It feels so awkward and wrong to have to talk about slavery in 2017. But unfortunately it remains a reality for many people around the globe today. There are different figures estimating the number of women, children and men held in some form of slavery. The number is 21 million people, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO); other organizations have even higher figures. The ILO estimates that the illicit profit gained from modern slavery is $150 billion a year.
Why does modern slavery exist? Experts cite a number of geopolitical issues, including increasing poverty and inequality, global conflicts and the consequent large-scale population movements, as well as consumer demand for ever more things at ever lower costs.
There are a number of actors that need to work together to prevent modern slavery. Governments and companies are important ones. One example of how governments are tackling the issue is the UK government’s Modern Slavery Act 2015. It is a UK disclosure rule that addresses the role of businesses in preventing modern slavery and human trafficking in supply chains. The Act requires companies (regardless of where they are incorporated) to produce an annual slavery and human trafficking statement if they:
In the Modern Slavery Act, the term modern slavery is used to encapsulate slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, as well as human trafficking. Forced or compulsory labour is defined in international law by the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention 29 and Protocol. It involves coercion, either direct threats of violence or more subtle forms of compulsion. The key elements are that work or service is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the person has not offered him/herself voluntarily.
Ericsson just released its first statement describing our global approach to modern slavery, which we have published on our website. The statement describe how the Ericsson Group is tackling the challenge of modern slavery and human trafficking throughout its operations and supply chain, in line with the UK Modern Slavery Act. It also outlines Ericsson’s policies and business practices and the plans for future improvements.
The devastating phenomenon of modern slavery is not only happening in far-away countries that have a reputation for harsh working conditions. It also takes place in our own backyard – right here in northern Europe and in Sweden, in my case. For example, there have been several reports in the Swedish media about people in cleaning, construction and agricultural jobs who are working in unacceptable conditions that can be considered forced labour. You and I as individuals have a responsibility to be more observant and to dare to ask challenging questions.
The recent arrival of so many refugees in Europe means that there are now more people in our local economies who are at risk of being exploited. I hope you will join me in doing what you can to ensure that the people who produce goods and services for us all are treated fairly and compensated appropriately for the work that they do – regardless of where in the world they live and work.
Camilla Goldbeck-Löwe is a corporate responsibility expert and human rights lawyer working at the Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility Unit at Ericsson Group. Before joining the company, Camilla worked for the Swedish Government in different positions with human rights issues.