Commonwealth Parliamentarians take steps to tackle modern slavery

By Katharine Bryant

Last Thursday, I had the honour of participating in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference on Human Rights and the Rule of Law.

Taking place over three days, the event brought together parliamentarians from 18 Commonwealth countries and beyond to discuss how Human Rights Committees can play a role in upholding human rights. The last day focused on modern slavery, drawing attention to the threat that human trafficking and slavery has on respect for human rights.

I participated in a question and answer session with parliamentarians to highlight the role that NGOs can play in the fight against modern slavery. By providing evidence from the 2016 Global Slavery Index, I emphasised that modern slavery affects all countries in the world.

In 2016, we estimated that some 45.8 million are in some form of modern slavery. Approximately 55 percent of these individuals are in commonwealth countries. By engaging with NGOs and businesses, Commonwealth parliamentarians and Human Rights Committees are in a unique position to review and to help strengthen responses to modern slavery.

In my closing speech, I explained that, for me, the conference highlighted the key roles that NGOs, businesses and governments play in the fight against modern slavery.

NGOs share information regarding the types of modern slavery they have identified and any subsequent gaps in legislative and policy responses. They also act as a watchdog and hold governments to account.

In an increasingly globalised world, businesses are well placed to share the impact these policy responses have on their global operations. They are in a unique position to advocate for responses that are pro-business and uphold respect for human rights, such as the UK Modern Slavery Act.

And finally, parliamentarians have direct influence to ensure that governments are enacting relevant and effective legislation.

All these groups need to work collaboratively to scrutinise existing and future legislation and to provide oversight whether this legislation is being effectively implemented.

The goal of any anti-trafficking and anti-slavery response is encouraging trust and confidence between these groups, and ultimately with victims. The goal is, after all, getting these victims to safety.

Keeping this in mind, taking a holistic approach involving business, NGOs and parliamentarians is one of the most effective ways to free 45.8 million people from modern slavery.