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. According to the latest global estimates, about 50 million people were living in modern slavery in 2021. While modern slavery predominantly impacts vulnerable individuals and communities, such as impoverished women and girls from the Global South, it is important to note that people of any age, gender, or race can be affected by this issue.CHRI’s Work

Our most recent work on issues of contemporary forms of slavery include reports like Children, Not Workers: Community Based Responses To Child Labour In The Wake Of The Covid-19 Pandemic, (December 2022) and Global Supply Chains & Covid-19: Exposing Exploitation In The Personal Protective Equipment Sector In Malaysia And Australia (March 2023).

Since 2016, CHRI  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  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.’ This commitment was also  reiterated  in the CHOGM 2022 communique .

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 80 national and local civil society organisations who share a common vision to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking. The 8.7 Network operates as a platform for exchanging knowledge on country-specific and thematic issues, as well as best practices. Through collaboration and partnerships, the Network aims to raise awareness, enhance capacity, offer support to survivors, and promote changes to laws and policies. In 2019, the Commonwealth 8.7 Network received the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s ‘Innovation for Sustainable Development Award’.  Follow the Network on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for regular updates on our work.

Research and Publications

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

Global Supply Chains & Covid-19: Exposing Exploitation In The Personal Protective Equipment Sector In Malaysia And Australia: Published in March 2023, this report examines the exploitative working conditions amongst businesses involved in PPE production in Malaysia, and highlights the inadequate state and private sector responses to detect and remedy abuses or prosecute crimes related to labour exploitation and slavery-like practices. It also examines the anti-slavery safeguards under the Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018, and finds that despite its provisions, some Australian businesses continued to trade with suppliers widely reported to be in breach of human rights standards in Malaysia.

The report also provides a number of recommendations, to address the challenges of eradicating forced labour and slavery-like practices in supply chains.

 Children, Not Workers: Community Based Responses To Child Labour In The Wake Of The Covid-19 Pandemic: Published in December 2022, this report showcases efforts by a range of stakeholders, including governments, civil society organisations, and communities, to address the risks and increase of child labour caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in three Commonwealth countries: Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana, and Sri Lanka.

The three cases studies in the report show how governments, businesses, unions, civil society organisations, young people’s associations, and community leaders can work together to tackle child labour - an aim that is integral to setting the Commonwealth on the path to  sustainable development.

Domestic Work is Work: Using Ilo Convention 189 To Protect Workers Rights Across The Commonwealth: Published in December 2021, this report explores the situation of domestic workers and the status of ratification of C189 in specific Commonwealth countries. It includes five Commonwealth nations that have yet to ratify C189: United Kingdom, Uganda, India, Papua New Guinea, and Dominica. These countries were selected because their governments have either committed to ratifying C189, are considering ratification, or face mounting local civil society pressure to ratify - all suggesting some momentum for change. Each case study focuses on the challenges facing domestic workers and explores actions that both governments and civil society can take to support domestic workers and promote C189.

This report also includes two additional case studies - countries that have shown their commitment to protecting the rights of domestic workers and advancing decent work for all by ratifying C189: Jamaica and South Africa. These stories of good practice provide insights into lessons learnt for effective civil society advocacy and government collaboration. The ratification stories of Jamaica and South Africa also exemplify the power of strategic grassroots advocacy for bringing about essential change.

‘Eradicating Modern Slavery: An assessment of Commonwealth governments’ progress on achieving SDG Target 8.7’ produced in partnership with Walk Free, was 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.

Published two years after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2018 commitments to eradicate all forms of contemporary slavery and the launch of the Commonwealth Roadmap to SDG 8.7, this report concludes that progress has been insufficient. To achieve the 2030 target of eradicating contemporary slavery, urgent and concrete action is imperative.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 will be home to 30.4% of the world’s population by 2050, which will put additional strain on limited global resources, increasing the number of potential victims.

Advocacy and Capacity Building

CHRI undertakes advocacy at international level by engaging with 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. As a Commonwealth Accredited institution, we also engage the Commonwealth Heads of States and Government at CHOGM which is held every two years.

On 21 March 2021, CHRI and Walk Free jointly organised a High Level Dialogue entitled, ‘Delivering a Common Future to Eradicate Modern Slavery’ as part of the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The Dialogue introduced the eradication of modern slavery as an integral action point for the delivery of a common future and called for its inclusion at the upcoming CHOGM. It reminded Commonwealth States of their commitments to eradicate modern slavery and encouraged them to develop and implement concrete plans for the realisation of these commitments. The Dialogue was attended by representatives from 25 High Commissions (17 Canberra and 8 London), and over 150 participants from Australian and UK Government, Commonwealth accredited organisations, Australian Human Rights Commission, academic institutions, and civil society. Keynote addresses were  delivered by the following personalities: Assistant Minister Jason Wood and Senator James Paterson, Chair of PJCIS in Canberra, Theresa May MP, former UK Prime Minister, and Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the UN Human Rights Council in London.  Interventions were also made by the High Commissioners of Vanuatu, Tonga, UK, Cyprus in Canberra, and by High Commissioners of Australia, The Bahamas, and Fiji. :

We marked the World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June 2021,  with the release of a new video, ‘A conversation with Homes of Hope Fiji, Aparajeyo-Bangladesh and NACTAL Nigeria’. As Secretariat to the Commonwealth 8.7 Network, CHRI spoke with member organisations that work to end child labour and exploitation in Fiji, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. They shared their thoughts on  the barriers to end child labour, the impact their organisations have made, and what governments need to do to fulfil their commitments to eradicate child labour. Watch here:

-On 24 September 2020, in collaboration 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 our 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 strengthen 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, thereby 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.