Kevin Hyland addresses the International Forum on Modern Slavery

In January 2019 the Ecumenical Patriarchate hosted an International Forum on Modern Slavery under the auspices of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The Forum was held in Istanbul, Turkey, from 7th-8th January and focused on the theme “Awareness, Action and Impact.”

The following is the text of a speech made by Kevin Hyland, the former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, at the International Forum.

 Your Holiness, Eminences, Excellencies, Honorable Guests,

The fact we are here today to discuss human trafficking, as the current incumbents of this planet, reflects on our stewardship of this world and the need for urgent change and improvement.

Our climate is fragile.

Human displacement, due to conflict, oppression, inequality, climate change and natural disasters, is at an all-time high of 65 million people,

And human trafficking and modern slavery is estimated at 40 million children, women and men being used as a commodity of exploitation.

Our world has lost its moral compass, as inclusion becomes unpopular and some view it as a weakness, and a culture of what’s in it for me, as opposed what can I do for you emerges, what hope exists for some of the most in need in our world?

With an open hand of kindness being replaced by the closed fist of aggression, perhaps it’s inevitable modern slavery and human trafficking have become everyday features.

The disposable culture now includes disposable people, used and abused at the discretion or control of others.

And the reason this crime exists today is the same as why it has throughout history, to make money or reduce or eliminate labour costs.

Criminal profits now reach 150 billion US dollars a year.

This crime has devastating effects on individuals, stripping them of their dignity and humanity, but there are wider negative effects.

It is a gender issue, echoing women’s secondary status in society, as most victims are women and girls.

It is a health issue, as many suffer from HIV or other medical conditions as a direct consequence of their trafficking, including removal of organs for illicit transplant markets.

It has negative economic impact, as remittances often intended to be returned to families are taken by criminals as payment for bonded labour.

It’s a development issue as those with power are the very architects of the conditions that create vulnerability, to cultivate a human commodity.

Kevin Hyland speaking at our launch in October 2017 while still in his role as IASC.

Kevin Hyland speaking at our launch in October 2017 while still in his role as IASC.

And it is a governance issue, as because it is ‘low risk high reward’, that means it has become a crime of choice with the vulnerable being the target of abuse.

Whilst many international instruments and domestic legislation denounce this crime, why does it persist and continue to increase?

The current approach is very much focused on post trafficking.

However, it is becoming clearer that strategies are needed that prevent this crime, whilst I strongly believe that victims must receive the best possible support and care and something I pushed for and achieved in a radical reform of the UK support, focusing on prevention is where more must be achieved.  

For example, of the estimated 40 million lives in modern slavery, 16 million work in supply chains and businesses.

We are all interacting with human trafficking and modern slavery:

The cell phones we carry. The coltan mined for the battery, was it mined by a child as young as 8 in the Congo?

Agriculture, food processing, fishing, construction, textiles, hospitality and even care and nursing homes or within diplomatic residences are all places where workers have experienced human trafficking, and this is on every continent including in every EU country, the US, and Australia.

Some countries, the US, France, UK, Australia and Brazil for example, do have transparency legislation, but the current many gaps and absence of any sanctions have resulted in patchy at best, compliance.

It has been argued brand reputation will be sufficient to ensure compliance, well in the UK this has not been the case. Sanctions currently exist under health and safety, food standards, quality control and consumer rights, so why not for permitting, knowingly or through negligence, modern slavery within a business or supply chain?

Accountability of a supply chains may be a challenge, but it is not an impossible one if the right leadership is provided.

When businesses use innovation and their many skills, achievements can be life-changing, world changing.

For example, we now have a direct flight from London to Perth, travelling nonstop.

The aircraft on this route will operate for about 30 years before being decommissioned. In that period all the passengers, crew, hours flown, maintenance, financial information, payload and so on will be recorded because of aviation rules and the serious sanctions for breaching even the most minute detail.

This is within our ability, yet we cannot say if a child is mining coltan for the minerals needed for battery systems of our phones or these aircraft or the mica that provides the high gloss finish exterior.

Simply put, supply chains can be audited, but all too often it is claimed to be too difficult.

Businesses and governments need to accept responsibility and implement measures that prevent exploitation.

There are thankfully examples of practice where businesses do act responsibly examining supply chains and implementing change.

A recent survey of the FTSE 100 companies disclosed improvement on last year’s evaluation moving from 27 to three companies failing to comply with the UK’s Modern Slavery Act for completing a statement. But it rated many actions that prevent modern slavery to be low, with some companies scoring below 20 per cent in evaluations.

In any crime, if it pays it stays, and with a criminal benefit of US$150 billion this crime is firmly staying.

So, there is a need to introduce policy and legislation that addresses the very circumstances and issues that allow this crime to thrive.  

For example, the Church of England’s Clewer Initiative recognised risks in the car wash industry. Mobilising their parishes to gather data through a mobile phone app has resulted in a Parliamentary Committee inquiry now looking to regulate the industry to prevent forced and exploitative labour in the industry.

So, there are opportunities to drive change and place responsibility with those with the duty; but we need to be firm about accountability and maintain humility as without these, we will fool ourselves and allow leaders off the hook, under the pretence they are having a substantial or possibly any real positive impact.

For example, 1 in every 5 units of currency spent in this world is by governments.

And over 85 per cent of global wealth rests with the G20 nations. It is their duty, through many international agreements and the SDG’s they have committed to, to ensure this money and commerce is based on ethical business. And whilst there may be differing views on many subjects, no government is mandated to support modern slavery, therefore by default they cannot allow tax payers’ money to even unwittingly end up in the hands of the traffickers.

Society and in particular faith groups can galvanise and become the accountability of these bodies.

G20 nations must ensure their procurement and transactions do not pay criminals and fund modern slavery.

This single act could have one of the biggest effects in meeting the aims of many of the 17 SDG’s, to date the delivery of these goals is generally thought weak, so now we have a chance to change that.

Some say this is aspirational and beyond our ability.

SDG 8.7 is ambitious;

But it is no more ambitious and aspirational than that 14.5 km direct nonstop flight from London to Perth may have viewed only a decade ago.

We must move views of success to no longer be in financial terms, satisfying nation GDP positioning and shareholder dividends, to one where we consider how we treat our fellow human beings. Surely as human beings this is our primary value?

But what of the suffering.

The human faces.

Children in the bricks kilns of Asia.

The Nigerian girls brought to the UK and traded for sex.

The fishers from the Philippians, injured, even losing their lives to supply our food.

The girls I met in Southern Italy fleeing Eritrea, who on their harrowing journey are kept in collecting houses in Libya, raped many times a day before earning enough for a dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean, who on arrival in Europe receive little protection so often return to exploiters.

And yet even when we find and identify victims, national responses often re-victimise them, contrary to international agreements of the Palermo Protocol and Council of Europe Directives.

High standards of victim support are essential and must be adequately funded with necessary legal status.

Currently the global response is akin to fighting an inferno with buckets of water.

I spoke about the open hand of friendship, faith groups are that open hand, themselves often facing the clenched fist of aggression.

But we must work tirelessly to take hold of the aggressive hand and guide it to understand how good lifting someone up and shaking a friend’s hand can feel.

If we can do this, perhaps we can see a response emerge that history will show our stewardship of this planet leaves a legacy. A place we left better off, with more human dignity for many generations to come, where modern slavery and human trafficking is firmly secured into the annuls of history.

Thank you.