This Policy Brief by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) draws on a rapid assessment of relevant evidence to set out the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for modern slavery, and lessons that can be learned for future crisis situations. The Brief addressed three key questions and rated the quality of evidence on each as Green, Amber or Red. Findings and recommendations have been tailored for UK-based policymakers and businesses, given the Modern Slavery PEC’s current focus on these groups.
Scale and nature: how has modern slavery changed during the Covid-19 pandemic?
- Evidence shows that the pandemic has increased vulnerability to modern slavery all over the world, including in the UK, as many of the underlying drivers of modern slavery have worsened, such as poverty, inequality and unemployment.
- Evidence suggests certain population groups, sectors and geographies have become more vulnerable to modern slavery during the pandemic. For example, vulnerability has increased to a greater degree in low- and middle-income countries, and for already vulnerable groups such as children, migrant and informal workers, and women and girls.
- Most research has focused on the heightened vulnerability to forced labour in supply chains for workers in low- and middle-income countries, with more limited research into how the pandemic has affected other forms, such as trafficking for sexual exploitation.
- Some evidence suggests that traffickers adapted their methods during the pandemic; increased online recruitment and exploitation was a common theme. Evidence base is robust and well-established There is some robust evidence but there remain gaps in understanding There is very little robust evidence Perspectives of people with lived experience of modern slavery A key concern raised was that lockdowns and the associated isolation from friends and family increased anxiety and mental health issues, and exacerbated the sense of ‘limbo’ many people with lived experience already experience when waiting for the outcome of National Referral Mechanism and immigration decisions.
- In the UK, identification of potential victims of modern slavery appeared to be affected by the pandemic, with declining numbers of adults identified, linked to reduced international travel, but marked increases in the number of ‘county lines’ referrals, mostly involving UK national children.
Government and business responses to the pandemic: what are the implications for modern slavery?
- Government-mandated lockdowns, which were important protective public health measures, had the most significant direct and indirect negative impacts for modern slavery.
- The pandemic response limited opportunities to identify and support people affected by modern slavery across the world. Investigation and prosecution of modern slavery was disrupted. The pandemic reduced direct modern slavery prevention efforts, and Government resources were re-prioritised to focus on addressing the pandemic.
- Business measures taken in response to Covid-19 meant that workers in lower tiers of supply chains were more vulnerable to forced labour and that brands and retailers could not undertake standard due diligence activities.
- Despite these challenges, there are multiple examples of promising practice in addressing modern slavery during the pandemic, such as businesses improving supply chain visibility and ongoing provision of Government and NGO support to survivors through remote methods.
Outlook: What is the longevity of the changes in modern slavery (and responses to it) observed during the pandemic?
- The economic impact of the pandemic will likely mean that the increased vulnerability to modern slavery observed during the pandemic will persist in the short to medium term (i.e. at least the next 1-3 years), especially in low- and middle-income countries, which is likely to affect workers in supply chains for goods to the UK. The re-prioritisation of government spending to address pandemic recovery risks may further reduce resourcing to address modern slavery
Read full report here.