The Anti-Slavery Collective in conversation with Jasmine O’Connor OBE

Our co-founders, HRH Princess Eugenie of York and Julia de Boinville, are pleased to be joined this time by Jasmine O’Connor, the CEO of Anti-Slavery International.

We speak to Jasmine about Anti-Slavery International’s report, ‘Leaving No One Behind.’ This report outlines the expected immediate and longer term impacts of COVID-19 on modern slavery and also offers guidance on how to respond. 

Although COVID-19 has been devastating in many ways, Jasmine believes that there is reason to be optimistic that positive change can come from this. Jasmine highlights how there has been widespread recognition that we cannot return to the way things were – we must redouble our efforts and build back better. Both The Anti-Slavery Collective and Anti-Slavery International echo the call of António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, for a human rights response to this pandemic. 

Jasmine is also pleased that the move from conference halls to zoom meetings has begun to equalise the conversations on modern slavery, as the voices of those who are most affected – survivors and frontline organisations – are heard more. These voices must be front and centre in the world’s response to and recovery from the pandemic. Jasmine has been inspired by the efforts of Anti-Slavery International’s frontline partners around the world. Their commitment and self sacrifice has been unshakeable and the innovation and speed of their response has been unrivalled. There is much to be learnt from them.

Impacts of COVID-19 on modern slavery

“Covid-19 has the potential to negatively affect everyone, but it does not affect everyone equally.” ‘Leaving No One Behind’

Anti-Slavery International’s report, ‘Leaving No One Behind,’ makes clear that COVID-19 has not been the great leveller. It concluded that, in the short term, there will be a higher death rate amongst people living in, or vulnerable to, slavery. In the longer term, people living in slavery are at risk of further exploitation and worsening conditions, and vulnerable groups are more at risk, due to the social and economic disruptions caused by the pandemic, such as widespread job losses, extreme economic stress, worsening discrimination, and stalled anti-slavery efforts. 


Jasmine tells us how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerabilities of the Haratine, a highly marginalised ethnic group in Mauritania. In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery. However, it is believed that thousands of Haratines are still in slavery. Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index estimates that over 90,000 people are living in modern slavery in Mauritiana. 

Many Haratine are domestic workers. During COVID-19, many have either been let go or forced to stay in their employer’s home full-time. Extreme restrictions of freedom of movement can amount to forced labour. As Jasmine explains, this is an impossible choice: to be unemployed and face starvation or, alternatively, to stay in their employer’s home and continue work, but leave their families without support. As Anti-Slavery International have said, “confinement within their employers’ homes exposed more people to the risk of exploitation and abuse, a dire prospect for Haratines who are only a generation or so out of slavery.”

Anti-Slavery International work with a local partner, SOS-Esclaves, to help people escape from descent-based slavery and rebuild their lives as free people. Anti-Slavery International have commended SOS-Esclave’s response to the pandemic and are heartened that it has the infrastructure and capacity to reach and support the vulnerable in a time of crisis. Read more about this, here.

Response to COVID-19

Both The Anti-Slavery Collective and Anti-Slavery International echo the call of António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, for a human rights response to this pandemic. We must not return to business as usual, but build back better. ‘Leaving No One Behind’ makes recommendations to governments, grant-makers, businesses and the international community on how to design their COVID-19 response to protect the 40.3 million people in slavery, in addition to the increased numbers of people now more vulnerable to modern slavery. 

Jasmine explains why it is necessary for governments to listen to those on the frontline and those with direct experience of modern slavery in order to understand the specific needs people vulnerable to slavery. This will enable governments to design inclusive, effective and resilient policies to support them in the short term, and end modern slavery in the long term.

“The voices, knowledge and perspective of victims, survivors and people vulnerable to slavery should be at the centre of all immediate and long-term policy responses to Covid-19.”

‘Leaving No One Behind’

Jasmine also emphasises that businesses have a huge part to play in stopping modern slavery from flourishing as a result of this pandemic. They must be proactive in identifying and mitigating the risks in their supply chains, especially when the economy opens up again and demand increases.  When there is a sudden change in supply and demand, there is a high risk that slavery and exploitation will flourish. Factories may meet the increased demand by exploiting the staff, whilst businesses and governments may relax rules on purchasing from suppliers who are suspected of forced labour. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

There have been reports that the increased demand for PPE to fight the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to an increased use of forced labour in its production. For example, Channel 4 reported on the exploitation of migrant workers in factories belonging to Malaysia’s largest manufacturer of medical gloves.

As Anti-Slavery International recommend in their report, business in high demand sectors, such as PPE, should ensure that workers are not exploited or put at risk and government should uphold workers’ rights in contracts and orders related to the procurement of PPE. Human rights must be protected throughout this pandemic and its recovery.

What can you do? 

As mentioned above, Anti-Slavery International made recommendations to businesses, governments, grant-makers and the international community, but Jasmine makes clear that we all have an important role to play in ending modern slavery. 

Educate yourself. There is a wealth of resources on the internet that anyone can access to find out about modern slavery. For example, check out Anti-Slavery International’s website or read their report.

Support anti-slavery organisations. The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly tough for some organisations due to lack of fundraising opportunities, volunteers and attention. Jasmine tells us that 100% of anti-slavery organisations were expecting to have or already had more demand, but at the same time, 65% of them need to reduce their services. Ally yourself to the anti-slavery movement and find out how you can be more involved. Donate your money or your time. 

Be alert. As Jasmine reminds us, modern slavery happens all around us. It is not just “over there,” but in the UK too. It is very important to be aware of the potential signs of modern slavery, especially now when people already vulnerable to, or living in slavery, are at more risk than ever before. 

Check out our post, ‘6 ways to fight modern slavery from home,’ for more ideas for what you can do.

Anti-Slavery International

Anti-Slavery International is the world’s oldest human rights organisation working to free people from all forms of slavery across the world. Founded in 1839, Anti-Slavery International has been committed to eliminating slavery and slavery-like practices for over 180 years. 

Anti-Slavery International work closely with partner organisations from around the world. Their experience at grassroots level informs and shapes their work to influence decision-makers and inspire change on a global level, particularly on bonded labour, descent based slavery, forced labour, forced marriage, the worst forms of child labour, the exploitation of migrant workers in conditions amounting to slavery (particularly migrant domestic workers), and human trafficking.

Anti-Slavery International have consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council and observer status at the International Labour Organisation. They are a non-religious, non-political independent organisation.

Our co-founder, Princess Eugenie, is a patron of Anti-Slavery International. Find out more on their website

What do you think?