How can data collection help victims of Modern Slavery?

Michaëlle de Cock

Paper presented at

The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences
Human Trafficking: Issues Beyond Criminalization

17 – 21 April, 2015
Casina Pio IV, Vatican City

Is it justified to spend hundreds of thousands dollars in research projects when millions of victims are still suffering from forced labour at this very precise time and should be rescued as a matter of extreme urgency? My short presentation is meant to provide a brief overview on the ILO’s activities related to research on Modern Slavery and demonstrate how and why such research programmes are core to any efficient policy and action designed to combat modern slavery.

And, considering trafficking, forced labour and all forms of modern slavery as signs of time, and the very special location of this conference, I would like to refer to 1961 Pope John XXIII’s Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra.

This encyclical affirms the process of See, Judge, Act as a way of reading and responding to the signs of time as follows: “There are three stages which should normally be followed in the reduction of social principles into practice. First, one reviews the concrete situation; secondly, one forms a judgement on it in the light of these same principles; thirdly, one decides what in the circumstances can and should be done to implement these principles. These are the three stages that are usually expressed in the three terms: observe, judge, act”.

What does that tell us for the fight against modern slavery? How does such a statement guide us in our urgent action to prevent children, women and men to become new victims of modern slavery and to be more efficient in detecting and rescuing current victims?

A first answer lies in the first stage as quoted above: reviewing the concrete situation. That means forgetting about our prejudices, ignoring the sensationalistic papers and discourses which, in many cases, aim at focusing the attention on the speaker more than on the victims, and being ready to observe with rigour and precision the situation as it is. Leaving the myths behind to face the reality. But this requires adequate observation tools. For many years, and not so long ago, millions of victims of trafficking for labour exploitation were left ignored mainly because most observers focused their observation on victims of sexual exploitation. Just as a doctor uses different tools to observe the cells, the organs and the body as a whole, so should those people concerned with forced labour. Nevertheless, all forms of examination are useful and can bring a unique piece of information crucial to give a right diagnosis and from that prescribe the right and most efficient treatment. The needs for data and information are specific to the various actors. For example, at national level, political and social actors involved in the fight against modern slavery want to know with some degree of exactitude what are the various forms of slavery which take place in their country, and who are the victims. Estimating the national prevalence will inform the policy makers on the extent of the means necessary to combat the various forms, and the more precise the estimates are, the more adequate the means can be. The business community has different needs; a typical request for data issued by specific economic sectors involve the detection and observation of the goods which may involve use of forced labour at some stage of the production. Management, board or consumers want to know where such forms of exploitation take place and who the victims and the exploiters are. NGOs and project implementers will ask researchers to provide accurate baseline information to be sure that their actions targets the right population and answers to the real needs of the victims or potential victims of trafficking or forced labour.

The international community calls for accurate macro data. Typically, there is still a need for an agreed typology and relevant definitions of the various forms of trafficking and modern slavery, along with accurate estimates of each of these forms. The global estimate of forced labour published by the ILO in 2012 aimed at answering to this need of global data: by estimating the number of victims at 20,9 million people, the ILO gave with some degree of precision, the extent of the problem. The very simple typology used revealed that more than two-thirds of the victims are trapped in labour exploitation, 22% in sexual exploitation and 10% in various forms of state-imposed forced labour. By combining these figures with the economic figures published the same year on the profits made out of forced labour, it becomes clear which sectors and where in the world most profits are made by criminal operators who exploit the vulnerability of children, women and men.

This is where the importance of the second stage comes: form a judgement on it (the concrete situation) in the light of these same principles. The judgement is the result of what we call the analysis. Figures don’t speak for themselves. We need to give sense to them. Even from the data produced by large-scale national survey on forced labour, it is not obvious to derive useful and accurate conclusions. The ILO calls for the use of solid statistical tools which allow extrapolations, for econometric analysis which lead to some understanding of causality of slavery. For example, it is not always the poor women who are most at risk of being trafficked. In some contexts, educated young males also have a huge risk of being trafficked. Looking at statistical determinants provides a profile of very concrete and real human beings who need to be protected. The ILO has developed and shared survey guidelines, which include tools for rigorous sampling and questionnaire design, advice on survey implementation and guidance for analysis.

This judgement is critical to implement the final stage which consists in deciding what should be done to implement these principles. A first and direct follow-up action to research is awareness raising. Revealing the “concrete situation” to the policy makers, to the governmental and non-governmental social actors active in the fight against forced labour, to the recruiters and employers of the victims, to the general public is very important. It opens the doors on a hidden phenomenon, and therefore contributes to the protection of the vulnerable people. Using the results of the analysis of data can help designing targeted awareness raising campaigns, gaining ipso facto in efficiency. The same applies for policy changes: most of our research reports end with a chapter on recommendations which are based on the data collected, as well as feedback from all stakeholders. The ILO accompanies countries in their legal reform, if necessary, or policy changes when recommended. All this process is linked to what we call capacity building: from the first stages of the research design till the implementation of the actions, local actors are trained to better understand and combat modern slavery. Typical examples from many countries all over the world include training programmes for labour inspectorates, police and the judicial world. Some recent research targeted on the access to justice has revealed the difficulties victims face to access justice and have led to specific training programmes on that issue. The same applies for project design. The actions will target the most vulnerable people, for prevention, detection and rehabilitation. Last, but not least, survey results can be used at local, national or global level to raise funds to combat this outrageous form of exploitation. Donors need to know better and more accurately the problem they are asked to “solve”.

These are just a few examples of what is currently being done by the ILO and other actors to articulate research and action in the fight against trafficking and slavery. But we want to do more and better.

The ILO is working with other international actors on the improvement of survey methods, to create measurement standards so that results can be comparable and trends measured. Estimating prevalence at national level with reliable methods is a priority. In October 2013 we received the mandate from the International Conference of Labour Statisticians to “set up a working group with the aim of sharing best practices on forced labour surveys in order to encourage further such surveys in more countries”. We want to promote simple sets of key indicators of forced labour/trafficking that countries will be invited to measure on a regular basis to assess the progress made. It is also urgent to work together on the development of more efficient tools to assess the impact of our interventions. What works and what does not work to combat trafficking, and why? World resources are difficult to mobilize and the needs are huge: it is our duty to inform donors where and how money can be invested most efficiently to address the problem.

It is only by working together, sharing our difficulties and expertise, testing new ideas and new research protocols, that we can be sure to collect and analyse new data that will help all actors work better and more efficiently to put an end to Human Trafficking.


Human Trafficking: Issues Beyond Criminalization

Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences Plenary Session 17-21 April 2015 – There are two... Read more