December 11, 2022

Can Human Rights end Modern Slavery?

Simon Watkinson, Communications Manager, slavefreetrade International

Can Human Rights end Modern Slavery?
"The foundation upon which all of us may build our world is referred toas Human Rights. With Human Rights, we can build a world where everybody will live in harmony, serenity and peace and plenty."

Author, educator, artist, film producer, activist, human & animal rights advocate Shenita Etwaroo


What exactly are Human Rights?

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking are therefore violations of human rights because these acts rob human beings of their inherent  rights. In fact, Article 4  of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) explicitly states ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all theirforms.’

Global challenge

So it’s a damning indictment that The 2021 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report states that, modern slavery has increased. Between 2016 to 2021 there was a rise in forced labour from 3.4 to 3.5 persons per thousand people in the world with a wholly unacceptable 27.6 million in situations of forced labour. This increase was due to“forced labour in the private economy, both in forced commercial sexualexploitation and in forced labour in other sectors.”

Moreover, every region of the world has forced labour, with Africa recording 3.8 million and the Arab states recording the highest with 5.3 persons per thousand people. 

Nearly four in every five people trapped in forced labour are girls or women. Furthermore, 3.3 million children are in situations of forced labour, or about 12 percent of all those in forced labour.

Hard labour

Hardly surprising then that, on any given day in China in 2016, there were over 3.8 million people living in conditions of modern slavery.

This is because much of the rapid economic development of China, now the second largest economy and second largest importer in the world, has resulted from a domestic economy utilising mainly forced labour to produce labour-intensive, cheap goods for export.

Laptops, computers, and mobile phones are the top product category at risk of modern slavery imported by China. In 2015,China imported a total value of US$1.6 billion of these electronic products from Malaysia, which used forced labour to produce them. China also trades coal withNorth Korea, which uses state-imposed forced labour in many of its economicsectors, including the coal industry. In total, China imported US$954 million worth of coal from NorthKorea.

North Korea is notorious for countless human rights violations. Anybody criticising the dictator Kim Jong-un faces a stay in a concentration camp, an act violating Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or even execution.  


“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

Nelson Mandela, first president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 and civil rights activist.

Tragically, there are an increasing number of human rights abuses and incidents of modern slavery being reported around the world, and no country is immune. An International Labour Organization (ILO) report revealed that 50 million people – or 1 in every 150 worldwide – are in situations of slavery globally. 

Mica misery

Anything giving a sheen like make up contains natural mica, which is also used in brake pads and the batteries of electric vehicles. Natural mica is mined illegally mostly in India, Madagascar, Brazil and on the African continent.  In the east-Indian state of Jharkhand, where poverty-stricken families have little choice but to send their children to work in the dangerous mines, children as young as five are involved. They toil in illegal, unofficial, unregulated, crumbling ‘artisan’ mica mines, which are merely unstable tunnels dug in the dusty, dry ground.  An unknown number suffer broken ribs, lung and breathing problems in the process and some have died after having their skulls crushed.

Adults work in mica mining too, but children’s sma llhands are coveted to sort and pick the tiny lethal specks of mica and only their small frames fit inside the tiny, deep, dark holes that frequently collapse. Mines can be several metres deep and children can spend up to eight hours a day underground, chipping away at the sparkling soil with woefully inadequate tools. For the miners, this backbreaking, dirty, dangerous work pays a pittance. A Thomson Reuters report found that unprocessed mica was purchased from miners at ‘a maximum of 25 rupees [27p] a kilogram, yet top-quality processed mica sells for up to $2,000 [£1,700] a kilogram’. Alarmingly, reports this year indicate the remuneration for miners in India slumped to as low as 11 rupees (12p) per kilo, while in Madagascar the price can be as low as 4p.

Badge of honour

For consumers, it’s hard to know whether the mica in their make-up has been mined ethically by adults, or unethically by children or in dangerous conditions. Until there is a suitable logo, such as slavefreetrade’s Made in Freedom logo, to prove mica’s provenance consumers will be in the dark as to whether those producing it endured human rights’ abuses in the workplace. 

How can businesses successfully prevent instances of modern slavery?

They must continue to review and strengthen their approach to human rights issues across their operations and supply chains. Since a happy, well-treated and respected workforce is a more productive workforce, any successful business should include human rights considerations in its processes and policies so as to resolve issues, and promote human rights when and wherever they can. Even more so because the current soaring cost of food, energy and other essentials threatens the basic rights of ordinary people, especially those already in poverty and victims of modern slavery.

How can you help ensure on Human Rights are part of the products you buy?

Be sure that the goods you browse when shopping were not produced by victims of modern slavery by downloading slavefreetrade’s Freedomer App for your smartphone. Or sign up to slavefreetrade’s Member Charter and commit your enterprise to being guided by and publicly upholding, continuously assessing and monitoring your workplace human rights conditions against the 10 slavefreetrade principles, so as to ensure that there are no human rights abuses in your supply chains. Then you’ll be helping usto rid the world of modern slavery and make it a better place for everybody.



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