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A man carrying bricks on his back

Sharing good practices in protection of workers and victims of modern slavery during the Covid-19 pandemic

Duration: October 2020 – June 2021

Countries: Worldwide

What was this programme about?

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges for workers and for people affected by modern slavery. The main objective of this programme was to conduct evidence-based research on the key impacts of Covid-19 on modern slavery and identify good practices in protecting workers and victims of modern slavery in order to facilitate a victim-centred approach to protection.

Why did we deliver this programme?

One of the major economic impacts of the pandemic is unemployment. Many workers have been unemployed for various reasons, including lockdown measures, closure of businesses and restrictions on movement. However, some businesses have witnessed a sudden surge in demand for labour, such as those producing, processing and providing essential items such as food, medicines and medical equipment, which might lead to exploitative practices by employers.

At the time of starting this programme, however, the full impact was yet to be examined thoroughly, as the situation was still evolving. It left a number of important questions open, for example – to what extent was unemployment actually pushing people into exploitation and forced labour? Also, while increased labour demand in certain sectors may give strong incentives for businesses to exploit vulnerable individuals, a clear global trend was yet to be established. Questions remained around how states’ focus on tackling the pandemic affected people trapped in modern slavery.

There were also additional questions in relation to wider protection measures: did they address the key impacts of Covid-19 sufficiently? Was protection tailored to address the specific needs of particularly vulnerable populations such as women, children or minorities? Could all workers access them without discrimination? What were the practical difficulties in implementing them? These questions were yet to be answered, which is why we delivered this programme.

What did we do?

  • Desktop research of relevant materials published by scholars, governments, NGOs, and international organizations.
  • Collecting up-to-date information on the key impacts of Covid-19 and good practices in protecting workers and victims of modern slavery.
  • Verification of research information and critical analysis through more than 30 interviews with relevant stakeholders around the world.
  • Comparative analysis of the key impacts of Covid-19 and good practices in various sectors in all regions of the world.
  • A programme report with evidence-based analysis of the impacts on vulnerable communities across the world and ‘Guiding Principles on Actions against Modern Slavery during the State of Emergency’.

Who were our partners?

A research team from Keele University led by Prof. Tomoya Obokata, who also served as UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

Who funded this programme?

This programme was funded by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre through the Art and Humanities Research Council.

A labourer carries bricks in a kiln at Langolpota village in North 24 Parganas district in the eastern state of West Bengal, India, 26 November 2019. Credit: Reuters/Ranita Roy.