Kevin Hyland, OBE was appointed as the first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner of the UK. Before that he led London Metropolitan Police’s human trafficking unit. He now continues to fight modern slavery as CEO of Childfund Ireland. Mr. Hyland helped the Vatican to set up its anti-trafficking group. In 2019 he delivered this report on the subject at the invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s task force on modern slavery and human trafficking.
The fact we are discussing human trafficking, as the current incumbents of this planet, reflects on our stewardship of this world and the need for urgent change and improvement.
Our climate is fragile. Human displacement, due to conflict, oppression, inequality, climate change, and natural disasters, is at an all-time high of 65 million people; and human trafficking and modern slavery is estimated at 40 million children, women, and men being used as a commodity of exploitation.
Our world has lost its moral compass when inclusion becomes unpopular and is viewed by some as weakness; when we live in a culture of What’s in it for me? as opposed What can I do for you? In this climate, we must ask what hope exists for some of the most needy in our world.
With an open hand of kindness being replaced by the closed fist of aggression, perhaps it’s inevitable modern slavery and human trafficking have become everyday features.
The disposable culture now includes disposable people, used and abused at the discretion or control of others.
And the reason this crime exists today is the same as it has been throughout history: to make money or to reduce or eliminate labour costs.
Criminal profits now reach 150 billion US dollars a year. This crime has devastating effects on individuals as it strips them of their dignity and humanity; but it has wider negative effects.
It is a gender issue, giving women secondary status in society, inasmuch as most victims are women and girls.
It is a health issue, as many suffer from HIV or other medical conditions as a direct consequence of their trafficking; and some suffer the removal of organs for illicit transplant markets.
It has a negative economic impact, as remittances often intended to be returned to families are taken by criminals in payment of bonded labour.
It’s a development issue, as those in power are the very architects of the conditions that create the vulnerability that cultivates this human commodity.
And it is a governance issue, as the low risk/high reward allows it to become a crime of choice targeting the vulnerable.
Whilst many international instruments and domestic legislations denounce this crime, it continues to persist and increase.
The current approach is very much focused on post trafficking; however, it is clear that strategies are urgently needed for prevention. I have strongly worked for radical reform in the UK, and I believe that victims must receive the best possible support and care.
For example, of the estimated 40 million lives in modern slavery, 16 million work in supply chains and businesses.
We are all interacting with human trafficking and modern slavery: the cell phones we carry, the coltan mined for the batteries; were these mined by a child as young as 8 years of age in the Congo?
Agriculture, food processing, fishing, construction, textiles, hospitality industries, and even care and nursing homes, perhaps within diplomatic residences, are all areas where workers have experienced human trafficking—and this on every continent, including in every EU country, the US, and Australia.
Some countries—the US, France, UK, Australia, and Brazil, for example—do have transparency legislation; but the current gaps in enforcement and the absence of sanctions have resulted in patchy, at best, compliance.
It has been argued brand reputation will be enough to ensure compliance; but in the UK, this has not been the case. Sanctions currently exist under health and safety, food standards, quality control, and consumer rights; so why not for permitting, knowingly or through negligence, modern slavery within a business or supply chain? Accountability of supply chains may be a challenge, but not impossible, if the right leadership is provided. When businesss use innovation and their many skills, achievements can be lifechanging, world changing. For example, there is now a direct, nonstop flight from London to Perth. The aircraft on this route will operate for about 30 years before being decommissioned. In that period, all the passengers, crew, hours flown, maintenance, financial information, payload, and so on will be recorded because of aviation rules and the serious sanctions for breaching even the most minute detail.
When this degree of audit and accountability are within our ability, why can we not say where or if a child is mining coltan for the minerals needed for battery systems of our phones, or these aircraft, or for the mica that provides the high gloss finish exterior?
Simply put, supply chains can be audited, but all too often it is claimed too difficult. Businesses and governments need to work to implement measures that prevent exploitation. There are thankfully examples of practice where businesses do act responsibly examining supply chains and implementing change.
A recent survey of the FTSE 100 companies disclosed improvement on last year’s evaluation moving from 27 to three companies failing to comply with the UK’s Modern Slavery Act for completing a statement. But it rated many practices that prevent modern slavery from being low, with some companies scoring below 20 per cent in evaluations.
As with any crime, if it pays it stays; and with a criminal benefit of US $150 billion, this crime is firmly staying.
For example, the Church of England Clewer Initiative recognized risks in the car wash industry. Mobilizing their parishes to gather data through a mobile phone app has resulted in a Parliamentary Committee now inquiring how to regulate this industry to prevent forced and exploitative labour in the car wash establishment.
So, there are opportunities to drive change and place responsibility on those with a duty; but we need to be firm about accountability and maintain humility. Without these, we fool ourselves and allow those in charge off the hook on the pretense they are having a substantial, positive impact.
We must remember, 1 in every 5 units of currency spent in this world is by governments. And over 85 per cent of global wealth rests with the G20 nations. It is their duty, through many international agreements and the SDGs they have committed to, to ensure this money and commerce is based on ethical business. And whilst there may be differing views on many subjects, no government is mandated to support modern slavery, and therefore by default cannot allow taxpayers’ money even unwittingly to end in the hands of the traffickers.
Society and faith groups can galvanize and become the accountability of these bodies. G20 nations must ensure their procurement and transactions do not support criminals by funding modern slavery. This single act could have one of the biggest impacts in meeting the aims of many of the 17 SDG targets. To date the delivery of these goals is generally thought weak, so now we have a chance to change things. Some say this is aspirational and beyond our ability.
We must move views of success to include how we treat our fellow human beings, rather than limiting them to financial terms, satisfying national GDP positioning, and shareholder dividends. Surely human beings and equality must be one of our primary values.
But what of the suffering:
The human faces.
Children in the brick kilns of Asia.
The Nigerian girls brought to the UK and traded for sex.
The fishers from the Philippians, injured, even losing their lives to supply our food working in seas across the world.
The girls I met in Southern Italy fleeing Eritrea, who on their harrowing journey are kept in so-called connection houses in Libya, raped many times a day before earning enough for a dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean, who on arrival in Europe receive little protection so often return to exploiters.
And yet even when we find and identify victims, national responses can revictimize them, contrary to international agreements of the Palermo Protocol and Council of Europe Directives. High standards of victim support are essential and must be adequately funded with necessary legal status. The current global response is often akin to fighting an inferno with buckets of water.
I speak about the open hand of friendship. Faith and civil society are that open hand, themselves often facing the clenched fist of aggression. We must work tirelessly to take hold of the aggressive hand and guide it to learn how good lifting someone up and shaking a friend’s hand can feel.
If we can do this, perhaps history will reveal our stewardship of this planet has crafted a legacy in human dignity for many generations to come, a legacy where modern slavery and human trafficking are firmly secured into the annals of history.
In Communion Summer / 2019