Approximately 21 million around the globe are victims of modern slavery, a number that has grown significantly over the last year as a result of the escalating migrant crisis in Europe, reveals an annual study from global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
According to the Modern Slavery Index (MSI) – now in its second year — modern slavery risks have risen in nearly three quarters of the 28 member states of the European Union. The five EU countries posing the highest risk are Romania, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria — key points of entry into the region for migrants who are extremely vulnerable to exploitation.
The research, which assesses 198 countries on the strength of their laws, the effectiveness of their enforcement and the severity of violations, shows drops in the scores for 20 countries across the bloc.
The slavery situation in Romania is deemed as deteriorating faster than any country globally, with it falling 56 places in the ranking to 66th highest risk. Romania and Italy (ranked 133rd), which fell 16 places, have the worst reported violations in the EU, including severe forms of forced labor, such as servitude and trafficking.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that over 100,000 migrants have entered Europe by sea in 2017; 85 percent of which have landed in Italy. Arrivals in Greece (129th) have fallen dramatically since the 2016 signing of the EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement, but the country, which dropped 17 places in the index, is host to significant numbers of migrants and remains a key destination for human trafficking.
According to Verisk Maplecroft, the presence of these vulnerable migrant populations in the primary countries of arrival is a key contributor for increases in slavery across multiple sectors in the region, such as agriculture, construction and services.
Due to the geographic shift in migrant sea arrivals, the report suggests that the risk of modern slavery is likely to worsen in Italy over the next year, with agriculture being a major sector of concern.
“The migrant crisis has increased the risk of slavery incidents appearing in company supply chains across Europe,” said Sam Haynes, Senior Human Rights Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “It is no longer just the traditional sourcing hotspots in the emerging economies that businesses should pay attention to when risk assessing their suppliers and the commodities they source.”
Even the EU’s biggest economies are not immune to the rise in slavery risk. Germany and the UK have seen slight negative shifts in their scores, taking them just over the ‘low risk’ threshold into the ‘medium risk’ category of the index. New data has revealed gaps in the UK’s labor inspectorate, while Germany has experienced an uptick in recorded trafficking and servitude violations.
US MSI performance was also mediocre with a ‘medium risk’ ranking of 135, dangerously close to the ‘high risk’ threshold. The ranking is partially due to a recent crackdown on undocumented migrants coming to the US.
Hardline strategies such as deportation and immigration bans, however, do not offer effective or sustainable solutions for curbing forced labor and human trafficking. According to Alexandra Channer, Principal Human Rights Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, eliminating modern slavery will require going to the root of the problem and addressing the drivers of illegal immigration. Failure to do so could further aggravate the problem.
“Policies that increase the costs of trafficking, such as tighter enforcement of deportation rules and restricting the protections offered by sanctuary cities, will push undocumented migrants further into the hands of the criminal gangs involved in border trafficking and the procurement of undocumented workers,” Channer told Quartz ahead of the 2017 MSI release.
“Migrants will be ever more dependent on trafficking networks for survival and fewer will report entrapment and labor abuses to the authorities for fear of deportation. Increases in such violations pose a risk to companies sourcing goods from the US, especially from the agricultural sector, as well as within the services industry.”
In Asia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand — the region’s manufacturing hubs — all landed in the Modern Slavery Index’s ‘extreme’ or ‘high risk’ categories. Thailand and India both demonstrated significant improvement, thanks to increases in the enforcement of slavery related laws, but slavery still remains a significant problem. In India, severe forms of slavery are common in construction, brick kilns, garment production, manufacturing and farming; while in Thailand, the worst abuses still frequently occur in sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, fishing and rubber production.
“Intensive government activity will be required in India and Thailand if these green shoots of progress are to turn into a positive trajectory,” said Hannah Broscombe, Asia Supply Chain Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.
China, ranked 21st in the index, remains firmly entrenched among the worst performing countries in the ‘extreme risk’ category. North Korea, Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, DR Congo, Sudan, Iran, Libya, Eritrea and Turkmenistan are rated by the Modern Slavery Index as posing the highest risk of all countries measured.