The Palermo Protocol and the Next Twenty Years of the Global Fight Against Modern Slavery
from Women Around the World, Women and Foreign Policy Program, and Human Trafficking

The Palermo Protocol and the Next Twenty Years of the Global Fight Against Modern Slavery

This post is part of the Council on Foreign Relations’ blog series on human trafficking, in which CFR fellows and other leading experts assess new approaches to improve U.S. and global efforts to curb trafficking and modern slavery. This post was authored by Dr. Jean Baderschneider, inaugural-CEO and Chair of the Board of Directors, Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS).
HOPSONONE, Shanghai, China
HOPSONONE, Shanghai, China

This blog post was authored by Dr. Jean Baderschneider, inaugural-CEO and Chair of the Board of Directors, for the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery.

Twenty years ago the United Nations member states signed the Palermo Protocol, a symbol of universal commitment to combatting slavery and trafficking. This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the progress the global community has made to-date. This is also an opportunity to look ahead to the next twenty years of the fight, galvanize greater collaboration, and drive towards a global coherent strategy to end modern slavery.  

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Significant progress has been made in some areas of the anti-trafficking field. In the US, commendable efforts have been made in awareness-raising– this year the National Human Trafficking Awareness month marked its 10th anniversary. In the past few years especially, there has been an active effort to incorporate survivor input into global programming, marking a shift towards inclusive strategies and decision making. At the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS), our team has built this into our core values.  

Globally, numerous legislative efforts have been implemented as a result of member state adoption of the Palermo Protocol, creating easier pathways for prosecution of traffickers, removing threats of prosecution from victims, and taking aim at holding corporations accountable for exploitative practices. In order to ensure evidence-based programming, new efforts have coalesced around measuring the prevalence of slavery and understanding the effectiveness of key interventions.  

These successes, however, are not nearly enough to end modern slavery. The partnerships and policies that have been crafted since Palermo are still early in their formation and effectiveness. More should be done to address the root causes of human trafficking and the systemic vulnerabilities that enable it. Moving forward, the anti-slavery field needs to focus on creating and sustaining meaningful partnerships, integrating our efforts with those of adjacent issues in sustainable development, and adopting durable, evidence-based strategies created end modern slavery.  

Why a Coherent Global Strategy is Needed  

GFEMS views modern slavery as a crime of economic opportunity. It is driven by a supply of vulnerable populations, demand for cheap goods, services and sexual exploitation, and enabling environments that allow traffickers to operate with impunity. The fight to-date has faced challenges, including limited funding that restricts the duration, scale and sustainability of projects, fragmented or siloed efforts, and limited evidence on what works. To meaningfully and sustainably address modern slavery, these challenges need to be overcome, a coherent global strategy that can be sustained beyond donor funding and executed at a scale that matches the size of the problem is imperative. A coherent global strategy capable of achieving these two objectives should include:  

  • Increasing resources: Scaling funding and global commitment commensurate with the challenge requires partnerships and investment from both the public and private sectors. 

  • Engaging governments: Facilitating government ownership of anti-slavery strategies through co-owned and co-funded plans that align with key government objectives. 

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  • Engaging the private sector: Identifying and promoting proactive business sector efforts to create market-based approaches to end slavery. 

  • Funding transformative programs and technologies: Funding efforts that demonstrate clear and substantial reduction in prevalence. 

  • Ensuring robust assessment of impact: Developing and deploying cost-effective measurement activities of community and industry prevalence reduction and return on investment. 

Proactive private sector engagement and leadership will be critical to achieving the necessary scale and sustainability of a global coherent strategy. While spending by governments and NGOs to fight human trafficking is in the millions– a drop in the bucket compared to the $150+ billion in annual profits to traffickers– the buying power of businesses is in the trillions. Leveraging the $70+ trillion in global procurement spend, supply chain expertise, and in-house data analytics capabilities of the private sector, the anti-slavery field could reach an inflection point, accelerating momentum towards ultimately ending modern slavery.    

Effectively leveraging the private sector requires that governments, civil society, and private sector leaders work together as true partners in co-designing and implementing ameliorating frameworks that can be sustained in the market. Market sustainability is crucial to long term success, ensuring that efforts are sustained beyond donor funding lifecycles. 

Many opportunities for partnerships across public and private sectors exist. Governments and private sector leaders can join forces to: 

  • Create job training and viable employment opportunities for at-risk populations. 

  • Update antiquated recruitment systems to ensure safe migration and job placement for migrant workers around the world. 

  • Use machine learning and data analytics capabilities to rapidly identify actionable forced labor risks in supply chains. Once risk is identified, options for effective modern slavery risk mitigation strategies need to be created.  

  • Direct capital from responsible investors to companies taking meaningful action to address identified forced labor risks in supply chains. 

Admittedly, it has historically been challenging to meaningfully engage the private sector. Forced labor risk assessment tools, for example, have largely been too qualitative, time-intensive, and inexact to inform targeted risk mitigation efforts in deep and opaque supply chains. This has perpetuated a legacy of inaction. Separately, labor recruitment still largely relies on outdated systems that limit the visibility of employers, leaving the door open for unethical recruiters to take advantage of vulnerable individuals seeking work.  

Obstacles like these can and should be addressed. The necessary technologies and the analytic capabilities exist today to solve these historically intractable issues. At GFEMS, our team is already investing in practical tools including the following: 

From addressing risks of forced labor in apparel factories to building robust ethical recruitment systems, private sector leadership and partnership is essential to developing and implementing frameworks like these and ultimately achieving scale and sustainability of global anti-trafficking efforts. Coupled with other essential elements of a global coherent strategy, including increased resources, deeper engagement with governments, and robust impact assessments, private sector engagement has the potential to transform this fight.  

As we reflect on this anniversary of the Palermo Protocol and look ahead to the next twenty years, we should commit ourselves to the collaboration needed to create a coherent global strategy that integrates and aligns efforts. Moving forward, we should not only create meaningful partnerships with the private sector, we should coordinate action on all elements of a coherent global strategy. By increasing investment in practical tools and technologies, improving the efficiency and targeting of anti-trafficking efforts, investing in evidence to provide a basis for scaling and sustaining solutions, it is possible to drive permanent change in the systems perpetuating modern slavery.  



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