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COVID-19 and its effect on modern slavery

21 July 2021 at 4:22 pm
Nikki Stefanoff
The pandemic has had a major impact on people experiencing forms of exploitation and modern slavery, says a new report.

Nikki Stefanoff | 21 July 2021 at 4:22 pm


COVID-19 and its effect on modern slavery
21 July 2021 at 4:22 pm

The pandemic has had a major impact on people experiencing forms of exploitation and modern slavery, says a new report.

Remote working, national lockdowns and the inability to travel have increased the risks of modern slavery, new research shows.

The Good Practice in Protecting People from Modern Slavery report, by UK-based international human rights organisation Minority Rights Group (MRG) and its partners, found that investigations, prosecutions and punishments of modern slavery, including labour inspections, have been disrupted or delayed during the pandemic.

Many governments around the world have chosen to relax or suspend labour and social protection in order to cope with the economic impacts of the pandemic, which has left workers vulnerable to instances of abuse and exploitation. 

“An increase in demand for labour in some sectors has enabled exploitation and abuse of workers. For instance, the workload of health and social care and domestic workers has increased during the pandemic,” the research showed. 

“Instances of abuse and exploitation, including worsening living and working conditions, have been reported among factories producing PPE and in the agricultural sector.”

People who lost their jobs during the pandemic have been left particularly vulnerable, with the report finding that unemployment was a key factor in pushing workers into slavery, forced labour, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. 

The research also found an uptick in the number of people moving from the formal to the informal economy, which is characterised by casualisation, precariousness and lack of sufficient protection from governments, in various parts of the world — the hardest hit were those in low-income regions (i.e. Asia, Africa and Latin America) where informal work constitutes more than 90 per cent of the workforce. 

This in turn has had a knock-on effect, with a large number of informal workers losing their jobs globally.  

But the report did also identify best practice in protecting victims and affected workers, these fell under three categories: 

  1. Anti-slavery actions

Many governments have continued their law enforcement responses and protection of victims, whilst civil society organisations have been playing a crucial role in protecting victims.

  1. Mitigating unemployment

Good practices in mitigating unemployment caused during the pandemic are emerging, with job retention through wage subsidies, cash transfers and other support provided to vulnerable populations.

  1. Improving working and living conditions

Measures to improve working conditions have been facilitated, particularly around health and safety measures such as staggered working hours, social distancing and provision of PPE, as well as financial support schemes, have been provided to those who contracted the virus.

You can read the full report here

Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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