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COVID-19 and Modern Slavery: Challenges, Opportunities, and the Future of the Fight

Natalya Wallin and Jason Wendle, Directors of the GDI-incubated Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS), write for the Council on Foreign Relations about how COVID-19 is affecting victims of modern slavery, and the immediate opportunity for the private and public sector to recover responsibly to prevent exploitation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and been exacerbated by inequality around the world, disproportionately affecting populations most vulnerable to acute poverty, exploitation, and abuse. One population at the extreme end of the global inequality spectrum are victims of modern slavery. Even before the current crisis, they faced restricted freedom of movement, isolation, and withheld wages. Many victims now face escalating threats: domestic workers face heightened risk of physical and sexual violence and there are numerous reports of bonded and migrant laborers forced to walk hundreds of kilometers to their home villages after losing their jobs.

As the economic fallout of the pandemic deepens and further exacerbates vulnerabilities, the global community should anticipate that millions more may fall into labor and sex trafficking in the aftermath of the crisis. While urgent humanitarian needs are being addressed in the short-term, the global community must also rethink social protections and evaluate supply chains to ensure ethical production and responsible global trade in the medium and long-term. It is critical that we coordinate efforts to prevent a surge of exploitation and modern slavery.”