In simple and concise words, slavery refers to a practice where a human is owned and treated as a commodity rather than an individual. It is true that slavery has been made illegal in every recognised country. However, another truth is that it has been replaced by a more evolved system of modern slavery. It is impossible to provide an exact number of modern slaves, as different countries have different methodologies for figuring out how many people it effects and even deciding what counts as modern slavery and what does not.
The aim of this article is to provide an insight into what countries around the world are doing, in relation to this issue with respect to their legislation and policies, rather than diving into what is causing the practice of modern slavery. Defining ‘’Modern Slavery’’ itself can contain various forms of inhuman practices, therefore, to keep the comparison uniform, laws related to forced marriage, forced labour, human trafficking and forced sexual exploitation would be mentioned.
The country has been criticized internationally for failing to come up with stronger laws and policies to overcome human trafficking with evidence for this being the trafficking in person report . However, there are two main points of law which have been constructed by the Parliament against Human trafficking, namely S.279 of the Criminal code of Canada and S.117 of Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The disappointment has come in the form of policies that were put in place to discover the practice of Human trafficking, as they have not been successful in bringing forward cases where the mentioned point of laws is being breached. An example being the Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking Persons. It was a government body set up in 1999 to form anti-trafficking strategies, but its incompetence to do so lead to it being replaced by the Human Trafficking Taskforce in 2012, which is currently serving the same purpose.
In 2012, the government established a Four-year action plan known as the National Action plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which introduced the government’s decision of not allowing foreign workers to be a part of the country’s sex industry, which has helped in overcoming the risks of exploitation through trafficking within that sector, but has also affected foreign nationals in the country in an economic sense.
Rather than providing a particular law from a European country, the best way to represent Europe’s stand on modern slavery is through the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR protects Europeans from modern slavery by prohibiting any form of slavery through Article 4 – servitude. Unsurprisingly, this article has indeed been breached from time to time, a notable case being that of C.N. and V. v France 2012, where two sisters, who had left Burundi to live with their uncle and aunt in France, were made to work around the clock and live in unhygienic conditions by their guardians, resulting in forced labour. However, the fact that article 4 is an ‘’absolute right’’, which means that it cannot be restricted in any circumstance whatsoever, does confirm the strong stance ECHR took against slavery.
Besides the ECHR, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 in the UK and newly adopted Duty of Vigilance in France are examples of how countries are trying to strengthen their domestic laws against modern slavery on their own. However, the ECHR still remains the go-to legislation if looking at the continent as a whole.
Australia is a part of the 1926 slavery convention, and of the supplementary convention on the abolition of slavery as well, which is based on the former. However, the nation does not have particular legislation concentrating on modern slavery, as of yet.
Introduction of the Modern Slavery bill 2018 is still pending. Modelled upon the Modern Slavery Act 2015 of the United Kingdom, the bill aims at strengthening the law around this topic through scrutinising big businesses by requiring them to address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains through annual public reports . Presently, the bill is in the Senate and has passed the house of representatives.
Statistically, India is the home to the largest population of modern slaves. On the legislative front, the bonded labour system (Abolition) Act 1976 came into force and made the practice of Human Trafficking and forced labour a crime, long back ago. In 2016, the government passed the ‘’central sector scheme for rehabilitation of bonded labourers’’, through which compensation was given to bonded labourers. However, due to a deep-rooted problem of debt bondage and slavery arising out of caste system in certain parts of the country, it has been hard to implement the legislation, leading to rise to the problem.
Forced marriage is also a prevalent issue in the rural parts of the country. Keeping that in mind, the legislation in place for forced marriage seems slightly unsatisfactory. This is so, as per section 366 of the Indian Penal Code a marriage may only be considered forced if the woman involved in it was kidnapped prior to the forced marriage, making forced marriage done with the involvement of the family, legal.
The country has lately seen a surge in modern slavery issues. Its first ever case of human trafficking came forward just recently in 2015, where an individual was guilty of 15 charges of Human trafficking. Like India, debt bondage is prevalent here as well, but here it primarily involves migrants. Cases of migrants being made to work for long hours and receiving deducted pay at low wage rates are showing up one after another. No complaints are made as in most of the cases, victims are threatened with the possibility of losing visas.
Courts have been relying on Section 98D, Crimes Act 1961 to deal with human trafficking problems, the legislation explicitly provides that human trafficking and forced labour is a crime. For issues of migrants in workplaces, Section 351 of Immigration Act 2009 (as at 24 October 2018) has provided certain protective measures till some extent. However, the limited scope of these legislation has caused a hindrance in providing appropriate judgements.
Forced labour is a crime under Article 149 of the country’s penal code. An amendment was made in 2003, where the definition of forced labour was enhanced to include the act of making someone work in ‘’conditions analogous to slavery’’, broadening the scope of the law. Lately, a condition to accompany the ‘’conditions analogous to slavery’’ part was suggested in the parliament, according to which it should be applicable only when the employer has been caught by two government officials in the act of restricting the free movement of a person. However, it was suspended by the federal supreme court, as it would have restricted the broad interpretation of the legislation.
In May 2016, the supreme court decided in the favour of the government to form a law, which allows the publication of a ‘’dirty list’’. Prior to the Supreme court’s decision, an injunction had been allowed against its publication. This is so, as it refers to a list of companies that may be encouraging forced labour or child labour, in order to manufacture products. Understandably, there had been an opposition of such a list, as it was termed as a name and shame method of fighting against a form of modern slavery, which could interfere with the reputation of big businesses.
Policies, like in the case of Canada and India, are as good as their implementation, which tends to be drastically different as compared to predictions or set expectations. Countries around the world are coming up with legislation which would involve scrutinising of supply chains of businesses. Given that a lot of multi-national company’s do outsource the manufacturing or assembling of their products, due to cheap labour costs. Such legislation, along with requiring businesses to clean up their acts, could have a butterfly effect on conditions in which workers work in different countries.