International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

2 December 2020

Anti-human trafficking image created by participants in the 2018 East Asia consultation on trafficking and modern slavery

Today, the Anglican Alliance is marking the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. The annual commemoration focuses on the ongoing injustices of modern slavery and efforts across the world to fight it, while reminding us of the evils of historic slavery which still impact on lives today. Shockingly, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates there are over 40 million victims of modern slavery across the world today, a term which covers the crimes of slavery, servitude, forced labour and human trafficking. The date is the anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly’s approval of the first convention to fight human trafficking on 2nd December 1949.

The Anglican Alliance is committed to working towards a world free of modern slavery and human trafficking. Since 2014, we have held consultations across the Anglican Communion with partner organisations to equip churches to respond to human trafficking and promote safe migration in their communities. This year, a large part of our work on modern slavery and human trafficking has focused on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on those affected by these injustices.

Impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on victims of human trafficking and modern slavery

The pandemic has had devastating consequences for victims – and potential victims – of human trafficking and modern slavery, who have become even more hidden and vulnerable due to lockdowns and changes to trafficking routes caused by travel restrictions. Dr Willis Okumu, the peacebuilding coordinator and principal investigator at Anglican Development Services Kenya says that “vulnerabilities of low-income populations have increased due to the Covid-19 crisis. Many households are not able to access basic necessities such as food, healthcare and housing. Recruitment of victims of trafficking is now online and those targeted are school-age children who are idle at home.”

During the pandemic, the Anglican Alliance has heard stories from across the Anglican Communion of churches supporting those affected by modern slavery and human trafficking, while raising community awareness for prevention. We have facilitated online regional consultations with communities of practice in Africa, the Middle East and East Asia, which have provided insights into the impacts of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable within our communities.

One of the effects of the pandemic highlighted by the Church in East Asia is the large increase in online sexual exploitation of children, with cases rising considerably during lockdown between March and May. Agencies and churches in the Philippines have raised awareness of this online sex trafficking, while providing relief and support to survivors’ families through food parcels, trauma support, parenting courses and supporting children’s ongoing education. The project both supports survivors and helps prevent further children becoming victims.

Dr Willis also highlighted online child sexual exploitation as a key problem affecting children in Kenya. The closure of schools has made children more vulnerable to being trafficked, particularly through online forums. It has been difficult for organisations to provide support to victims during the pandemic due to lockdowns, travel restrictions, reduced staffing and services moving online, putting them out of the reach of people without access to the internet. Even so, the Anglican Church in Kenya has persisted. Dr Willis describes how the Church has “continued to strengthen community awareness programs that aim at informing youth and parents of the existence of human trafficking networks within villages. The Church through its youth programs has developed tailor-made engagement forums to inform teenagers of the dangers of human trafficking, especially through social media platforms.” It is inspiring to see churches responding to the changing patterns of exploitation in their communities and supporting the most vulnerable at this time.

Resources to help churches respond

The Anglican Alliance’s Covid-19 resource hub includes a section on supporting impoverished, vulnerable and marginalised groups. Within this section, two areas are of particular relevance to the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. The first is the subsection on implications of the pandemic for modern slavery and human trafficking and its impacts on victims and survivors, which contains a range of resources to help churches respond. The second is the section on the impacts of COVID-19 on refugee and migrant populations and how churches can respond. The pandemic has had devastating impacts on the livelihoods of many people across the world, especially migrant workers. Migrants, refugees and internally displaced people are now at even greater risk of being trafficked. The resource hub provides resources to guide churches in supporting refugee and migrant communities. Also of relevance is the new section of our main website on human trafficking and modern slavery.

Further examples of responses by our partner organisations

We have heard several other examples of how some of our partner organisations are responding to the issue of human trafficking throughout the pandemic. The Just Good Work app, developed by Fifty Eight, is designed to support safe migration and to help prevent situations of exploitation and human trafficking arising amongst migrant workers in East Africa and the Gulf. The app provides information on each step of the employment process, allowing workers who are looking to migrate know what they can expect and make fully informed decisions. At a time when many migrant workers have faced the devastating impacts of the pandemic, this is a vital tool to help protect people looking for work overseas.

The Clewer Initiative is the Church of England’s response to Modern Slavery. During the pandemic, they have launched the Farm Work Welfare app to help tackle labour exploitation in the UK’s agricultural sector. Restrictions arising from the pandemic have created an environment in which vulnerable and seasonal migrant workers are more likely to be exploited. The app supports both employers and workers by providing information about safe working conditions and workers’ rights.  It is also designed to raise awareness amongst members of the public who live or work in rural areas about modern slavery and how to spot and report potential cases of exploitation.

These two examples illustrate how churches are responding to the unique effects of the pandemic within their own contexts. The Alliance is working with both Fifty Eight and the Clewer Initiative, helping equip the Church to support victims of human trafficking and modern slavery.

It has been invaluable to hear stories from churches, communities and organisations as they respond to support those impacted by human trafficking and modern slavery during the coronavirus pandemic. At a time when victims are becoming increasingly hidden, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery provides an opportunity to draw together in remembering some of the most vulnerable people in society and consider how we can all respond so that, together, we can look towards a future free of these injustices.