News & Analysis

New report on modern slavery highlights issues for emerging Europe

A number of emerging European countries rank amongst the worst in the world for modern slavery, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index (GSI), published by The Walk Free Foundation.

The GSI’s report defines modern slavery as: “situations where one person has taken away another person’s freedom — their freedom to control their body, their freedom to choose to refuse certain work or to stop working — so that they can be exploited. Freedom is taken away by threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power and deception. The net result is that a person cannot refuse or leave the situation.” In the GSI report, modern slavery covers areas such as forced labour, debt bondages, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices as well as human trafficking.

The only country to have an A rating in the GSI when it comes to government response to modern slavery is the Netherlands, and the average rating for Europe and Central Asia is BB. According to the index, globally there are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1000 people in the world. In Europe and Central Asia the average is 3.9 victims. The figures take into account both forced labour and forced marriage.

There are an estimated 3.59 victims of modern slavery in Europe and Central Asia per 1000 people, 91 per cent of those are in forced labour and nine per cent forced into marriage.

“Within the region, Turkmenistan, Belarus and Macedonia are the countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery, while Russia, Turkey and Ukraine have the highest absolute number and account for one-third of the victims in the region,” the report states. Slovenia has the lowest rating for the emerging Europe region, ranking 36 out of the 50 countries.

According to the data, seven out of the top 10 countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery are found in emerging Europe: Belarus (second), Macedonia (third), Albania (fifth), Ukraine (seventh), Croatia (eighth), Montenegro (ninth) and Lithuania (10th).

GSI also analyses countries’ performance against GDP per capita, and as such some counties stood out in the fight against modern slavery in comparison to those with stronger economies.

“Countries including Georgia, Moldova, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Mozambique are taking positive steps to respond to this issue relative to their wealth… In Georgia, the government adopted a victim-centred approach by establishing victim witness coordinators from the initial stages of investigations through the end of court proceedings,” states the report.

The research carried out for the GSI 2018 report also indicates that in some countries, state-imposed forced labour remains a phenomenon. One of these is Belarus, where GSI found abuse of civic duties in the practice of Subbotniks, which requires government employees to work weekends and donate their earnings to finance government projects under the intimidation or threat of fines by state employers.

Since the publication of GSI’s last report in 2016, there has been an increase in the number of countries being proactive in implementing reporting requirements for businesses to detail actions taken to investigate their supply chains for labour violations, including forced labour.

“The 2018 Global Slavery Index confirms that governments are taking more of the steps we ask of them to respond to modern slavery – strengthening laws, training police, providing services and shelters to victims, and engaging with business on supply chain transparency. Businesses and governments are increasingly accepting the reality that when modern slavery occurs in one country, the direct results will be felt throughout international supply chains,” writes Fiona David, executive director global research, Walk Free Foundation in her paper Two steps forward, yes. But it’s a change in mindset that is needed.

Two countries from emerging Europe made it to the regional top 10 in regards to taking action against modern slavery, Croatia (sixth place) and Montenegro (10th). However, it is not only a question of implementing legislation, but steps need to be taken to train the police and judiciary in identifying victims of modern slavery. Unfortunately, training alone will not suffice, even in those countries where there have been multiple training sessions for prosecutors or judges, there are reports that suggest those guilty of these crimes are not receiving sentences worthy of their crime or are given suspended sentences or convicted for lesser crimes.

“Laws on paper are worthless without implementation and enforcement. Police training means little if witnesses can be intimidated and judges can be bought. Or shelters operating like prisons continue to leave victims of modern slavery with few, if any, alternatives,” Ms David adds.