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Scourge of slavery increases amid new range of global issues, says UN expert

09 September 2019

GENEVA (9 September 2019) – In a world where over 40 million people are enslaved and one in four victims is a child, the scourge of modern day slavery is only likely to increase as a result of environmental degradation, migration and demographic shifts, a UN expert said on Monday.

The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Urmila Bhoola, said in a report presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that over 60 percent of those in forced labour work in the private sector and 98 percent of women and girls subjected to forced labour have experienced sexual violence.

“These numbers, four years after States committed to the Sustainable Development Goals, must serve as a wake-up call,” Bhoola said. “The number of people at a risk of being exploited or enslaved is likely to increase based on several factors. In the wake of climate change, people may lose their livelihoods, young people who don’t have access to decent work may migrate through unsafe channels and changes in the world of work such as automation may push already vulnerable people out of their jobs. Such scenarios can increase people’s vulnerability to slavery.

“We cannot afford to stand by while more and more people are driven into forced labour, servile marriage or child labour. States and businesses must act now to end slavery, also as it is economically unprofitable. Slavery leads to increased public health costs, productivity losses, negative environmental externalities and lost income.”

Bhoola said that the global networks and systems that make people vulnerable to contemporary forms of slavery such as the global financial, production and trading systems need to be tackled.

“By 2030, some 85 percent of the more than 25 million young people entering the labour force globally will be in developing and emerging countries. Their perspectives to access jobs offering decent work will determine their level of vulnerability to exploitation, including slavery. To be prepared for such challenges and to tackle slavery more effectively, it is imperative that anti-slavery efforts are systematic, scientific, strategic, sustainable, survivor-informed and smart,” said Bhoola.

“Current efforts to end slavery have been insufficient. States and businesses must take more decisive action to end slavery by committing more resources to this effort and by adopting and implementing public policies which address contemporary forms of slavery effectively.”


Ms Urmila Bhoola (South Africa) was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, in June 2014. She is independent from any government and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Bhoola is a former Judge of the Labour Court of South Africa. Her judicial appointment followed twenty years of work as a labour and human rights lawyer in South Africa, and she has received many awards for her human rights and gender equality work. She has also been a technical advisor to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on labour rights in the Asia Pacific region and was Chief Legal Drafter of South Africa's Employment Equity Act, designed to redress disadvantages caused by apartheid. Her most recent report to the Human Rights Council focuses on the impact of slavery and servitude on marginalized migrant women workers in the global domestic economy (see for additional information).

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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Satya Jennings at (+41 79 444 3702 / [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])   

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