Around the world, 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery, and 152 million children are victims of child labor, according to the International Labor Organization. This is not a problem that any one nation can address and solve on their own, and as such, the eradication of modern slavery has become the focus of multilateral organizations such as the United Nations (UN). As part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 explicit Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets, the UN specifically calls on the eradication of modern slavery and human trafficking.
The SDGs build on the significant work done since 2000 as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to address some of the largest and most complicated social, economic, and environmental problems around the world. Although the previous eight MDGs that were in place from 2000-2015 did not explicitly address the issues of modern slavery or human trafficking, they did cover some of the push factors that could lead to increased trafficking such as extreme poverty and lack of decent employment for women, men, and young people. However, as a response to anti-trafficking organizations’ critiques of the MDGs, the newer SDGs made sure to explicitly address human trafficking and modern slavery.
The primary SDG relating to trafficking is SDG 8, which focuses on “promot[ing] inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.” and Target 8.7 directly calls for the end of trafficking and modern slavery. The target states:
“Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”
Organizations such as Alliance 8.7, named after the SDG Target, and their knowledge platform are taking steps towards achieving this goal through partnerships, research, and projects that address the eradication of human trafficking and modern slavery.
Target 8.7 is not the only SDG that addresses the complicated issue of human trafficking. Target 5.2 seeks to end violence against girls and women including trafficking and sexual exploitation, and Target 16.2 aims to end the abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of children.
Local, regional, and national governments have taken steps to track their efforts toward achieving the SDGs, including those relating to combatting human trafficking. For example, on the local level, cities such as Los Angles have set up activities indexes to track the projects by NGOs which work towards achieving a variety of SDGs within the city. In Montevideo, Uruguay, the city now provides free legal counseling and psychological services to victims of trafficking.
On the national level, many countries are collaborating with local stakeholders to tackle and measure the successful implementation of the anti-human trafficking SDGs. For example, Thailand has developed a system of Women and Family Development Learning Centers to help rehabilitate victims of human trafficking as part of their implementation of Target 5.2. Meanwhile, Australia has strengthened its criminalization of trafficking and partnered with local civil society organizations to provide comprehensive support for people suspected to have experienced human trafficking in an effort to reach Target 16.2.
In addition to the three targets, which explicitly seek to address human trafficking and modern slavery, many other SDGs tackle the various other factors that can lead to increased human trafficking and exploitation. These include the goals focusing on poverty eradication, ending high levels of inequality, ensuring quality education for all, providing labor protections for domestic and migrant workers, and re-enforcing protections for women and children. With the work being done by organizations like Alliance 8.7 and local, regional, and national governments, human trafficking, modern slavery, and child labor exploitation can be significantly decreased by 2030.
Talia Dunyak is a research fellow at Human Trafficking Search