In May 2014, the Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Urmila Bhoola as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences.
Article 4 of the UDHR states that ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms’.
Slavery was the first human rights issue to arouse wide international concern yet it still continues today and slavery-like practices also remain a grave and persistent problem.
The mandate on contemporary forms of slavery includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, forced labour, debt bondage, serfdom, children working in slavery or slavery-like conditions, domestic servitude, sexual slavery, and servile forms of marriage. As a legally permitted labour system, traditional slavery has been abolished everywhere, but it has not been completely eradicated. It can persist as a state of mind- among victims and their descendants and among the inheritors of those who practised it –long after it has formally ended.
Contemporary forms of slavery often involve hidden populations, some of whom perform illicit work. Slavery often occurs in isolated areas and access can be challenged or compromised when workers are involved in illegal activities, when they are geographically isolated, or when they work in violent or politically unstable countries or regions.
The majority of those who suffer are the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised social groups in society. Fear, ignorance of one’s rights and the need to survive do not encourage them to speak out.
In order to effectively eradicate slavery in all its forms, the root causes of slavery such as poverty, social exclusion and all forms of discrimination must be addressed. In addition, we need to promote and protect the rights of all especially the most vulnerable in our society. Where human rights violations have already been committed, we are called upon to help restore the dignity of victims.