Are there more people in slavery now than during the transatlantic slave trade?

A migrant living in Greece protests reports of migrant slavery in Libya
A migrant living in Greece protests reports of migrant slavery in Libya
By Emma Beswick

Panellists at 2018's World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos present a new global fund that they hope will reduce modern slavery in identified areas by 50 per cent.

With estimates stating 40.3 million people are currently in slavery worldwide, Gary Haugen, CEO of the International Justice Mission said there are more people in slavery today than were extracted from Africa over 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade.

"The modern slavery problem is massive ... but it's more stoppable than it's ever been."

Robert Corker US Senator

Haugen was one of the panellists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, presenting and discussing a new fund, led by the US and UK, whose goal is to raise $1.5 billion (€1.2 billion) combat slavery.

"The modern slavery problem is massive ... but it's more stoppable than it's ever been," added United States Senator Robert Corker, chairman of Committee on Foreign Relations.

Indeed, slavery is now illegal in all countries, yet the modern slave trade has nearly doubled in the last years, mainly in 15 countries.

Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, highlighted this disparity saying "there is something we are not doing right" and stressing that light must be shed on the issue of slavery.

Watch the full press conference here:

What part do businesses play?

Villa called out corporations in the west, who have not paid enough attention to what happens further down their supply chain when they previously outsourced abroad, which has allowed forced labour to "flourish".

She reasoned that companies can and have already started to be a force for good on this issue, highlighting the examples of Hewlett Packard, Intel and Adidas, among others, who won the Stop Slavery Award from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"More consumer brands are paying attention to the issue and doing the right thing," she said.

The role of investigative journalism in encouraging brands to address such issues is integral, according to Villa.

"Media attention can also lead to good things," she said, explaining many companies started to look into what happens in their supply chains or production line after the media showed they had issues.

"The fish rots from the head," said John Studzinski, Vice Chairman of Investor Relations and Business Development at The Blackstone Group, calling for corporations to demonstrate leadership on "this moral issue" at a CEO/chairperson and board level.

The role of governments

Having received $25 million investment both from the US and UK, the fund's advocated hope to leverage $500 million from other countries and a further $250 million from the US over a 7 year period.

A further $750 million, they hope, will come from the private sector.

The panel highlighted the UK as a "leader on this (the issue of modern slavery) with the Modern Slavery Act".

What can consumers do?

Studzinski said that the consumer has power in the age of social media and should use it to blow the whistle when they think brands are not taking the issue of slavery seriously.

Goals of the central fund

Inspired by the world community's efforts to combat HIV/AIDS through PEPFAR, Haugen said it "just felt like there was a need to have a global fund to deal with this (slavery)".

Its actors will go forward "with discipline around a coordinated strategy and an accountability," he said.

It is this organisation that the panellists underscored as the most necessary in the fight against slavery.

"We are (currently) fighting a very organised crime in a pretty disorganised manner," said Villa.

After identifying which areas to focus on the organisation will work towards a 50 per cent reduction in slavery.

Senator Corker stressed it was important to show that the fund was actually driving results in specific areas, something that will be achievable after the measurement of forced labour, slavery and sex trafficking within a jurisdiction became possible in the last five years.

"One of the big difficulties in the fight against trafficking is the lack of prosecution and the total impunity that slavers enjoy all around the world," concluded Villa, who hopes the fund can start to tackle this issue.

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