Be informed. Be challenged. Be inspired.

World needs workers’ rights ‘revolution’ to end modern slavery – experts

Thomson Reuters Foundation

The world will not end modern-day slavery by focusing on legal action alone and should back a workers’ rights “revolution” to protect people from exploitation and forced labour, lawyers, academics and campaigners have told a conference.

Governments regard modern slavery and trafficking mainly as a criminal matter rather than as a human rights and labour issue, yet have secured very few prosecutions for forced labor, several experts told an annual conference at US-based Yale University.

Countries must instead concentrate on ensuring workers have labour rights and the power to organise and collectively demand better pay and conditions, said Martina Vandenberg, president of the Washington-based Human Trafficking Legal Center.

Modern slavery is increasingly seen as a major global issue – with an estimated 40 million people enslaved – but there is growing debate on the best ways to achieve a UN target of ending the $US150 billion a year crime by 2030.

“Forced labour cases are expensive, lengthy and demand a lot of political will,” Vandenberg told the conference on slavery.

“We need to move to something revolutionary…not more law but more organising, workers’ rights and power to the people.”

Britain in 2015 passed the landmark Modern Slavery Act – which introduced life sentences for traffickers – and nations from Australia and India are mulling tough anti-slavery laws.

About 20 million people globally were estimated in 2016 to be forced to work – excluding victims of the sex trade – yet there were only 1,038 prosecutions worldwide for labor trafficking that year, according to US State Department data.

This would represent one prosecution for every 19,270 victims of forced labor, based on calculations by the Thomson Reuters Foundation using the data and a United Nations estimate.

“We’re not looking to prosecute slavery; we’re looking to end it,” said Laura Germino, anti-slavery director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a Florida farm workers alliance.

Businesses face growing regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure employees in their supply chains are treated fairly, yet workers seeking to organise often encounter resistance from management who fear the power of unions, according to activists.

“The opposite of trafficking isn’t no trafficking – it is the ability of migrants and workers to organise to demand their rights,” said Jennifer Rosenbaum, US director of Global Labor Justice, a trans-national network of worker and migrant groups.

“It is labour organising and labour organisation building that creates conditions where states and courts can be opened up to a rights based approach, and companies can be held accountable.”

Yet countless workers in the growing so-called gig economy – who lack fixed contracts and operate on a self-employed basis entitling them to only basic protections – risk being left behind, said Eileen Boris, a professor at California University.

“Independent contractors have less freedom than traditional workers and are facing more exploitation because of the nature of the job market,” she said.



sight plus logo

Sight+ is a new benefits program we’ve launched to reward people who have supported us with annual donations of $26 or more. To find out more about Sight+ and how you can support the work of Sight, head to our Sight+ page.



We’re interested to find out more about you, our readers, as we improve and expand our coverage and so we’re asking all of our readers to take this survey (it’ll only take a couple of minutes).

To take part in the survey, simply follow this link…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.