The COVID-19 pandemic is making the world worse in lots of ways. One of the more unexpected ways is that the already difficult task of ending modern slavery is even more challenging. With the pandemic expected to drive at least 70 million people into extreme poverty, according to a recent World Bank estimate, desperate workers will be more likely to accept risky job offers or high-interest loans to survive, only to end up trapped in exploitative situations. Companies, anxious to ramp up production after months of lost income, may be more willing to hire the cheapest labor available, including from unethical recruiters, and to skip labor inspections and other oversight measures—thereby enabling human traffickers to thrive.
The pandemic-related global economic meltdown should be no excuse to look the other way. Beyond being rightfully condemned as a grave affront to human rights and dignity, human trafficking also weakens economies and threatens global security. Forced labor affects 25 million people and produces an estimated $150 billion annually, making it one of the world’s most profitable crimes. This practice bankrolls criminal organizations, supports terrorist and armed groups, enables abusive regimes, and undermines stability. Where trafficking flourishes, our collective safety and prosperity flounder.