Opinion

Why the UK Government Needs to Do More to Combat Modern Slavery

By Michael Posner

Michael Posner

Modern slavery is not limited to one person literally owning another, though in some isolated instances that still occurs. Rather, it takes on different forms, mostly involving various types of exploitative work, such as forced labor or debt bondage, where a person is coerced to work to pay off an onerous debt.

More than 35 million people around the world are subject to modern-day slavery, a quarter of them children. Victims include women who are trafficked for prostitution or forced marriage and people coerced into bonded or forced labor.  In recent years, there has been a growing international effort to persuade governments to address modern slavery more aggressively, including by holding companies legally accountable for abuses in their global supply chains. This initiative has been led by organizations like Focus on Labor Exploitation (FLEX),  Anti-Slavery International, and  KnowTheChain, and it has been supported by such organizations as the Freedom Fund  and Humanity United.

Modern slavery is not limited to one person literally owning another, though in some isolated instances that still occurs.  Rather, it takes on different forms, mostly involving various types of exploitative work, such as forced labor or debt bondage, where a person is coerced to work to pay off an onerous debt. The common thread is that vulnerable people are being forced to work in dehumanizing conditions through some form of compulsion or threat of abuse. In an increasingly globalized economy, where goods and services are routinely outsourced, and where global buyers compete on the basis of reduced production costs, millions of human beings are being trafficked against their will because they offer a source of cheap labor.

In 2015, the United Kingdom passed the Modern Slavery Act, becoming the first country in the world to compel companies to report on their efforts to combat these abhorrent practices. While this legislation was an initial, useful step forward, an Independent Review of the law by members of the U.K. Parliament has identified serious deficiencies in the act’s reporting framework. The gaps they noted are emblematic of the current challenges governments face in holding companies accountable for abuses in their global supply chains. More importantly, the reforms the British lawmakers propose offer other governments a practical road-map to address these exploitative labor practices in a truly effective 

Read the full Forbes article.
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Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.