Governments must do more to prevent slavery, exploitation amid pandemic – UN experts


UN human rights experts said, states must raise their protective measures as COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of vulnerable people to be pushed into slavery, trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The experts issued the statement for the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which marks the day in 1949 that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the first Convention to fight human trafficking.

The statement said that “the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the direct connection between increased socio-economic vulnerability, discrimination and the risk of exploitation, including the worst forms of child labour, trafficking in persons and sexual exploitation”.

The UN experts said workers in low income and emerging economies have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic with loss of employment, income or land.

They said the most affected groups are often subjected to discrimination and should be at the centre of States’ and businesses’ policy responses.

These groups include women, children, young people, migrants and their families, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, LGBT persons, older workers, members of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, persons deprived of liberty, workers in informal economies as well as refugees, internally displaced persons and stateless persons fleeing from conflict and post-conflict zones.

Limited access to adequate housing, drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, health care, and education further increases vulnerability, so improvement of basic services should be part of any compressive response by the State, the statement said.

It also added that if workers don’t receive adequate economic, social and other support from governments, they face serious risk of exploitation, including being subjected to slavery, servitude, forced or bonded labour, or trafficking in persons.

The rights experts are concerned that these practices have increased in the past months and victims are further subjected to ill-treatment, torture, or even disappearance.

They call upon States to strengthen social and labour protection frameworks by combatting existing inequalities based on a number of grounds including sex, gender, age, race and other factors that increase the vulnerability of certain populations to slavery and exploitation.

They said that at a time of heightened risk for children, greater investments of resources for child protection are urgently needed.

“We call upon Member States and other entities to address the structural causes that contribute to slavery and exploitation and continue providing support to those offering comprehensive assistance to victims,” the experts’ statement said.

These supports include contributions to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.

The Fund will convene a webinar with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and other international experts to showcase the work of civil society organizations to aid racially discriminated groups subjected to slavery during the global pandemic. (Source: OHCHR)