Pandemic increases risk of modern slavery: rights experts

Warning signs of modern slavery. Infographic: Komal Fatima

Warning signs of modern slavery. Infographic: Komal Fatima

Labour rights experts have warned that the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is likely to increase the number of people at risk of modern slavery.

The UN University Centre for Policy Research says the spread of COVID-19 accelerates poverty and financial crises, which are some of the main causes of modern slavery.

It’s feared the pandemic will drive desperate people to dangerous work, with the International Labour Organisation estimating around 25 million global job losses linked to coronavirus.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is when one person in power or influence controls and exploits a vulnerable person through their resources.

A slave is someone who is legally bound to another person and is forced to obey their command and abide by their bidding – according to, there are 21 million to 45 million people trapped in some form of slavery today.

About 40 million people in the world are subject to modern slavery, and an estimated profit of $US150 billion is generated through modern slavery each year.

Slavery has been in existence for centuries but came into prominence in the 17th century when African natives were kidnapped and forced to be slaves in American colonies, exploited as servants and laborers.

Various countries on different timelines decided to abolish and nullify the concept entirely; gradually cultures who had adapted different forms of slavery (hired/bought/ kidnapped) and exploited human beings as slaves began to abolish the idea.

It so happened that generations of families were enslaved and faced mediocre to little compensation, with the abolishment of slavery taking centuries.

By contrast modern slavery has taken a different outlook in the form of exploitation including:

Bonded Labor: when labor is demanded to repay a loan, it is called Debt Bondage or Bonded Labor, with such debts often being passed on from generation to generation.

Forced Labor: forced labor is any work that people are forced to do against their will, with begging and prostitution some prominent examples of forced labor.

Physical Labor and Domestic Slavery: 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children, who are exploited in various jobs including but not limited to physical labor such as organised begging, selling products on street corners and domestic Slavery in the form of house help.

Human Trafficking or Organ harvesting: the buying or selling of human beings, physically or for body parts; every year, thousands of men, women, and children fall into the hands of traffickers.

World map of modern slavery. Infographic: Komal Fatima

The Challenges of Overcoming Modern Slavery

The chain of modern slavery runs deep and is well concealed so that in order to identify the sources various steps and measures are required from identifying those involved to exposing and prosecuting their crimes.

In 2018 the Australian government issued a Modern Slavery Act in order to stop or assess businesses that were at risk of modern slavery. It is “an Act to require some entities to report on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains and actions to address those risks, and for related purposes.”

According to the Modern Slavery Act, large organisations are required in Australia to submit a yearly statement on modern slavery.

This applies to any Australian organisation and foreign organisation conducting business in Australia who have yearly revenues of at least $AU100 million.

Most recently, the Australian federal government has temporarily extended the reporting deadlines for these businesses by three months, in recognition of coronavirus’ impact on modern slavery.