by companies like Nestle, Hershey Food Corp and M&M Mars who use Ivory Coast cocoa. While they offer condemnations of the practice, they argue that there is no way of guaranteeing their products are slavery-free. However, many companies, like Askinosie Chocolate, already disclose information on their labels about the cocoa farms they work with. Additionally, Fairtrade guarantees minimum price for farmers for their products. Together, such measures help improve the conditions of employment and places direct burden on suppliers to end the use of forced labour. If it's possible for just one company to ensure clean supply chains, then it's possible for all of them.


In mines in eastern Congo, children work exhausting hours to extract minerals used in electronics industry. Mining is gruelling: children often use ill-suited equipment such as shovels, and barely make enough to survive. The profits from these minerals finance the Democratic Republic of the Congo's bloodiest conflict over the last two decades.

There is now growing focus on corporate social responsibility of businesses operating in conflict or fragile states. Major tech companies such as Intel, Apple, Hewlett-Packard have taken steps to deliver reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission detailing their efforts to trace metals originating from the DRC. This rule dates from the Dodd-Frank Act 2010 that stipulates businesses must show they have performed due diligence by ensuring their supplies have been audited. It seeks to stem the flow of finances to militias in the region by discouraging companies from dealing with them. However, apart from a select few, many companies have failed to take these basic steps.

A growing movement is attempting to build transparency in all major Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies; the Global e-Sustainability Initiative exemplifies this move towards ICT- enabled social and environmental sustainability.

Businesses play a crucial role in protecting human rights and ending forced labour by identifying, preventing and eradicating slavery from their supply chains. By abiding with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and implementing their Base Code that outlines minimum labour standards, companies can start to clean up their products and services delivered on the back off forced labour.


The International Organization of Migration (IOM) has been working since 1994 to prevent and fight trafficking in human beings. IOM provides direct assistance to trafficking victims and provides support to vulnerable migrants, including those who have been trafficked or experienced other forms of exploitation. The IOM's "Buy Responsibly" campaign raises awareness about goods and services that have been produced or delivered by victims of trafficking as well as highlighting the need for consumers to have an active role in ending human trafficking through ethical consumerism. Anti-Slavery International has also produced their own interactive website where people can learn about goods that may be produced with forced or child labour here.


One of the most important steps each and everyone of us can take is to make sure we educate ourselves and inform others about how our actions can end modern day slavery. The decisions and choices we make about the produce, clothes, and technology we buy have far-reaching impact on the lives of poor, vulnerable people across the world. Taking the time to know how our consumer choices are taking away the freedom of other's and learning how to buy from slavery-free supply chains will start to build the pressure on businesses for transparency and adoption of human rights based employment standards.

Our actions today can mobilize game-changing momentum needed to end all forms of exploitation. There are 29.8 million people in the world waiting for a time when they no longer survive in slavery, but thrive in freedom.