The Anti-Slavery Collective in conversation with James Cockayne

This time on our working from home conversations, we are speaking to Dr. James Cockayne, Director of the United Nations University (UNU) Centre for Policy Research. James directs UNU’s Modern Slavery Programme and is secretariat of the Liechtenstein Initiative for Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking.

We ask James about how COVID-19 will affect the achievement of Target 8.7 of the UN Sustainable Goals. At the 2020 World Economic Forum, James suggested that we would need to free 10,000 people from modern slavery every day for the next 10 years in order to eradicate slavery by 2030. Then, we were nowhere near that target. 5 months on, it is feared that we are even further, as COVID-19 exacerbates exploitation and increases vulnerability. 

Before the pandemic, James had participated in hopeful discussions with influential leaders in which they recognised the need for business to consider the risks not just to profit, but also to people and the planet. It is now clearer than ever that global supply chains and the global economy depend on the protection of the people who have been exploited for so long. COVID-19 has proved modern slavery is, as James says, a “market failure”; we had fooled ourselves that we can push the costs to the most vulnerable at the bottom of supply chains and keep all the profits at the top. James also points out that COVID-19 has proved that change is possible in a short time. If we all take fighting modern slavery as seriously as social distancing or hand-washing, we can implement change. 

COVID-19 and SDG 8.7

James emphasises that it is difficult to fully understand the impact of COVID-19 as we cannot accurately measure our progress towards the achievement of Target 8.7. Despite innovative tools like the Global Slavery Index, we still do not know the true extent of modern slavery. This is due to the hidden nature of the problem, but also the reprehensible lack of commitment to the progress of the goal.

Nevertheless, James explains that COVID-19 is likely to have increased vulnerability as it has increased the known risk factors. For example, the ILO has estimated that 25 million people could become unemployed as a result of the pandemic. The desperation and poverty that results from mass unemployment and a lack of income is known to be a key driver of modern slavery. 

James also expects that COVID-19 will have heightened the exploitation for those who are already in exploitative situations. For example, the risk for those who are victims of domestic servitude will have been heightened by lockdowns. They are already hidden away in private homes, where they are abused and forced to work long hours for little or no pay. It is likely that, during lockdowns, the exploitation has increased in the same way that there has been an increase in domestic violence.

What we can be sure of, James says, is that there will be less funding available for NGOs, government programmes and frontline responders. As vulnerability and exploitation are likely to have increased, it is important to discuss how we continue to support their anti-slavery efforts. 

If you want to find out more about this, read ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Modern Slavery,’ an article that James co-authored for Delta 8.7.

Modern Slavery and the Economy

Whilst we know that forced labour has an adverse, economic impact on the victim, many of us do not consider the adverse effect on the global economy. James explains how, in the long-term, the socio-economic costs of producing goods and services in an exploitative way far outweigh the short-term benefits. 

“We are not correctly pricing these labour practices. We think that the costs fall all on the people at the bottom end of our supply chains. Not true.” 

Dr. James Cockayne, World Economic Forum 2020

James uses the example of the research that the UK Home Office conducted into the costs of modern slavery to the public purse. It found that the average cost per victim of modern slavery is £328,720. This figure covers only the direct costs, such as the costs of health services, victim services, and law enforcement. It does not factor in the indirect costs of the enslaved being excluded from contributing to the economy.

James also mentions the recent research by the IMF that found that the eradication of child marriage could significantly improve economic growth. 

If child marriage were ended today, the long-term annual per capita growth in EMDCs would increase by 1.05 percentage points.

IMF, Does Child Marriage Matter for Growth?

Child marriage is prevalent across many emerging and developing countries. Whilst there has been much research into the adverse impact of child marriage on “population growth, health, education, and earnings – and more broadly, poverty-reduction and income inequality,” this paper is the first to look at its overall impact on economic growth. 

What can you do? 

James acknowledges that, due to opaque supply chains, it is incredibly difficult for consumers to know whether the products they buy are slave-fee. However, he encourages us all to think with our hearts. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. It is likely that there is a hidden cost: the exploitation of people at the bottom of the supply chain.

We have heard from other guests about the importance of questioning the brands you buy from, but James suggests that you can also use your economic power in other ways to contribute to structural change. Ask your bank, your pension fund, any organisation in which you invest money, what are you doing to ensure that my money is not being used to support modern slavery?

United Nations University’s Modern Slavery Programme. 

James directs UNU’s Modern Slavery Programme, which includes the Delta 8.7 platform and the Code 8.7 community. 

Delta 8.7 is a global knowledge platform exploring what works to eradicate forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour. Delta 8.7 brings together the most useful data, evidence, research and news, analyses cutting-edge data, and helps people understand that data so it can be translated into effective policy.

Code 8.7 is a global community that researches, develops and applies AI-powered anti-slavery strategies, directly informed by survivors. They foster collaboration between AI, computational science and anti-slavery leaders and engage practitioners to combine AI with novel data streams to advance the field through cutting-edge research.

Liechtenstein Initiative for Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking

James is secretariat of the Liechtenstein Initiative for Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking. It is a public-private partnership that aims to put the financial sector at the heart of global efforts to end modern slavery and human trafficking and accelerate action in eradicating these practices.

The Commission consisted of 25 Commissioners, including survivors, leaders from the financial sector, institutional investors; a development finance institution; global regulatory authorities; global trade unions; a UN mandate-holder; and leaders in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking. The group highlights the importance of a survivor-informed, multi-sector approach to end modern slavery. 

As James says, the initiative has created a Blueprint that provides a collective action framework for the whole financial sector and professional service providers to accelerate action to end modern slavery and human trafficking. 

“Fully implemented, the Blueprint has the power to unlock enormous potential: not just the potential of the financial sector, but, more importantly, the incredible potential of the millions of survivors and vulnerable people whose exploitation and exclusion locks them out of full participation in global society, the economy and finance.”

Liechtenstein Initiative for Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking

The Blueprint is available to download, here.

SDG 8.7

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

Within Goal 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth – is target 8.7. Target 8.7 is a commitment to take immediate and 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, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms. 

1 Comment

  1. Thanks guys for your continued activity in this subject – voices are getting louder on MDS for sure. I’m just really concerned the pandemic is going to be a huge set-back with businesses fighting for survival more likely to take short cuts and hence use slavery to rebuild or turn a blind eye to practices that they were previously working to eradicate.

What do you think?