Blog Post

In Pursuit of Target 8.7: Prioritizing Finance

Ahead of the eighth Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process we need a 'financial approach' to address modern slavery and human trafficking.

As we approach the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, one is reminded of the enduring importance and significance of cooperation in preventing and combating human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery, including forced labour, in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. With the 2023 Bali Process meetings on the horizon, the impending and continuing collaboration between governments and businesses provides great opportunities to raise awareness and galvanize action on the intersections between finance and human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery.

Collaboration and finance are critically important at a time when the international community is mobilizing efforts to reach target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 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… and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.

As revealed by the 2021 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery (GEMS), the number of persons in forced labour and forced marriage (referred to here as ‘modern slavery’) on any given day rose from 40.3 million in 2016 to 49.6 million in 2021. There remains therefore a lot of work that needs to be done to reach the international target. Human trafficking remains one of the most difficult crimes for law enforcement agencies to address due, in part, to its transnational nature.

So, what immediate and effective measures need to be considered, in pursuit of target 8.7? The role of finance, in particular, will be key.

A financial approach to tackling modern slavery

Finance serves as a major stimulus for traffickers and slavers, as they derive proceeds/profits from the exploitation of others. Finance further serves as an important source of leverage through which investors can influence businesses to address cases of human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery with which they are linked, or to which they contribute. Insufficient finance also serves as a major point of vulnerability for victims, while access to useful and affordable financial products and services can serve as a crucial source of support for survivors.

It is therefore critical to incorporate a financial approach in government efforts to prevent and respond to cases of human trafficking, modern slavery, and forced labour. Such an approach requires at least seven key actions on the part of governments:

(i) establishing and implementing coherent anti-trafficking and anti-modern slavery policies that incorporate the active involvement of departments, agencies, and institutions that have authority over financial sector actors, as well as inter-governmental cooperation and knowledge-sharing arrangements;

(ii) raising awareness about context- and sector-specific indicators of modern slavery among key actors (such as labour inspectors, financial investigators, financial intelligence units (FIUs), financial institutions [e.g. banks], investors, financial market supervisors, and regulators);

(iii) establishing and enforcing policies that require businesses, including financial sector entities, to report on and respond to human trafficking and forced labour in value chains, and supporting businesses that comply with such requirements;

(iv) encouraging banks and other financial institutions and payment service providers to provide financial services to vulnerable populations, particularly survivors of trafficking, while adhering to anti-money laundering (AML) and countering the financing of terrorism (CFT) obligations;

(v) establishing the requirement that businesses and financial sector entities initiate and operationalize grievance mechanisms that include a focus on human trafficking and modern slavery;

(vi) providing or enabling effective remedy to victims of trafficking, in collaboration with financial sector actors (who can, for example, facilitate financial investigations and the freezing of assets); and

(vii) facilitating knowledge and resource partnerships among public, private, and international actors who have responsibility or can exercise leverage in the financial sector.

Learning from existing practice

Given the important role played by governments, finance and the financial sector in the fight against human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery, learning from good practices could prove useful for individuals and organizations as they attempt to further progress towards attaining target 8.7.

In this regard, note can be taken of the Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAST) Initiative, which uses its landmark Blueprint to strategically engage with and mobilize the financial sector in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking. To date, FAST’s work has included facilitating access to basic banking services (e.g. checking and savings accounts) to over 2,000 survivors of modern slavery as an initial step in supporting their financial inclusion; convening, and participating in roundtables with financial institutions and FIUs to facilitate knowledge sharing and awareness raising on red flag indicators of modern slavery and human trafficking risks; and contributing (along with the Stock Exchange of Thailand and Walk Free) to Guidance on Modern Slavery Risks for Thai Businesses, providing a potential model that countries in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond can adopt.

E-learning programme for South-East Asian government officials 

Under the auspices of FAST, an Australian Government-funded e-learning programme (consisting of basic and advanced courses) for South-East Asia government officials has also been created. This programme draws from the FAST Blueprint and is geared towards raising and increasing awareness of how government agencies, departments, and institutions responsible for finance can help tackle human trafficking and modern slavery. With the revelation by the aforementioned GEMS report that Asia and the Pacific is the region with the largest number of persons (15.1 million) in forced labour, the time to advance efforts towards tackling these issues in this region is opportune. Further, with forced labour being highest in the Arab states as a proportion of the population, followed by Europe and Central Asia, much potential exists for adapting the e-learning programme for these regions.

During the recently concluded pilot phase of the e-learning programme, sixty-nine (69) responses were garnered from participants across Bangladesh, Cambodia, Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand. The agencies and departments represented by e-learning participants were diverse, and included FIUs, police agencies, central banks and export-import banks, departments of employment, departments of justice, revenue departments, departments of older persons, customs, ministries of finance, the International Cooperation Bureau, and the AML Council Secretariat.  Incorporated within the modules were survey questions pertaining to participants’ knowledge of human trafficking and modern slavery, the relevance of finance to these issues, and the involvement of participants’ agencies, departments or institutions in tackling human trafficking and modern slavery. Based on participants’ survey responses concerning the basic course, there was a 93.5 per cent increase in the average knowledge that participants had of modern slavery after their completion of the course, while there was a 37 per cent increase in the average perception of participants that finance is of relevance to modern slavery. The pre- and post-survey components of the advanced course likewise saw increases in both ‘knowledge’ and ‘relevance’ components. The majority of participants also expressed agreement with the notion that their agency/department/institution should have a role to play in governments’ efforts to tackle modern slavery, and be regularly involved in the country’s inter-agency coordination body against human trafficking/forced labour.

Survey questions also explored actions that respective agencies, departments or institutions could employ, in response to the course. Six of the recommended actions proposed by participants, which reflect the important role of financial actors in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery, are included in the table below.

 

Departments/Units of participants

Recommendations 

Department of Justice 

Financial institutions should monitor suspicious activities on the part of their corporate and personal clients through Know Your Customer (KYC) standards.

Department of Justice 

Financial institutions should be trained on modern slavery and provided with insights, actual case scenarios, key indicators, and other relevant matters so that they will understand what to investigate.

FIU 

Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) should be processed and brought under prevailing laws

FIU 

There should be easy access to financial services for survivors

FIU

E-KYC standards should be emphasized, and there should be increased use of e-money and mobile financial services.

Attorney General’s Office

More attention should be given to the indicators of unusual financial activities.

Immediate and effective measures

As we contemplate the sobering reality of human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery across the globe, finance is arguably an essential though inadequately explored measure in the fight to address these problems. However, finance-based measures and the involvement of the financial sector cannot be explored in a vacuum. If the international community is to succeed in pursuing “immediate and effective” measures to eradicate forced labour and end modern slavery and human trafficking, these measures should be multifaceted (i.e. involving all sectors, and focused on prevention, the protection of the human rights of victims, and the prosecution of perpetrators); integrated (i.e. involving the mainstreaming of synergies between and across sectors); systemic (i.e. focused on unearthing inequalities and market failures, and involving the creation, harmonization and implementation of human trafficking and modern slavery laws and policies that address these issues); malleable (i.e. open to change based on monitoring and evaluation processes); sustainable (i.e. involving the needs of the present and the anticipation of future needs); rights-based (i.e. they have a foundation in human rights), and victim-centered (i.e. the needs of victims are given prime consideration).

Suggested citation: Heywood Loria-Mae., "In Pursuit of Target 8.7: Prioritizing Finance," UNU-CPR (blog), 2023-02-03, 2023, https://unu.edu/cpr/blog-post/pursuit-target-87-prioritizing-finance.

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