The coronavirus pandemic is stalling progress on human rights and magnifying the risks of forced and child labour, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has warned.
With over 40m people globally trapped in modern slavery, Covid-19 will only worsen their living situations for months to come, reversing progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Target 8.7, says the WEF.
“Labour exploitation is a product and manifestation of power imbalances. We know that those who are marginalised, discriminated against and impoverished are at greater risk of exploitation,” the WEF says in a recent report. “Those people are now at even greater risk, as they are vulnerable to exclusion from adequate healthcare, have their already-constrained movement restricted further by border closures and travel disruptions, and risk stigmatisation and discrimination by nativist rhetoric and politics.”
The WEF also points to a growing risk of enslavement for migrants. A recent UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery warned that growing informalisation and casualisation of the labour force would heighten modern slavery risks.
“That risk has now been magnified hugely,” WEF says. “The International Labour Organisation reports that the economic and labour crisis, created by Covid-19, may see global unemployment increase by almost 25m. Working poverty rates will increase significantly, with a prediction that there will be between 20.1m and 25m more people in working poverty than in the pre Covid-19 estimate.
“As governments order non-essential business to close, millions of people employed in the gig economy—who for the most part are on precarious contracts, with little or low access to paid sick leave and no health insurance—are put in vulnerable situations and may turn to risky or exploitative employment.”
The WEF also warns the outbreak is threatening livelihoods of garment workers. In Bangladesh, over 100 factories have lost business as retailers close stores and reduce orders.
In an update at the weekend, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Association (BGMEA) said at least 1,123 factories are struggling to cope or survive, and at least 2.24m workers are being affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent cancellation and postponement of orders.
The WEF says: “The apparel industry employs 4m people in Bangladesh who are now either at risk of losing their jobs or in a situation of vulnerability due to loss of their steady income. In Thailand, there are reports of a surge in demand from manufacturers in medical supply chains for cheap labour, targeting vulnerable migrant workers.”
According to its report, the social and economic disruptions caused by Covid-19 will “fragment response efforts” to ant-slavery in numerous ways.
“Many government and civil society response organisations have had their movements impeded. In Brazil, anti-slavery operations have halted, as the government’s special mobile enforcement group is suspended for fear of exposure to the virus.
And the resources needed to sustain anti-slavery efforts—including funding and attention—will be harder to seek.”
Click here to view the full report.