On Slavery Abolition Day, Ban warns of enslavement, trafficking risks for refugees, migrants

Bonded child labourer, Pakistan. Photo: ILO/M.Crozet

2 December 2015 – With more than 60 million people driven from their homes and millions more crossing borders to seek a better life, the risk of mounting human trafficking and enslavement with all its “horrific abuse” must be confronted, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today.

“Slavery has many modern forms, from the children toiling as domestic servants, farmhands and factory workers, to the bonded labourers struggling to pay off ever-mounting debts, to the victims of sex trafficking who endure horrific abuse,” he said in a message marking the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

“Although statistics about these crimes are difficult to compile, experts estimate that nearly 21 million people are enslaved in our world today. We have a responsibility to them – and to all those at risk – to end this outrage,” he stressed.

“This is all the more important in our era of severe humanitarian crises. More than 60 million people have been driven from their homes. They may be at risk of trafficking and enslavement – along with millions of others crossing borders in search of a better life,” the UN chief explained.

The Day marks the General Assembly's adoption on 2 December 1949 of the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.

Mr. Ban noted that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by world leaders at a UN summit in September offers a framework to fundamentally alter conditions fuelling poverty, specifically setting the goals of eradicating forced labour and human trafficking and ending all forms of modern slavery and child labour.

“As we strive to achieve these targets, we must also rehabilitate freed victims and help them integrate into society,” he said, noting that the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery has for over two decades extended humanitarian, financial and legal aid to tens of thousands of victims worldwide, making a meaningful difference in their lives.

“I urge Member States, businesses, private foundations and other donors to demonstrate their commitment to ending slavery by ensuring that this Fund has the resources to fulfil its mandate,” concluded the Secretary-General.

At the same time, International Labour Organization (ILO) Executive Director, Guy Ryder called on governments to ratify ILO's Forced Labour Protocol to make a real change in the lives of the 21 million people worldwide who are trapped in modern slavery.

“Slavery is a fundamental abuse of human rights and a major obstacle to social justice. It is an affront to our humanity and it has no place in the twenty-first century. And yet 21 million women, men and children are still trapped in forced labour all over the world, generating USD 150 billion in illicit profits for those who exploit them,” said Mr. Ryder in a message, marking the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

Mr. Ryder observed that each day men, women and children are “tricked or coerced into abhorrent situations including bonded labour, prostitution and exploitative domestic work”.

He also noted that while global commitment to end modern slavery has gained momentum, the current responses still fall short of addressing the entirety of the challenge or its root causes.

“Ending modern slavery requires strong legislation, strict implementation, joint commitment of countries and social partners, along with effective support systems for the victims. Effective measures on prevention, protection and access to justice are exactly what the ILO Forced Labour Protocol adopted by our Conference last year addresses,” said Mr. Ryder.

The ILO chief called on the governments, who “overwhelmingly” voted for the Protocol, to ratify and implement it.

Further, Mr. Ryder said that African countries have been leading the progress with Niger being the first country to ratify the Protocol and countries of the Southern African Development Community all calling for immediate ratification.

He also added that the second ratification by Norway in November will enter into force in one year's time.

“If fully implemented, the Protocol's provisions on remedies and compensation will not only provide justice to the many victims of forced labour - through damages and unpaid wages won back from perpetrators, it will also make it less profitable to use forced labour and help to combat unfair competition,” said Mr. Ryder.

Additionally, he also underscored the activities undertaken to help eliminating modern slavery, such as the 50 for Freedom campaign, which sets a target of 50 ratifications of the Protocol by 2018.

Speaking about the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 8 of the Agenda 2030, on promoting Decent Work and inclusive and sustainable growth, Mr. Ryder stressed that to achieve social justice forced labour must be eliminated and that “it is not negotiable”.

“To make a real change in the lives of the 21 million men, women and children in forced labour - let's not just be angry at slavery, let's make change happen,” concluded Mr. Ryder.


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On Day to Abolish Slavery, UN urges end to modern-day scourge trapping 21 million

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Descendants of slaves: Ancestral land. Credit: United Nations


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