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- Anti-Slavery International defines modern slavery as work that exploits an individual for personal or commercial gain and causes them to lose their freedom – whether tricked, coerced, or forced. It includes but is not limited to human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage.
- The Walk Free global index found modern slavery in: agriculture, construction, domestic work, meat processing, cleaning, hospitality and solar panel supply chain and manufacturing.
London: The number of people living in modern slavery in Australia has more than doubled in the past four years amid a rise in migrant workers who came to ease labour shortages but have been exploited in rural areas, and experienced wage theft and unsafe working conditions.
The latest Global Slavery Index, released in London on Wednesday, found 50 million people worldwide now live in modern slavery – 10 million more than five years earlier. About 28 million people are in forced labour and 22 million trapped in forced marriages.
Grace Forrest founded international human rights group Walk Free.Credit: Grainne Quinlan
Almost one in four modern slaves globally are in forced prostitution, 80 per cent of them women or girls. The private sector represents 86 per cent of forced labour, while state-imposed forced labour accounts for 14 per cent.
The dramatic rise comes against a backdrop of complex conflicts, climate-induced migration, a global rollback of women’s rights and the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commissioned by international human rights group Walk Free, founded by Grace Forrest of the Australian Minderoo Foundation, the report estimates that on any given day in 2021 there were 41,000 individuals living in modern slavery in Australia. That’s up from 15,000 in the 2018 report, and equates to a prevalence of 1.6 people for every 1000 people in the country.
While Australia is among the least vulnerable countries to modern slavery in the Asia Pacific region and globally, holders of working holiday, seasonal worker, international student, skilled temporary work and bridging visas have been subject to serious exploitation in high-risk industries such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, meat processing, cleaning and hospitality.
The report has also sharpened the focus on the role played by G20 leading world economies in fuelling forced labour within global supply chains, leading to calls for advanced economies to do more to address the issue. The G20 accounts for more than half of all people living in modern slavery and imports $US468 billion ($703 billion) of at-risk products annually.
The report named six G20 nations among the countries with the largest number of people in modern slavery: India (11 million), China (5.8 million), Russia (1.9 million), Indonesia (1.8 million), Turkey (1.3 million) and the United States (1.1 million). North Korea, Eritrea, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were the top five countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery per capita.
The US was by far the biggest importer of at-risk products ($US169.6 billion). Electronics remained the highest value at-risk product worldwide ($US243.6 billion), followed by garments, palm oil, solar panels and textiles.
The growth of new “sustainable” industries to tackle the climate crisis has led to further risks of exploitation, as evidence emerges of state-imposed forced labour of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim majority groups in China in the supply chains of solar panels and other renewable technologies.
Workers install solar panels at a photovoltaic power station in Hami in north-western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.Credit: AP
Forced labour permeates all businesses operating in China’s Uyghur-majority Xinjiang region, including those that are part of the solar panel supply chain – from the collection of raw quartz and its purification into solar-grade polysilicon, to its transformation into ingots, wafers, cells, and eventually solar panel modules.
The Chinese government states that the associated “labour transfer” schemes are intended to alleviate poverty, yet workers are reportedly unable to refuse to participate and are coerced through threats of internment within re-education camps and extra-judicial detention.
Forrest said the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy should not come at the expense of human rights, including the rights of those involved in the manufacture of sustainable energy products.
“We know the scale of the issue and have the knowledge and the policies needed to act. What we need now is political will,” Forrest said, urging all G20 countries to use their leverage to act to end modern slavery on their shores and in supply chains.
Walk Free is funded by the Minderoo Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Forrest’s parents, mining magnate Andrew and his wife Nicola.
The report called on governments to legislate against state-owned or private companies sourcing goods or services linked to modern slavery and ensure that human rights are embedded in efforts to build a green economy.
“Governments worldwide continue to display a shocking capacity for cognitive dissonance; for example, funding support services for women and girls while simultaneously failing to close legislative gaps that increase their risk of being forced to marry, such as not having a legal minimum age of marriage set at 18 without exception,” Forrest said.
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