Combating Modern Slavery and Trafficking

Yesterday I attended the International Carl Bernhard Wadström Conference on Human Rights and the Abolition of Slavery. In my opening speech I paid tribute to Carl Bernhard Wadström – whose visionary political writings very much formed part of the British anti-slavery debate in the 1790s.

Wadström was an economist, industrialist and Swedenborgian whose networking skills were impressive. After moving to England in 1788, it did not take long before Wadström had become a friend of the leading British abolitionist William Wilberforce and one thing lead to another.
Soon Wadström was invited to give eyewitness accounts before the Privy Council and a Committe of the whole House of the Commons on his experience of the slave trade in Africa. Wadström’s writings even gained him an audience with the British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.

In 1792 William Pitt the Younger addressed the House of Commons to support a controversial resolution on the abolition of the slave trade. In this historical speech Pitt asked the rhetorical question: “Why ought the slave trade to be abolished?” He then answered: ”Because it is incurable injustice.”

Although the slave trade was abolished in the 19th century the sad reality is that slavery very much continues today in one form or another. In every country in the world. In towns, cities and in the countryside, including in the UK and Sweden.

The recruitment, transportation and transfer of persons, which is done by means of the threat or use of force for the purpose of exploitation is a serious crime. It is a crime that not only violates the dignity of the individual but also infringes a number of human rights.

It is a complex problem often rooted in poverty and despair, but also increasingly connected to serious organized crime. It’s about subordination of men, women and children as well as inadequate protection of human rights.
The human rights violations are used as a method by traffickers to subjugate, control and exploit victims of trafficking in all its forms.

The linkage between trafficking in human beings and torture and ill-treatment is sadly often overlooked.
The process of dehumanization is a central element in prejudice, racism and discrimination and must be tackled on many different fronts. But combating slavery and trafficking is no simple task.

The problem crosses national borders and therefore requires cooperation between countries. A wide range of actions are needed in several policy areas and sectors of society.

Modern slavery is often deeply hidden and so it is a great challenge to assess its scale. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) around 21 million men, women and children around the world are in a form of slavery. These are shocking figures.

This is about women and children being forced into prostitution.Children and adults being forced to work in agriculture or domestic work for nothing to pay off generational debts; and very young girls being forced in to marriages.

The need for urgent action is very clear. The first step to eradicate the surge of modern slavery is to acknowledge and confront its existence.The fight against human trafficking begins with knowledge.

The Swedish government is doing its utmost to fight slavery and trafficking. Sweden’s commitments in the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN serve as a basis for government policy in this sphere and focuses on greater protection and support for people at risk, more emphasis on preventive work,  higher standards and greater efficiency in the justice system, increased national and international cooperation and a higher level of knowledge and awareness.

It is important that special measures are taken on behalf of children and young people as they are a vulnerable group. Children across the world remain at risk of being bought and sold to work in unimaginable conditions of sex slavery, bonded labour and domestic servitude. In some places in the world children as young as 5 years old are forced to work 7 days a weeek. Many children end up with crippling injuries, respiratory disorders and chronic pain.
Because these children are often plagued by health problems they are less likely to find employment once they reach adulthood.

An important part of preventive work is to heighten people’s awareness and help them rethink their attitudes to those exposed to slavery and trafficking. We need to intensify outreach activities and give greater priority to sheltered housing, treatment centres and other forms of support and protection. We also need measures to help victims find alternative means of support.

The fight against modern slavery and trafficking is a key component in a long-term strategy for combating serious organized crime. Effective and appropriate legislation for combating prostitution and trafficking is critical. However, legislation is only part of the answer. We must step up the fight against trafficking and slavery and put an end to the harm, abuse and destruction of so many innocent people around the world.

Learning about human trafficking, the forms of existing slavery, and the efforts to combat trafficking are vital first steps in the anti-trafficking movement.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security. No one shall be held in slavery, and no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

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