Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking during COVID-19

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Anglican Alliance has hosted several regional meetings looking at how the pandemic has affected the most vulnerable, including those affected by modern slavery and human trafficking. We have heard stories from around the globe of increased levels of exploitation and a change in the way victims are being trafficked.

Measures taken in many countries to eradicate the virus include lockdowns, restricted travel and closed borders, which have all impacted the ways in which traffickers operate. It is important to understand the implications of the pandemic for modern slavery and human trafficking so that we can continue to care effectively for the most vulnerable in society and be prepared to respond on both on a community and global level.

The following resources share some key findings related to COVID-19 and modern slavery / human trafficking and how the issues are changing across the world.

Implications of COVID-19 for human trafficking
The pandemic is affecting the way in which traffickers operate, the types of exploitation taking place, and access to support services. The economic difficulties caused by the pandemic have put more people at risk of being trafficked. Some of the most vulnerable people in society are at even higher risk of exploitation and becoming victims of traffickers than they were already. Many victims are even less visible than they would be ordinarily.

This report by Hope for Justice outlines some of the key changes taking place, focusing on the increased threat and vulnerability to trafficking of individuals and communities. It examines potential effects of the pandemic on the way in which exploitation takes place, on law enforcement and on certain sectors of business which might experience changes in exploitation levels.

Information on the risks the pandemic poses to vulnerable workers, including the effects on specific industries can be found here. The report also sets out recommendations on how businesses and governments can work together and take action to ensure the most vulnerable workers are protected during this time.

Immediate and long-term response
The pandemic has increased the immediate short-term needs of many, particularly those vulnerable to exploitation. Whilst it is vital that these needs are met, it is also important to understand that the changes brought about by the pandemic could have long-lasting effects on the way in which exploitation occurs.

This article by Anti-Slavery International looks at how organisations working with the most vulnerable can respond, highlighting both short and long-term responses to ensure victims are protected against trafficking after the pandemic. They have also produced an accompanying report setting out key vulnerabilities and recommendations for those working with vulnerable communities to ensure they are protected both now and into the future.

Alliance 8.7 emphasise the importance of placing the rights of the most vulnerable at the heart of the COVID-19 response to ensure that the work being carried out to protect these people does not suffer as a result of the pandemic. More information about this can be found here.

The Freedom Fund have produced a report looking at the effects of humanitarian crises in the past on those caught up in modern slavery. It outlines the lessons learnt from these to inform our response to the current crisis.

Caring for the vulnerable
We must be aware of those in our communities who may be particularly vulnerable at this time. The World Evangelical Alliance, together with the Salvation Army and Humanitarian Disaster Institute have produced a document highlighting the key ways in which the pandemic could affect some of the most vulnerable, including victims of human trafficking and how we can care for them.

Child exploitation
Children have their own vulnerabilities which have increased due to COVID-19 and many will be at increased risk of being trafficked. The closure of schools and the economic impact of the pandemic on families has meant that many children have had to work, and some may not return to education. It is important to consider ways in which the pandemic affects children and how they can be best protected. Information on this can be found here.

Survivors of human trafficking
It is vital that we are aware of how those who have survived human trafficking may be affected by the pandemic. Some survivors may be unable to access support services, have financial difficulties or health problems with which they need support. More information on the effect of COVID-19 on survivors can be found in this article.

Supporting Hidden Victims of Trafficking
The following online seminar ‘Supporting Hidden Victims of Human Trafficking Exploitation during COVID-19’ provides insights into the different ways in which the pandemic has affected victims of trafficking across the globe. The following points summarise some of the key learnings coming out of this seminar:
• The pandemic has affected the global economy and will have serious impacts on many of the most vulnerable families and communities. Traffickers are taking advantage of this. As families struggle to provide food they will become more susceptible to debt bondage and other forms of trafficking.
• As borders have closed and travel restrictions remain in place, traffickers are looking for other ways to transport victims. There is likely to be an increase in the number of deaths of those being transported illegally via alternative travel routes.
• There has been a large increase in the amount of exploitation taking place online. This is particularly affecting children who are not at school, and many are spending more time online. Children are increasingly being recruited via online gaming and social media sites.
• We are still learning about the long-term effects coronavirus has on the body, but it is clear that once people have recovered there may be lasting damage to their organs. The demand for organ replacements could outweigh the supply from donations and result in increased levels of organ trafficking around the world.

The Anglican Alliance focus on modern slavery and human trafficking
The Anglican Alliance continues to support its regional practitioner groups and collaborate with ecumenical partners on tackling modern slavery and human trafficking at this time of COVID-19. Please look here for further information on the Anglican Alliance’s work in this area.