SMG Strategic Director's Speech at the Taiwan International Conference on Fisher's Welfare

A New Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Forced Labour in The Fisheries and All Sectors by Kevin Hyland

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Can I thank the Taiwan Bishops Conference, the Taiwanese Executive, and Stella Maris for inviting me to be here today.

It brings shame to us as the incumbents of the world that so much of our lives have become entwined and reliant, often unwittingly, on the existence of human trafficking and modern slavery.

However, if we accept and acknowledge this phenomenon, we can begin to right the wrongs.

Pope Francis explains this saying:

“The Modern World Feeds Upon the Powerless. Too Many People are Treated as Consumer Goods to be Used and then Discarded."

The most recent UN agreed estimate is that 49.6 million children, women and men are exploited in human trafficking and modern slavery.

And this crime generates US$236 billion annually in criminal profits for exploiters.

The beneficiaries of this sum include multilateral corporations, governments, small businesses, and well-established organised crime groups; one thing all these exploiters have in common is that they are criminals, either deliberately or through negligence.

This is the second biggest generator of criminal profits, behind the US$360 billion of global drugs crime and ahead of the estimates of US$120 billion in illegal firearms crime. Pope Francis has been very clear on the profits of human trafficking when he said:

The money obtained by human traffickers “from their dirty, underhanded business is blood money. I’m not exaggerating: It’s blood money,”

Effective action to end human trafficking and modern slavery must be sustained, collaborative, and involve multi-stakeholders.

Governments are well positioned and have a duty to lead such efforts by committing to well-resourced counter-human trafficking action plans commensurate to counter the risks and human tragedy this phenomenon generates.

Santa Marta Group is engaging criminal justice actors, legislators, NGOs, and faith groups to act as a catalyst to encourage change.

Approaches need to focus on the prevention of exploitation, the well-being and recovery of victims and the pursuit and disruption of the perpetrators, whoever they may be.

Good laws that enable prevention, deliver support for victims, and introduce sanctions are crucial. The UN Palermo Protocol introduced almost 25 years ago, sets out what good legislation should include.

This protocol is reinforced by the Council of Europe Convention, the EU Directive, the ASEAN Convention, and many other instruments, such as the 1930 Forced Labour Convention, the 2014 ILO Protocol, and, importantly, the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 - C188.

These instruments include essential elements such as support for victims, provisions of worker and residence permits, medical support, including mental health, and many other services for the exploited.

These anti-trafficking instruments speak of prosecution, targeting criminal assets and bilateral and multilateral collaboration.

Having personally evaluated many nations on behalf of the Council of Europe and worked internationally as a police officer and as the UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner, I have yet to see a country with a legal framework or action plan that delivers the structures agreed in these conventions, directives, or protocols. This is so even where implementation is mandatory, for example, in the European Union member states.

This is especially true regarding the support offered to victims and efforts to deter and prevent this offending. All too often there are complex demands placed on victims becoming the only deterrent, to them seeking support or to report their crime.

The conflation of human trafficking and people smuggling can cloud the understanding of human trafficking, albeit people who are undocumented or smuggled are at a higher risk of being trafficked.

It is important to remember human trafficking and modern slavery occur when an individual, business, or an organised crime group, decides to exploit a person, as Pope Francis said, feeding off the powerless.

This is generally for financial gain or to save on labour costs at the expense of the most vulnerable, robbing people of their opportunity of dignity at work or to provide for their families.

Many challenges remain to dismantle the economic, political, and social structures that allow human trafficking and modern slavery to flourish.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, include three significant, specified targets centred on combating human trafficking.

  • UN Sustainable Goal 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.1
  • UN Sustainable Goal 8.7: Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.2
  • UN Sustainable Goal 16.2: End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.3

As Cardinal Breslin said on Tuesday, achieving these or any of the Global Targets for a better world is in regression, not progressing.

So, how can this mammoth task of eradicating the norms of human trafficking and modern slavery be achieved:

Santa Marta Group has introduced a six-point strategy. This strategy aims to emphasise the serious nature of these crimes, who needs to respond, and why.

The six-points:

  1. Government procurement and business culture. Government activities must be free of human trafficking and modern slavery. One in every five units of currency spent in the world is by a government. Governments have the authority, the knowhow and the ability to demand transparency from their suppliers and service providers, but efforts in the area remain poor. Private and public businesses and corporates play a crucial role in the worlds development, providing opportunity and improve living standards for many. But a biproduct cannot be forced labour, and human trafficking. Wilful blindness is tantamount to negligence, from which comes liability and culpability. In this aspect there is some progress. The new European Union directive on forced labour, the revision of the Australian Modern Slavery Act, the increase in focus on the US Tariff Act and its Customs and Borders Protection and other domestic legislations such as the Norwegian, French, German, Brazilian and pending Canadian due diligence style legislation offer hope. Some of these frameworks will soon allow for sanctions for the companies who breach the rules, for example the German Laws allow for a four per cent of the companies turnover as a fine. However, these laws will need proper investment by business for prevention as opposed to only being reactive to being ‘caught out.’
  2. Tainted money, a new concept beyond that of proceeds of crime. If we really see human trafficking and modern slavery as abhorrent, removal of profit, even made unwittingly, will bring change. In fishing this would be a game changer.
  3. Technology and its online providers must be governed by law. No more than we would tolerate the sale of children for exploitation or advertising on our streets, it must not be allowed to proliferate in the cyber world. And the responsibility for funding its governance and policing should fall on those who make billions every year through the provision of online services.
  4. Understanding and implementing international instruments is essential. Many international instruments intended to protect fishermen exist. Instruments such as the International Labour Organisation Forced Labour Convention, the 2014 Forced Labour Protocol or the UN Palermo Protocol to suppress human trafficking are frameworks that should be incorporated into domestic laws and policy.
  5. It is essential to encourage international bodies, such as the Unions, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, the International Criminal Courts, and the ECHR, to develop models that suppress human trafficking. As a crime that is about creating financial profit, incorporating human trafficking into the work of the Financial Action Task Force could offer new forms of oversight and governance.
  6. Finally, leadership, shifting the dial. Leaders in governments, businesses, faith and religions, police and law enforcement and civil society must demonstrate the leadership to drive suppression of this crime across all their areas of responsibility.

Implementing this ambitious systemic approach will require commitment and the delivery of many global promises, but crucially, it must be able to prevent exploitation and suffering, providing support to victims, and hold those who exploit or benefit from exploitation to account.

At this year’s G20 in Brazil 2024, a priority is “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” and “strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising the global partnership for sustainable development.”4

Santa Marta Group is supporting the G20 Interfaith Forum to develop a plan for the G20 alongside all partnering nations to increase their political will and resourcing to end the socio-economic norms that allow and even promote human trafficking and modern slavery to thrive. Since 2018 this partnership has secured commitments in the G20 Leaders Declaration, but this year there is new strategy to move to concrete action.

The current US$230 billion profit of and those who benefit from this unbelievable sum operate with impunity.

These criminals must feel reassured that only one in every 8,700 victims receives justice. This means global detection rates are less than 0.2 per cent, while victim identification is less than one per cent.

This plan this year is for the G20 to ‘lead by example’ by committing to invest US$30 billion annually by 2030 to collectively resource human trafficking prevention, victim support, and criminal disruption.

This will mean that by 2030, when the 2015 UN 15-year Sustainability Development Goals end, and undoubtably transfer to a new iteration of global targets, human trafficking responses will be integrated into a systematic approach designed to protect the vulnerable, to create dignified and to ensure those who exploit others are stripped of their assets and face criminal sanction. Simply making this a crime you do not do, but if you dare to, the consequences far outweigh the benefits. In the fishing sector we need to see the owners, the captains and their agents brought to justice and the workers need to be protected. This cannot happen until it is recognised as the worlds second most profitable crime with vile criminals trading in human suffering.

I have met victims and families of human trafficking and modern slavery across the world. The victims are children, women and men whose chances of dignity are stolen and sometimes their lives are lost.

The ILO estimates that 22,000 children die in poor working conditions every year.

We owe a duty to protect them, which requires an ambitious strategy.

US$30 billion is only a fraction of the monies earned by the traffickers and a small amount in comparison to the global commitments to address terrorism, drugs crime or trading in guns.

Human trafficking and modern slavery in all its forms must become a global priority for prevention.

Eradicating the global model that allows this serious crime and human rights abuse to proliferate and remain a lucrative venture at the cost of the dignity of almost 50 million children, women and men cannot be allowed to continue. Twenty-five years on from the UN commitments to end this phenomenon, it needs new impetus.

Why must we make this a priority?

A 15-year-old girl I met whose parents arranged for her to leave Eritrea for fear of conscription to the army, where she would endure years of sexual abuse and rape.

Her passage to Europe soon became hell as she was taken to connecting houses in Libya, where she was sold as a sex slave at markets.

Once she had earned enough, she was given a seat on an inflatable boat for the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

She saw death at sea as people lost their lives.

Her arrival to Europe was just another part of her exploitation as she was moved to share accommodation with men. She had become a commodity in a far distant land, all alone. A place where it was believed democracy, humanity and the protection of children were part of the way of life.

But as we know, these values have become negotiable, traded against a populist culture and a vacuum of moral leadership.

It is our role, indeed our duty, to redirect the moral compass and make this a world where we do what we promise so that these crimes do not pay and girls like the ones I have met no longer suffer.

But of course, the route you take is up to you. The girls from Eritrea, and millions like them, do not have the luxury of choice.