Contemporary forms of slavery

What We do

Contemporary forms of slavery


Strengthening the Commonwealth to Achieve SDG Target 8.7

Eradication of Contemporary Forms of Slavery

The Issue

Tens of millions of people – women, men and children - are held in conditions of contemporary forms of slavery across all regions of the world, as those exploiting them continue to expand their increasingly sophisticated operations. The International Labour Organization estimated in 2016 that 40.3 million people were held in modern slavery, and it is estimated that 40% of those enslaved are within the Commonwealth. Although modern slavery affects people and communities who are vulnerable - for example, women and girls from the Global South who also live in poverty - modern slavery can affect people of any age, gender or race.

CHRI’s Work

Since 2016, CHRI has urged all Commonwealth states to adhere to their commitment to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 8.7 to ‘take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, human trafficking, prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour including the use of child soldiers, end modern slavery, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.

This commitment has received public support from Commonwealth governments who, in the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Communiqué, called for ‘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 in all its forms by 2025, including the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers.’

CHRI’s programme supporting the achievement of SDG Target 8.7 and the eradication of contemporary forms of slavery focuses on awareness raising, research, advocacy, network building and knowledge sharing, and capacity building.

Commonwealth 8.7 Network

In July 2019, CHRI launched the Commonwealth 8.7 Network, an international member-driven network with over 60 national and local civil society organisation members who share a common vision to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking. The 8.7 Network serves as a knowledge-sharing platform for country-specific and thematic issues and good practice, and works collaboratively and through partnerships to raise awareness, build capacity, provide support to survivors, and advocate for change to laws and policies.

In 2019, the Commonwealth 8.7 Network received the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Innovation for Sustainable Development Award.

Research and Publications

CHRI produces reports based on rigorous research. These reports document the violations and abuses that persist, monitor government progress, and provide recommendations to achieve the goal of eradicating contemporary forms of slavery:

‘Eradicating Modern Slavery: An assessment of Commonwealth governments’ progress on achieving SDG Target 8.7’ was produced in partnership with Walk Free, and launched on 30 July 2020 - World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. This report highlights Commonwealth government action and inaction to tackle contemporary forms of slavery using 104 indicators of the Global Slavery Index, as well as an additional 48 indicators developed by CHRI.

Two years on from the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Communiqué commitments to take effective measures to eradicate all forms of contemporary slavery, and the launch of the Commonwealth Roadmap to SDG 8.7, this report finds that progress has been too slow and concrete action is urgently needed to achieve the target to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery by 2030.

This comprehensive report presents global and regional recommendations to Commonwealth Member States to achieve SDG Target 8.7 and eradicate modern slavery, focusing on  five areas: supporting survivors; strengthening criminal justice; improving coordination and accountability; addressing risk factors; and eradicating exploitation from supply chains.

The Commonwealth Roadmap to SDG 8.7’ was launched in December 2018, following the development of an Indicator Framework to supplement the Global Slavery Index. This report provides a roadmap for effective action towards eradicating all forms of contemporary slavery in Commonwealth countries and proposes an Indicator Framework to measure progress. The report identifies four areas of action that can accelerate progress to meet the Commonwealth’s ambition of eradicating modern slavery by 2025: social norms, attitudes and behaviours; law and policy frameworks; social and economic assets and safety nets; and robust data collection.

Creating an Effective Coalition to Achieve SDG 8.7’ was launched in April 2018 during the CHOGM in London. It calls upon the Heads of Commonwealth Governments to take effective measures to eradicate all forms of contemporary slavery. This report outlines the complexity of the violations and abuses encompassed within SDG Target 8.7: the legacy of colonialism, rapid population growth, poverty, unchecked economic globalisation, conflict, political instability, and weakened governance have created a fertile environment for high levels of forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking, child labour, and child soldiers. Commonwealth States are forecast to be home to 30.4% of the world’s population by 2050, which will put a further strain on limited resources, increasing the number of potential victims.

Advocacy and Capacity Building

CHRI undertakes advocacy at international level, engaging through Commonwealth institutions and UN human rights mechanisms, including raising awareness of human rights issues and contributing to international standard setting processes. This includes regular engagement at UN Human Rights Council (HRC) sessions, as well as engagement in UPR processes, and with relevant Special Procedures.

On 24 September 2020, in conjunction with the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Contemporary forms of slavery and the Commonwealth 8.7 Network, CHRI London hosted a virtual side-event parallel to the HRC’s 45th Regular Session, titled: Contemporary Forms of Slavery and COVID-19: Mitigating risks, addressing challenges, and identifying good practices. This event explored the impact of COVID-19 on contemporary forms of slavery, and what States and CSOs can do to address these challenges. Panellists included Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, UK International Ambassador for Human Rights, and CSO representatives from the Commonwealth 8.7 Network based in India and Canada. A recording of this webinar can be found here.

As part of CHRI’s focus on building capacity of stakeholders and CSOs in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to understand, navigate and use the UN human rights mechanisms as a tool to support their advocacy for change at national and regional level, CHRI supported representatives from Pacific Island CSOs to attend sessions of the HRC, engage with human rights mechanisms and inter-governmental agencies, liaise with international NGOs, promoting awareness of human rights issues in the region.

As part of this broader programme, in September 2019, CHRI brought civil society representatives from Fiji and Vanuatu to the 42nd session of the HRC in Geneva, to highlight issues of contemporary forms of slavery, in particular the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls in the Pacific, through meetings, dialogues, written and oral statements to the Council, as well as a CHRI organised side-event. See the oral statement by Homes of Hope, Fiji and the side event, which was supported by the office of the Special Rapporteur for contemporary forms of slavery, entitled Human Trafficking in the Pacific. See also our article published by the Commonwealth Secretariat.

In September 2017, the Commonwealth Secretariat and CHRI, in partnership with the governments of Australia and the UK, held a panel discussion on "Ending Modern Day Slavery - Achieving Goal 8.7: Sustainable and inclusive development through eradication of forced labour, ending modern slavery and human trafficking, and securing the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour". This side event was held in parallel to the 39th regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

COVID-19 and contemporary forms of slavery

Victims and survivors of contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking are facing increasing vulnerability as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 and the lockdown and other measures that governments have imposed in their efforts to control the pandemic. See our full statement on the impact of COVID-19 on contemporary forms of slavery here.