Leader in anti-slavery fight says global effort 'has failed' so far

Kevin Hyland says merely 0.2 per cent of slavery cases are investigated and prosecuted each year

Reuters April 08, 2016
The shackled legs of suspected human traffickers are seen as they arrive for their trial at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, in this file photo dated March 15, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS: The fight to abolish human trafficking, which claims nearly 21 million victims worldwide, is so far a failure, a top leader in the field said on Thursday, calling for an immediate international effort to coordinate strategic efforts.

Modern slavery generates some $150 billion dollars a year in illegal profits, yet anti-trafficking spending came to just 0.08 per cent of that amount by nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said Kevin Hyland, Britain's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

Further, merely 0.2 per cent of slavery cases are investigated and prosecuted each year, he told a meeting on ending human trafficking hosted at the United Nations by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See.

"The sad and simple truth is that the anti-slavery movement has so far failed," Hyland said. "Modern slavery continues to boom as an industry, and criminals continue to view it as a low risk and high reward crime."

Globally, nearly 21 million people are victims of human trafficking, according to the UN's International Labour Organization (ILO). An estimated 4.5 million of them are forced into sex work.

Hyland and a chorus of others called in no uncertain terms for a greater, better-coordinated fight. "Multilateral efforts against slavery are siloed and fragmented, with little effort made at strategic coordination," he said.

And nations that are major sources and destinations of trafficking schemes and victims are "more often than not unwilling to share data and coordination of activity", he said.

Echoing that view, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, said: "The core proposal of this day is that this goal cannot be achieved without effective, international cooperation at many levels."

"That there are over 20 million people callously held in modern slavery in our world today is a mark of deep shame on the face of our human family," he said.

He heads the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of police and bishops working to eradicate slavery. But James Cockayne, Head of Office at UN University, cautioned that collaboration is insufficient without a concerted plan.

"If we don't have a global road map or a strategy, we simply won't succeed," he said. "Piecemeal is not a plan. No state can effectively achieve any of these goals on its own."

For example, he said, a nation that moves first to improve labour standards at a point in a supply chain simply risks displacing trafficking and slavery onto other parts of the chain.

He called upon the UN Secretary-General to designate an advocate or representative to work with member states and outside groups to develop a global anti-trafficking plan.

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