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UN rights expert urges States to step-up anti-slavery efforts and protect most vulnerable amid COVID-19

05 May 2020


GENEVA (5 May 2020) – A UN expert has urged Governments worldwide to increase protection for those most vulnerable to drifting into exploitative jobs. Inaction could lead to a sharp rise in the number of people being pushed into slavery because of the COVID-19 crisis.

“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,” said Tomoya Obokata, who assumed the role of the Special Rapporteur on the contemporary forms of slavery on 1 May.

“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,” the expert said.

“These factors have dramatically increased peoples’ vulnerability to exploitation which may amount to enslavement,” he warned.

The Special Rapporteur said that while billions of workers have been affected during COVID-19, the impact is much harsher for those in the informal economy, as well as the day labourers, non-contract workers, temporary employees, and all those without social protection coverage. Many 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.

“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,” Obokata said.

“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,” the expert said.

“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,” he urged.

As Special Rapporteur for the next three years, Obokata will explore a range of thematic issues, including increased risks of contemporary forms of slavery linked to the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.


Mr. Tomoya Obokata (Japan) was appointed by the Human Rights council to serve as the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences in May 2020. He is a Japanese scholar of international law and human rights, currently serving as Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Keele University in the United Kingdom. Mr. Obokata has worked expansively on the issues of transnational crime, human trafficking and modern-day slavery, including the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Northern Ireland Assembly All Party Group on Human Trafficking, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, the International Organisation for Migration and the European Union. He has published widely on the topics mentioned.

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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9445 / [email protected])

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