Strengthening the Multilateral Response to Modern Slavery

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    UNU Office at the United Nations
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    Project Manager :
    James Cockayne

    Despite efforts by the international community to eradicate modern slavery over the past decades, reports such as the Global Slavery Index, estimate that 35.8 million people worldwide are affected by slavery, with a significant portion being children. The International Labour Organization, on the other hand, estimates that forced labour in the private economy generates $150 billion in illegal profits each year. In theory, contemporary international law takes a strong stand against slavery. There are no circumstances under which slavery is permitted. In fact, numerous treaties criminalize slavery and related practices. And in some cases, slavery can be – and has been – prosecuted as a crime against humanity in the International Criminal Court. Yet research shows that there is a significant gap between the theoretical stance of contemporary international law and the practical enforcement of its norms, which has real and tragic consequences. The United Nations system’s disparate efforts against human trafficking, slavery, forced labour and related practices have evolved organically over the last four decades. The result is a fragmented and at times inefficient set of arrangements, which risks internal competition, inefficiency, limited field impact – and not taking advantage of the normative, regulatory and social impact available to the UN. Against this backdrop, the UN University Office at the United Nations launched a policy research project entitled ‘Strengthening the multilateral response to modern slavery’, which will address both the role of International criminal justice and that of the UN system in responding to modern slavery. The analysis will explore both normative development and institutional practice, with a particular focus on international institutions such as the International Criminal Court, the International Labour Organization, the UN Security Council, and the broader UN system. On the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December 2015, this project will culminate with the launch at UNHQ in New York of two reports: 1. a co-branded UNU-Freedom Fund report containing practical, focused, politically feasible recommendations for strengthening the UN’s anti-slavery efforts; 2. A report that will identify what role international criminal justice could play in eradicating modern slavery. A second phase develops similar outputs focused on the role of the UN Security Council.