Covid pandemic increased vulnerability to forced labour

January will see the world enter its third year under the shadow of COVID. A new report from the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, shows the pandemic has increased levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment around the world, which in turn has led to an increase in modern slavery.

Construction, manufacturing, clothing production, accommodation and food services, have been the sectors most affected by the pandemic, and the complexity of their supply chains means that vulnerable groups working in these industries, such as migrant and informal workers, were most vulnerable to forced labour due to a lack of visibility and accountability.

In the UK, and around the world, government spending and attention on modern slavery was diverted or suspended. This meant less access to support for survivors, less scrutiny on business, fewer prevention campaigns, and fewer prosecutions of traffickers.

Evidence from the report also suggests that traffickers adapted their methods during the pandemic, by increasing online recruitment through false job advertisements.

Other reports showed an increase in violence against victims during lockdowns, and increased use of risky smuggling and trafficking routes following border closures.

Survivors of slavery reported that the isolation from friends and family during lockdowns triggered memories of exploitative situations, while for people waiting to hear about decisions around immigration, it increased feelings of living their lives in limbo.

Positive things the pandemic may have had on the attempts to fight modern slavery, include greater online collaboration between stakeholders, such as online training, research and awareness raising. Policies that supported people out of work, such as the furlough scheme and emergency accommodation, could have reduced people’s risk of becoming vulnerable to exploitation. 

Read the full report here: