The UK is investing £20 million in the global fight to end modern slavery.
Prime Minister Theresa May made the announcement as world leaders gather in New York, for the 72nd United Nations General Assembly — which addresses the biggest problems facing the world today.
The money will be put towards the new Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, which will see the UK partnering with the United States to provide “seed funding” for the new initiative.
International Development Secretary Priti Patel described modern slavery as a “global phenomenon,” at an event hosted by Alliance 8.7 at the General Assembly, immediately after May’s announcement on Tuesday.
“Modern slavery… lurks in every corner of the globe and the world must come together to tackle it,” Patel said. “This is about our shared humanity — we cannot accept a world where human beings are sold on the market. We all have a role to play, we all need to rise to the challenge.”
In total, this means the UK will double its development spending on modern slavery to £150 million, meaning that more work can be done with the countries where modern slaves are first found by gangs and traffickers, and the countries through which they’re transported.
It will also seek to leverage $1.5 billion in global commitments to address the resourcing gap for modern slavery.
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Patel’s speech brought home the full extent of modern slavery in the world today, and highlighted that it is a global problem and that it affects every country.
If all enslaved people were brought together in a single country, it would be the 34th most populous country in the world, ahead of Poland and Canada.
“Today, in some countries it can be less difficult to move people across borders than drugs and guns,” Patel said. “Forced labour is a $150 billion industry — in comparison the global response is not sufficient.”
She continued: “In fact, the criminal networks that drive slavery sometimes seem a lot more organised than those who want to counter it. And that has to change.”
One of the most defining features of modern slavery, in whatever country it occurs, is that it targets the most vulnerable.
Patel described a recent visit to a safe house in Lagos, that supports girls and women who have been trafficked. Many of the victims were in their teens; one girl was just 7 years old.
“The horrors they have endured are unthinkable. And speaking to some of the survivors — you realise how completely the victims are deceived… lured in by promises of waitressing jobs and then trapped and exploited in the most brutal, dehumanising ways. These girls are abused, raped: their organs are taken and sold,” continued Patel.
“This is surely something we can all agree on here at the United Nations — to stand together against this horrific exploitation of human beings,” she said.
There are 37 countries worldwide that have signed up to a powerful call to action, to end forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking for everyone, everywhere. It has a simple message: “We will not tolerate this exploitation in our societies.”
But it also sets out practical actions that countries can take to end slavery in their societies.
These actions include creating and publishing national strategies for tackling modern slavery; strengthening law enforcement; and giving the victims justice, care, and support.
It sends out a message to the rest of the international community who are yet to join the fight, calling for better evidence, more resourcing, and a more united response.
“This has the potential to be a turning point in the fight against modern slavery… the moment the world stood up and said enough is enough,” Patel continued.
The UK commitment comes as former Metropolitan Police chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has begun leading an initiative from the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers to call for concrete changes to make it harder for human traffickers and gang masters to operate in the UK.
The initiative will focus on five areas: closing businesses that use slave labour, giving survivors a second chance, encouraging the public to report cases, helping those trapped in slavery to come forward, and campaigning for new laws.
“The victims may not dare approach the authorities, so we have to help them realise that they won’t be judged harshly,” said Hogan-Howe. “It’s the traffickers, who are making money through this terrible exploitation, who need to be prosecuted.”