Human Trafficking: Modern Slavery and Decent Work

Highlights from the webinar on human trafficking – June 23, 2021

The very high demand for very cheap products, the ruthless international competition, and the complexity of the global networks of subcontractors linked to this globalization without brakes or rules have created, as never before in history, many opportunities for criminals to produce goods and services with slaves. Noted was how to educate demand and encourage producers to control their production chains strictly?

The webinar focused on demand as the root cause of human trafficking.  The discussion specifically centered on forced labor, the importance of supply chain control by producers, and the role of consumers.  Human trafficking is a heavy, complex phenomenon that requires broad cooperation between Governments and civil society, including religious organizations and communities.  We all need to address the root cause, which is a culture of striving for maximum profit, without consideration for the dignity of the human being, for decent work, and the environment.  In today’s throwaway culture, women, men, children are seen as a commodity that can be freely exploited, disposed of; an object for sale.

Nearly everything we consume – from clothing to the batteries in our mobile phones to the fish we eat – has forced labor and exploitation hidden somewhere inside its production. About 45.8 million people today are living in slave-like conditions.  More than $150 billion in profits are generated annually by businesses employing slavery and exploitation.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), decent work[1] pays a fair income, guarantees a secure form of employment and safe working conditions, ensures equal opportunity and treatment for all, includes social protection for the workers and their families, offers prospects for personal development and encourages social integration, and is when workers are free to express their concerns and participate in the decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Decent work and economic growth represent integral elements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development[2].  Child labor increased to 160 million[3] – the first increase in two decades. During the pandemic, 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy risk losing their livelihoods. The barriers to decent work are lack of education, especially on workers’ rights, weak collective action culture and lack of bargaining power, risk of debt relationships, and risk to controlled movement.

Amidst the dark realities, we see glimpses of hope.  A new regulatory system from governments includes setting up a public-private monopolist enterprise as an off-taker.  Multilateral agencies (OECD, ILO, UNICEF) are more involved in consultation with local communities.  Civil society has more activism, consultation processes bottom-up (from the grassroots), and more attempts towards formalization with the support of NHRIs[4] and NGOs.  Companies are involved in multi-stakeholder initiatives.  And local organizations engage in the transfer of know-how, experimenting with new forms of social business cooperatives.

Andrzej Owca, CSSp – VIVAT International, Geneva



[2] Cf. target 8.3 and 8.7 –

[3] The ILO and UNICEF warn that 9 million additional children are at risk as a result of COVID-19 pandemic

[4] National Human Rights Institutions