Human Rights

Human Trafficking

  • Women and Women's Rights
    Women This Week: Violence Against Asian American Women Sparks Concern, Fear
    Welcome to “Women Around the World: This Week,” a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week’s post covers March 11 to March 18.
  • Human Rights
    Combating Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery
    Following National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, panelists examine efforts by the private sector, multilateral institutions, and governments to combat human trafficking and raise awareness about the crimes of modern slavery.
  • Human Trafficking
    The Case for Perpetrator Accountability to Combat Human Trafficking
    Corporations have a responsibility to purge slavery from their supply chains, but only governments have the power to prosecute. Keeping criminals accountable is necessary to eliminate slavery and human trafficking.
  • Labor and Employment
    Ending Human Trafficking in the 21st Century Symposium
    The Ending Human Trafficking in the Twenty-First Century Symposium reflects on efforts to combat human trafficking over the past two decades and explores new tools to accelerate progress at home and abroad. The full agenda is available here.  This symposium is cosponsored with the Women and Foreign Policy Program.
  • Human Trafficking
    Ending Human Trafficking in the Twenty-First Century
    Human trafficking bolsters abusive regimes and criminal groups, weakens global supply chains, fuels corruption, and undermines good governance. Jamille Bigio and Rachel B. Vogelstein urge the United States to increase investment in anti-trafficking measures.
  • Women and Women's Rights
    How to Create a Breakthrough in the Fight Against Modern Slavery? Invest in the Economic Agency of Women and Girls
    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 Laura Gauer Bermudez, director of evidence and learning at the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery; Yuki Lo, head of research and evaluation at Freedom Fund; and Jacqueline Joudo Larsen, chief operating officer and head of global research at Walk Free. Women and girls comprise an astonishing 71 percent of the estimated 40.3 million people living in modern slavery, and the problem may be getting worse. The deep roots of gender discrimination and the pandemic’s disproportionate social and economic harm on women is increasing their vulnerability and exploitation. Their risk of modern slavery is inextricably linked with gender inequality, as noted in Walk Free’s Stacked Odds report. If we are to address modern slavery at scale, we should then also confront the gender inequality and power imbalances that perpetuate it. One entry point is building the economic agency of women and girls. Significant evidence suggests that when women hold greater decision-making power and agency over their own economic resources, positive benefits reverberate across societies. These benefits are significant, helping to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to prevent modern slavery. So what is economic agency, how does it relate to modern slavery, and what interventions should be prioritized to maximize gains?   Economic agency can be defined as having power and choice over how one earns, saves, manages, and spends his or her money—a seemingly simple concept but one that is not afforded to millions around the globe. For those who are victims of human trafficking, forced and bonded labor, forced marriage, and commercial sexual exploitation, the freedom to choose has been denied. Work is extracted involuntarily, debt bondage has appropriated ultimate control over a laborer, marriage is agreed upon without consent, and sex is a traded commodity directed by a third party. At the center of these scenarios are individuals whose agency has been strategically minimized, ensuring they have limited control over their circumstances, including their livelihood and earnings. The link between economic agency and modern slavery was highlighted in the United Nations University (UNU) recently released report Developing Freedom, which argues that an economic agency lens would help to bind modern slavery concerns into broader development agendas. This connection furthers the work of development economist, Amartya Sen, who argues that development should not be viewed solely through the lens of GDP, but should also be measured in opportunities and freedom of choice. In his book Development as Freedom, Sen argues for the use of economic, social, and political freedoms as indicators of successful development. In Sen’s vision, development does not come at the expense of people’s rights and freedoms; rather, these rights and freedoms are integral to development. Modern slavery is the explicit restriction of an individual’s rights and freedoms, and this restriction currently affects women and girls at a greater rate than men and boys. This is largely due to entrenched gender norms that continue to put women and girls in a position of diminished power. Discriminatory laws and social customs can prevent women from inheriting land and assets, opening bank accounts without a male signatory, accessing loans, holding identification documents, traveling freely, and working without spousal permission. This power dynamic affords women fewer opportunities for formal employment and channels them into unpaid or low-wage work, much of which is in unregulated or poorly regulated sectors, such as domestic work, residential care, apparel and textile factory labor, hospitality, and cleaning services, among others. Gender discrimination and lack of autonomy affect a girl from birth. In some communities, decisions about how long to stay in school, who to marry, and how to earn a livelihood are made for adolescent girls and young women, not by them. Based in a prejudiced belief that women have limited economic value, every decision made for her, across her life span, further limits her ability to gain economic independence (Fig.1). To disrupt this discriminatory system, we need to recognize and transform the power imbalances that devalue and exploit the contribution of women and girls to our economy and society. This may sound like a lofty goal, but there are specific gender-focused interventions that can improve the economic agency and broader autonomy of the world’s women and girls. These interventions can advance progress on the SDGs while simultaneously and substantially reducing modern slavery:  Remove legal and procedural barriers so that women and girls can claim due protection and entitlements, including an equal right to hold identification documents, own assets, and access basic healthcare and education. Lack of birth registration certificates and other identification documents often limit the ability of women and girls to access protective entitlements, such as cash assistance, vouchers, subsidies, and fee waivers. Access to social insurance and the formal financial system is often dependent upon these identification documents, making this a necessary first step to building the economic agency of women and girls and reducing their vulnerability. Transform social norms and establish role models to raise the aspiration of girls, broaden employment options for women, and increase their decision-making power. Non-profit organizations such as Promundo have established grassroots campaigns to rethink gender stereotypes and promote gender equality, tackling issues that include child marriage and commercial sexual exploitation. The private sector can also play a role in developing more diverse role models by showing women in non-traditional jobs, such as engineers and machine operators, as well as encouraging male employees to balance work with more caregiving duties. Expand financial inclusion efforts such as financial literacy, micro-savings, and access to credit to allow women greater independence and control over their financial health and futures. One billion women remain excluded from the formal financial system. While mobile money platforms decreased the number of unbanked individuals significantly over the past decade, there is still much work to be done to integrate women into the formal financial system, including by changing business rules that treat women as inherently “riskier” customers than men, providing universal access to mobile phones, and increasing representation of women working in financial institutions.  Improve conditions in female-dominated industries that rely on a chronically underpaid and precarious labor force, especially in the garment, domestic work, and adult entertainment industries. For example, government efforts to formalize an informal sector would grant women workers access to protections such as occupational safety and health regulations, minimum wage, and health care. Further, training and certification programs can upskill women into higher paying roles, while on-site childcare enables many women an opportunity for labor force participation. For migrant workers, products such as SafeStep provide women greater transparency and control in the recruitment and migration process while also establishing a mechanism for filing a grievance if one’s rights have been violated. Reform judicial systems that ignore the plight of female victims of exploitation, trivialize their testimonies, and deny women and girls’ access to fair compensation. Training of police officers can help undo biased norms that lead to victim blaming and affect their decision to report, file, and prosecute violations suffered by female victims. When prosecuting cases of sexual exploitation and forced marriage—where women and girls make up the majority of victims—special measures should be put in place to protect the identity and dignity of victims. Also, harms caused by sexual and psychological abuses, which can be difficult to quantify, should be factored into sentencing and compensation decisions. Women and girls, especially those with lived experiences of exploitation, should play a principal role in deciding how these interventions are delivered and not simply as advisors and participants. Inclusive monitoring mechanisms should also be in place so that women and girls can provide feedback, and if necessary, hold organizations to account if well-intended plans fail to materialize. Men and boys should also join as allies in these efforts, as they often perpetuate unhealthy norms and are also harmed by the restricted economic agency of women and girls, which is estimated to cost between 7.9 and 21.3 percent of GDP in low- and middle-income countries. By highlighting the linkages between ending modern slavery and the economic agency of women and girls, we hope to show that modern slavery is not simply a human rights or law enforcement issue. Having millions of women and girls whose labor is chronically undervalued and prone to exploitation is an impediment to economic growth and shared prosperity. Breaking the cycle of modern slavery requires collaboration between anti-trafficking and development actors and joint investment in the independence, freedoms, and opportunities of women and girls.
  • Human Trafficking
    Spotlight on Brazil: What Works to Address 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 Nesrien Hamid, programme officer at United Nations University Centre for Policy Research. How do you identify best practices to end modern slavery, human trafficking, forced labor, and child labor in the context of a particular country or industry? Delta 8.7—a global knowledge platform—hosts country policy research workshops focused on that question. In order to identify and scale up action, each Delta 8.7 workshop explores a particular country or a particular sector or issue within a country and brings together policymakers, researchers, and members of civil society to discuss “what works” to effectively address modern slavery in that specific context. The workshops are closed-door and conducted under the Chatham House Rule. The first Delta 8.7 workshop focused on Brazil. Focus on Brazil Brazil is a global standout in the fight against modern slavery. Since 1995, when the Brazilian government acknowledged the existence of the problem in the country and set up the institutional architecture and devoted resources to combat slave labor, more than 55,000 individuals have been removed from conditions analogous to slavery in Brazil.  Brazil’s extraordinary achievements with addressing cases of slavery in the past twenty-five years were facilitated by innovative and effective initiatives that seek to root out the problem. An example is the renowned “dirty list”— a public register of entities found to employ slave labor in their supply chains—which has proven to be an effective naming and shaming tool to hold businesses responsible for the incidence of slavery in their supply chains. Brazil is also well ahead of other nations on providing publicly available data that illustrates the nature and extent of modern slavery. Such initiatives as the Labour Inspection Secretariat’s Radar and the Brazilian Digital Observatory of Slave Labor (SmartLab), for example, track the number of individuals rescued, their places of origin, and the sectors in which they were employed, among many other indicators. Brazil thus presents a rich and productive context for identifying the most effective measures to combat all forms of modern slavery. The Delta 8.7 workshop on Brazil brought together an array of policymakers, including from the government’s Federal Labour Prosecution Office, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Ministry of the Economy; from the International Labor Organization; and from civil society and research institutions, both from Brazil and elsewhere. Delta 8.7 worked with a local convening partner, Repórter Brasil, to conduct research and organize the sessions. Recommendations Experts identified recommendations to make progress on the following five priorities: Slave labor in supply chains Prevention and reinsertion Child labor Human trafficking and slave labor Data, research, and monitoring and evaluation Implement robust prevention and support policies with survivor expertise Involving survivors and vulnerable communities in research, policymaking, and program design and implementation is critical. Survivors and members of vulnerable communities are best able to identify their needs and often are in possession of creative solutions to reduce their vulnerability. Most importantly, survivor-centric policy and programming ensure that any anti-slavery agenda prioritizes prevention and survivor support rather than reacting after exploitation occurs (or reoccurs). Harness research synergies to identify solutions In order to more efficiently deploy scarce resources as well as to enhance prevention efforts, policymakers should better coordinate and leverage the lessons learned around distinct forms of modern slavery, such as efforts to combat child labor and the slave labor that affects adults. Effectively addressing child labor requires that families and communities are made resilient to extreme poverty and have access to adequate schooling. It is, therefore, not enough to focus programs on children without consideration of the wider context within which they live. Furthermore, combatting child labor in supply chains may be aided by incorporating tools that have proven effective in combating slave labor, namely the dirty list. Fill the research gaps Research gaps should be addressed in order to facilitate evidence-based policymaking. In Brazil, more research is needed to: assess the extent of the worst forms of child labor; examine the types of slave labor affecting women and girls; and track, through a systematized repository, criminal and labor justice data for all identified cases of slave labor. The future of anti-slavery research As the COVID-19 pandemic deepens vulnerabilities to modern slavery and decreases the available resources to address it, targeted research is needed to prioritize effective anti-trafficking investments. Delta 8.7 workshops provide this platform, from Brazil to Malaysia to India. Future Brazil-focused events might prioritize: identifying synergies between combating slavery and deforestation; incorporating gender considerations into extant anti-slavery policies; and implementing regulations of the informal market as part of post-COVID recovery. A January 2021 workshop focused specifically on migrant workers in Malaysia. A March 2021 workshop focused on forced and child labor and human trafficking in the context of the textile and apparel industry in India, as the country finalizes its National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. These workshops examine how local contexts interact with national and international policies, with the goal of prioritizing effective anti-trafficking solutions during a particularly challenging time for vulnerable communities. The full Delta 8.7 workshop report on Brazil can be found here.
  • Human Trafficking
    Collaborating to Break the Cycle of Modern Slavery
    This article was authored by Richard Samans, director of research at the International Labor Organization and chairman of the Climate Disclosure Standards Board. He served previously as managing director of the World Economic Forum; director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute; and special assistant to the president and NSC senior director for international economic affairs in the White House.  Today, March 25, is the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Forty million men, women, and children remain in modern slavery today, of which twenty-five million are in forced labor and fifteen million in forced marriage. The majority are women and girls, including nearly all of the 4.8 million victims of forced sexual exploitation. The first international convention on forced labor was adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1930 (Convention 29). It states that forced labor is a “service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” The world’s only tripartite multilateral organization, the ILO celebrated its centenary in 2019, marking one hundred years of governments, workers, and employers working together to achieve social justice. Its close collaboration with the U.S. Department of Labor over the past twenty-five years has helped to expand the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) and bring ninety million children out of work. Progress on forced labor has been slower, but the adoption in 2014 of a Protocol and Recommendation to Convention 29 has provided fresh impetus. It sends a clear message to all stakeholders and countries that forced labor and human trafficking are serious human rights violations and crimes and need to be dealt with as such. The ILO, the International Organisation of Employers, and the International Trade Union Confederation organized the “50 for Freedom Campaign” aimed at expanding ratification of the 2014 Protocol on Forced Labor. The campaign reached its goal just last week, on March 17, when the protocol received its fiftieth ratification. Fifty member states from all parts of the world have now committed to “develop[ing] a national policy and plan of action for the effective and sustained suppression of forced or compulsory labor in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations.” Nevertheless, the challenge remains daunting. The COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflict, climate change, and natural disasters have put the most vulnerable members of our societies, including migrants, at greater risk. They often face physical and sexual violence as part of an atmosphere of coercion and intimidation, which can include the withholding of wages or important documents like passports, or debt bondage resulting from recruitment costs. In many parts of the world, irregular migrants as well as most labor migrants working in lower-skilled sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, and domestic work do not have access to the legal protection necessary to prevent and address such repression and abuse. Most forms of modern slavery are motivated by the prospect of financial gain, just as during the colonial era. Unfortunately, human trafficking for labor exploitation remains a lucrative business. Every year, it generates an estimated $150 billion in profit while devastating the lives of millions of women, men, and children and undermining the vitality of national economies through the loss of taxes, remittances, and human potential. Ours can be the generation that ends forced labor, but only if we recognize that this stubborn, complex problem requires a holistic—i.e., whole-of-government and multi-stakeholder—response that begins with providing education for all, ensuring livelihood opportunities, empowering women and girls, protecting the most vulnerable, and upholding labor standards through stronger labor inspection and law enforcement. Strengthening the voice and participation of workers is critical. Freedom of association and collective bargaining are fundamental and universal rights that help to ensure safe and healthy working conditions and enable workers to obtain a fair share of the wealth generated by the enterprises in which they are employed. Since workers in the informal sector are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, formalization efforts are critical and can be advanced through smarter enterprise registration and regulatory practices, expanded social protection systems, and skills training and job matching services coordinated with local labor market dynamics. Real impact comes from cross-sector collaboration and shared expertise, with businesses, governments, and civil society working together. We are already seeing this happen, with corporations in the same sector sharing best practices and collaborating with organizations that specialize in the fight against slavery. A growing number of firms perceive forced labor as a serious risk to their operations and reputations, and they are exercising greater diligence in their recruitment strategies and processes. As important as preventive measures like these are, we also have to protect victims. This means doing a better job of identifying and freeing them as well as providing shelter, medical care, and psychological support. Access to justice and compensation is essential, as are ongoing efforts to expand access to quality basic education, training, and decent work. This also requires standardized procedural guidelines, common operational indicators, national referral mechanisms, and overall coordination. In assisting policymakers, better data and targeted research are central to guiding more effective policies and practices. Slavery remains a cross-border phenomenon, so improved international coordination and cooperation are essential. A prominent example is Alliance 8.7, a global multi-stakeholder partnership committed to achieving Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which requests “immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour… and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.” Alliance 8.7 seeks to accelerate progress by scaling effective solutions, driving innovation, and leveraging and maximizing the impact of resources. The United States has taken a leading role in the fight against forced labor and human trafficking through its trade policy, development assistance, and the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report. It could build on this record by promoting stronger country-level employment frameworks that protect labor rights and enforce fair recruitment practices, as well as ratifying the ILO forced labor convention and its accompanying 2014 protocol. Today, March 25, marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The abolition of slavery and forced labor was one of the first human rights struggles in modern history. Grounded in an abiding commitment to human dignity and social justice, its fundamental vision remains unfulfilled but can be realized within the next decade through the intensified collaboration of all states and stakeholders.
  • Nigeria
    Nigeria’s Internal Security Problem
    Nkasi Wodu, a New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a lawyer, peacebuilding practitioner, and development expert based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The Nigerian minister of defense recently enjoined Nigerians to take up arms to defend themselves against marauding bandits in their communities. The minister’s statement aligns with the grim reality that Nigeria has a serious internal security problem—and nobody knows exactly how to solve it. Nigeria has experienced devastating attacks from armed bandits for more than two years. While these attacks initially started in the North West region of Nigeria, they have since spread to other parts of the country. Armed bandits frequently kidnap unsuspecting members of the public before using their captives to secure huge ransoms in return for their release. Ransom frequently comes in the form of opaque government payments, a strategy that tends to undermine government authority. The level of coordination in the attacks seems to betray some type of paramilitary training or, at the very least, organization by leaders with military training. Making the problem worse, bandits have recently taken to targeting softer targets, such as schools, illustrated most recently by today’s mass kidnapping in Zamfara State, where gunmen took captive over three hundred schoolgirls. The kidnapping is the latest in a string of incidents. In December 2020, eighty students were kidnapped from an Islamic school in Katsina State, although they were later rescued or released. Last month, over forty-two people, including twenty-seven students, were kidnapped from a secondary school in Niger State—signaling a geographical expansion into the North Central region, part of the Middle Belt. The targeting of schools, worrying in itself, also further discourages students in a country with dismal rates of school attendance and completion. Banditry alone fails to explain the full scale of Nigeria’s internal security problem. For much of this decade, a murderous conflict between herders and farmers has plagued Nigeria, particularly in the Middle Belt. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2015 [PDF], Fulani militants—the most violent actor in the Middle Belt’s farmer-herder conflict—were adjudged the fourth-deadliest terror group in the world. In 2018, Fulani extremists were responsible for [PDF] 1,158 fatalities in Nigeria—a majority of terror-related deaths in the country that year. Intense violence perpetrated by militant herdsmen has since begun to expand further, towards the South West and South East regions, as herders search for grazing routes for their cattle. Unfortunately, a combination of drought occasioned by the rapid disappearance of Lake Chad, political instability driven by Boko Haram, and banditry made herders’ southward march an inevitability that will be difficult to reverse. A common feature of these attacks is the perceived lack of response—even complicity—from security agents. Recent rhetoric from the presidency against the response by some state governors to stem the tide of attacks from herdsmen further promotes this perception and impels communities to take up arms to protect themselves. This reality has already come to pass: southern Nigeria hosts armed, non-state actors such as the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the Western Nigeria Security Network—also known as Amotekun—in the South West, and several armed groups in the South South region. Proliferation of small arms and light weapons, a troubling feature of Nigeria’s security landscape, make the situation yet more combustible. Clashes between “self-defense” militias and herdsmen in the South East and the South West are on the rise, and they will continue to intensify as long as security agencies are beset by inaction and ineffectiveness. Layered on top of this conflagration is the ethnic dimension, with entire ethnic groups subsumed into conflicts and pitched against one another. In Oyo State, Hausa/Fulani communities have clashed with indigenes, while Nnamdi Kanu’s ESN continue to see attacks as a northern agenda against the Igbos. Nigeria’s troublesome security forces are, at present, ill-equipped to tackle frequent clashes between non-state actors. To address the worrying array of interlinked security threats, President Muhammadu Buhari needs to first shed his characteristic apathy and lack of empathy. In doing so, he should address the nation, pleading for national unity; his aides, meanwhile, should endeavor to appear neutral in their rhetoric rather than buttress perceptions of siding with particular groups. Below the state level, political actors from the various tribes would do well to see that their words and actions play an impactful role in either exacerbating or improving violent conditions. Consequently, they should eschew divisive action and instead pursue constructive solutions to the issues at hand.