What works to end modern slavery? A review of evidence on policy and interventions in the context of markets

What works to end modern slavery? A review of evidence on policy and interventions in the context of markets

What works to end modern slavery? A review of evidence on policy and interventions in the context of markets

This blog post is part of our effort to support the goals of SDG Target 8.7, which saw 193 countries pledge their commitment to take effective measures to eradicate modern slavery, human trafficking, and forced and child labour. Towards that we are sharing work under Delta 8.7—part of the SDG Target 8.7 that aims to help policy actors understand and use data responsibly to inform policies that contribute to achieving Target 8.7. 

In 2015, United Member States committed to taking action against modern slavery by 2030. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 8.7 entailed an undertaking by States to:

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.

Yet exactly what constitutes ‘effective measures’ to end these practices remains ambiguous. Although efforts to produce reliable data on antislavery interventions, as well as work to improve access to data, have increased in recent years, the need for a more robust understanding of the current evidence base on ‘what works’ remains. This review provides a snapshot of extant literature, identifying key learnings, trends, and gaps in our understanding of what works in the context of Markets.

1.1. Objectives of the study

The purpose of the study was to examine what is known about effective policy to achieve SDG Target 8.7 in the context of Markets, by: (1) collecting and collating existing evidence on what works; (2) identifying the range of claims captured in academic and grey literature, and the evidentiary foundations of these claims; and (3) conducting mixed methods analysis of strengths, weaknesses, and trends in the evidence base. As such, the overarching research question for this study was:

What is known about works at the State and multinational policy level to address modern slavery in the context of Markets?

Markets in this context is understood as encompassing economic policy, trade policy, financial policy, development policy, and supply chains. The study further considers additional cross-cutting themes (applicable in the context of Markets, but also in the parallel contexts of Justice and Crisis), namely gender, education, social policy, and climate and environment.

This study is intended to inform the development of a Policy Guide by Delta 8.7 and the global expert Working Group convened by the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research (UNU-CPR). The Policy Guide is intended to help identify the mix of multilateral and national policies needed to accelerate progress towards SDG 8.7 in the broad policy domain of Markets. The Policy Guide is targeted towards an audience of multilateral and national-level policymakers. The review therefore focuses specifically on findings relevant to national and multilateral policy, within the specific area of Markets.

1.2. Summary of findings

The past decade has experienced a boom in antislavery activity, with increasing visibility, coordination, and funding in the sector. In this period, the role of private actors— corporations, employers, financial institutions—in combatting modern slavery has increasingly been brought into light, and in some cases embedded in the law. In 2011, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act signalled a change in the way human trafficking and modern slavery in corporate supply chains would be dealt with, followed in 2015 by section 54 of the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act, in 2017 by France’s Duty of Vigilance law, in 2018 by Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, and in 2019 by the Dutch Child Labour Due Diligence Law.1 At the same time, the international community firmly embedded efforts to address modern slavery within the rubric of development, not only in SDG target 8.7, but in 5.3 (addressing child, early, and forced marriage), 8.5 (seeking to secure decent work), 8.8. (protecting labour rights), and 16.2 (addressing abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against children), and the many other targets that intersect in the experiences of victims and survivors of modern slavery. This in conjunction with the development and endorsement of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, and increasing global engagement with this framework. The steady increase in the number of studies assessed in the review period over time (see Temporal trends) move alongside these developments and speak to the growing international interest and attention on the intersections between markets and modern slavery.

The relative recency of attention on the nexus between these two areas, and the new framework within which they are connected, has opened new avenues of enquiry in the antislavery space, and provided the opportunity for significant diversification of the field. Yet, at the same time, this means that the evidence base underpinning conclusions on what works is relatively sparse. Few studies included in this review involved direct engagement with private sector organisations, creating a risk that these studies fail to accurately capture the nuances and dynamics of the current situation in private sector contexts, and what might be possible in the future. While a few studies included interviews with private firms, direct engagement and collaboration in research in this area is certainly an area for further development. Further under-represented areas include investigation of how private actors could consider links between negative environmental and social impacts occurring in their supply chains.

Only a small proportion of records assessed in this study addressed how markets, and market forces, can (and should) be called upon to provide remediation to victims. This leaves little available evidence of best practice and fails to provide a solid-foundation for advocacy in this area. This was connected to a lack of literature considering the need for businesses to get closer to worker voice and provide effective grievance mechanisms, leaving little interrogation of the role of participatory processes in supporting prevention and effective responses. Further research (and practice) is therefore required into avenues for the empowerment of vulnerable and exploited workers within market structures.

Overall, there is substantial room for growth and development in strengthening the underpinning evidence base for effective measures to address modern slavery in the context of Markets. Yet, the positive trajectory in international attention on the intersection between these two areas provides an opportunity for this strengthening. Maintaining this momentum should be a focus for those operating at the intersection between markets and modern slavery, but with a deeper underlying commitment to ensuring that efforts adopted are evidence-based and effective at addressing modern slavery and not merely at maintaining corporate reputations.

1.3. Hypotheses

This review identified 15 distinct hypotheses about what works to address modern slavery in the context of Markets. These are addressed in turn in Section 4. Findings on what works. These hypotheses do not represent an exhaustive list of all claims identified in the records assessed, focusing on claims for which authors brought evidence to bear in testing the argument presented. It should further be noted that the records analysed in this review represent a limited cross-section of the wider evidence base (see further Section 2.2. Literature selection). The list of hypotheses below should not, therefore, be taken as an exhaustive list, but as indicative of the evidence base assessed in this review.

The 15 hypotheses concerning what works to address modern slavery in the context of Markets identified in this review are:

Hypothesis 1. Open trade across borders increases economic opportunities and stability, resulting in a decrease in modern slavery and child labour

Hypothesis 2. Cooperation with civil society organisations improves business efforts to address forced labour and human trafficking in their business operations

Hypothesis 3. Collaboration with Government improves private sector efforts to eradicate forced labour and human trafficking

Hypothesis 4. Ultimate buying firms working in collaboration with other buyers and suppliers in their supply chains improves the effectiveness of efforts to reduce forced labour and human trafficking in supply chains

Hypothesis 5. Government enforced, mandatory corporate reporting on modern slavery helps to tackle modern slavery

Hypothesis 6. Increased corporate liability provisions and/or financial penalties or incentives improve the private sector’s engagement in anti-slavery activity

Hypothesis 7. Corporate disclosure requirements on supply chains and supply chain risk are effective in improving the private sector’s approach to tackling modern slavery

Hypothesis 8. Access to fair employment in the labour market and/or related skills training is effective in preventing forced labour and human trafficking or reducing the risk of survivors being re-trafficked

Hypothesis 9. There is a positive relationship between the economic health of a state and the reduction/prevention of modern slavery

Hypothesis 10. Data on the scale of forced labour and human trafficking and the effectiveness of existing interventions would improve private sector action on forced labour and human trafficking

Hypothesis 11. Increased state regulation of the labour market would help eliminate forced labour and human trafficking

Hypothesis 12. Firms at the top of a supply chain applying more scrutiny to, and taking responsibility for, the recruitment practices within their produce/ services/ supply chains would help reduce risks of modern slavery down the supply chain

Hypothesis 13. Grievance mechanisms to identify modern slavery when it occurs and compensation initiatives to remediate workers as a result (in addition to prevention policies) support holistic efforts to address modern slavery in the workplace

Hypothesis 14. Engagement of Union/Worker Associations and/or an increased focus on worker voice mechanisms result in better identification and prevention of modern slavery in the workplace

Hypothesis 15. Treating modern slavery and child labour as issues in silo from other socio- economic issues risks causing unintended negative consequences upon other socio- economic issues and does not tackle the issue in a sustainable way

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