Ingrid Verschuren, head of data strategy with Dow Jones, reveals the findings of research showing a surge in modern slavery during the lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In partnership with Traffik Analysis Hub and Unseen UK, Dow Jones looked at how the pandemic impacted media coverage of modern slavery in the supply chain. Comparing two six-month periods, before and during the pandemic, it found a 2,000% increase in coverage of supply chain disruption. That’s hardly surprising, given the global impact of the virus, but the trend was accompanied by a 25% drop in media coverage of slavery, along with a 79& decrease in reported cases.
The numbers reveal a decline in coverage of slavery, not one of actual incidents, Verschuren says. Criminal networks moved quickly to take advantage of the situation, by shifting forced labor into supply chain positions, even as NGOs were unable to document the rise in cases due to social lockdowns. Modern slavery, Verschuren says, “is an industry like any other,” moving around $150 billion a year. And the number of people involved in slavery has remained stable over the past few years, at around 41 million.
All of this is happening despite growing awareness by governments, business and citizens of the continuing presence of modern slavery in supply chains. The problem is less acute in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia that have passed legislation specifically targeting the practice, but it remains a serious problem in many other parts of the world.
Beyond regulation and legislation, however, the key to eliminating slavery in supply chains starts with public awareness, Verschuren says. “People need to understand what they should be looking for.” Sharing of data across the public and private sectors is critical to solving the problem.
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