This rapid literature review provides evidence of key drivers of modern slavery. It draws on a mixture of academic and grey literature from multinational and bilateral institutions as well as non-government organisations (NGOs) and think tanks. Given the rapidly developing global context, it also draws on emerging opinions from blog posts and journalistic reports to provide evidence of current developments.
Modern slavery can take many different forms, including forced labour, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced sexual exploitation, descent-based slavery, child slavery and forced and early child marriage. Slavery is considered to be a hidden and diverse crime, and understanding vulnerability to slavery remains challenging, although a consensus about the broad factors that allow modern slavery to flourish is emerging. Five key drivers of modern slavery are identified in the literature (Walk Free,2019; 2018), these include:
- Governance issues: Which may include – Political Instability, Government Response, Women’s Physical Security, Political Rights, Regulatory Quality, Disabled Rights, Weapons Access;
- Lack of basic needs: Which may include – Undernourishment, Social Safety Net, Ability to Borrow Money, Tuberculosis, Access to Clean Water, Cell Phone Users;
- Inequality: Which may include – Ability to Obtain Emergency Funds, Violent Crime, Gini Coefficient, Confidence in the Judicial System;
- Disenfranchised groups: Which may include – Acceptance of Immigrants, Acceptance of Minorities, Same-Sex Rights;
- Effects of conflict: This may include – Impact of Terrorism, Internal Conflicts Fought, Internally Displaced Persons.
Addressing modern slavery is a significant challenge for governments, businesses, non-government organisations (NGOs), and society. Efforts are hampered by a range of factors, including a lack of understanding of the drivers that increase the risk of enslavement and the extent of the practice at national and sub-national levels. It is also clear that periods of uncertainty politically, economically, or socially can exacerbate risk factors for enslavement – the current COVID-19 pandemic is a case in point, rendering apparent deeply entrenched inequalities in society that may make individuals and groups more vulnerable to enslavement.
More broadly, vulnerability to modern slavery is affected by a complex interaction of factors related to the presence or absence of protection; respect for rights; physical safety and security; access to the necessities of life such as food, water, and health care; and patterns of migration, displacement, and conflict. These factors will also vary from context to context with a mix of causal/driving factors involved being different for each context.
Drivers of modern slavery rarely operate in isolation, often operating in concert, with drivers intersecting and exacerbating each other in complex ways. For example, the risk of exploitation in times and places of conflict and displacement is also influenced by the availability of resources and institutions to assist vulnerable populations. Furthermore, refugees may be vulnerable to exploitation while en route to safer destinations, as a means of survival in refugee camps or as a feature of their employment in their destination country.
Evidence suggests that the following will likely exert an influence on the prevalence of modern slavery in a number of contexts and require a deeper level of understanding. When reviewing this report it is important to acknowledge that given the hidden nature of modern slavery, evidence remains mixed and patchy.
- Serious and Organised Crime: Modern slavery is a complex crime, not only does there exist an enormous diversity in the landscape of organised criminal involvement in both trafficking and smuggling but also there is an enormous diversity as to the different types of actors active in these markets. In the global private economy, forced labour generates $150 billion each year, globally, employers and recruiters are increasingly exploiting gaps in international labour and migration law and enforcement. After drugs and arms, human trafficking is now the world’s third-biggest crime business. The internet presents a huge opportunity for criminals and criminal networks increasingly using technology to perpetrate their crimes. Modern slavery victims are being recruited or advertised online and the growing speed with which criminal groups are using cyber techniques is of great concern to law enforcement and governments.
- The resilience of vulnerable groups: Vulnerability to modern slavery manifests at international, domestic, and individual levels. Groups that face discrimination, including ethnic and religious minorities, women and children, and migrants and refugees, are vulnerable to enslavement. At particular risk are those fleeing war and armed conflict. At the international level, there exists a growing body of work on the links between climate change, environmental destruction and natural disasters, and the increased risk of exploitation and trafficking. At the domestic levels, there are several regulatory and legislative frameworks that research suggests can contribute to increased vulnerability e.g. migration and visa systems can play a role in making people vulnerable to exploitation. At an individual level, circumstances identified as increasing a person’s vulnerability are multifaceted.
- Transparency in supply chains: In recent years, the issue of modern slavery and its use in supply chains has come increasingly under the spotlight including among investors and private sector companies. This has been driven by a greater understanding of the scale and scope of the issue, policy debates including national modern slavery legislation the inclusion of a target to end modern slavery in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and heightened scrutiny from media and civil society. The issue of modern slavery presents a significant challenge for companies in a wide range of sectors, particularly in supply chain strategies. Companies operating in an increasingly competitive global market – with complex supply chains across different sectors, countries, and business models – face multiple risks and challenges. They face commercial risks in bringing products to market at agreed quality, costs and timeframes, with the ability to respond quickly to changes in demand and the market
Finally, it is important to note that the most marginalised and at highest risk are those who are in more than one risk category, for instance, uneducated women who are attempting to migrate. Thus compounding of factors can make tackling the root causes of modern slavery more challenging: for instance, the authorities and local communities have less interest in supporting efforts in tackling the issues in migrant communities, or in ethnic minorities.