Keele Professor calls on UN states to protect vulnerable from slavery amid Covid-19

A Keele Professor and human rights expert for the United Nations has called on its member countries, known as states, to increase protection for vulnerable people to prevent them being pushed into slavery because of Covid-19.

Professor Tomoya Obokata, a Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Keele’s School of Law, has warned that inaction by Governments could lead to a sharp rise in the number of vulnerable people being pushed into slavery because of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Professor Obokata issued the statement in his role as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, which he was appointed to earlier this year.

He said: “The severe socio-economic effect of the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to increase the scourge of modern-day slavery, already impacting over 40 million people before the global pandemic.

“The lockdown-related closure of businesses has led to an increased level of unemployment in most parts of the world, pushing many previously vulnerable workers into even more precarious situations or even into illegal economies. These factors have dramatically increased peoples’ vulnerability to exploitation which may amount to enslavement.”

He added that although billions of workers have been affected by the economic impact of the pandemic, the impact is much harsher for those working in the informal economy, as well as day labourers, non-contract workers, temporary employees, and all those without social protection coverage. Many of these workers are women and migrants, and children face a higher risk of exposure to the worst forms of child labour because of the financial shocks and lack of adequate governmental support.

Professor Obokata said: “Identification and rehabilitation of the victims of contemporary forms of slavery is difficult due to the clandestine and hidden nature of these crimes and is likely to become even more challenging as states are shifting protection resources to combat the pandemic.

“During the current health emergency, I urge states to identify those who face the strongest risk of drifting into exploitative jobs and to increase their protection through policy safeguards. If no action is taken in this regard, there is a risk that significantly more people will be pushed into slavery now and in the long term. States’ swift action in this regard is also indispensable to achieve the targets set by the Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate slavery by 2030.”

Professor Obokata’s role as Special Rapporteur involves working with a number of international stakeholders to tackle modern slavery in all its forms across the globe, and he will also explore the increased risks of contemporary forms of slavery linked to the socio-economic impact of Covid-19.