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Good practice in protecting people during a pandemic

Project aiming to develop guiding principles for best practice during global crises.

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges for workers and for people affected by modern slavery.

A large number of workers lost their jobs, which might push them into looking for opportunities in informal economies, which are rife with exploitation. Some businesses might use the pandemic as an excuse to exploit vulnerable workers. The pandemic might make it more difficult for people caught up in modern slavery to come forward, whilst there’s early evidence that some survivors already in the care of the state experienced difficulties in receiving basic support to rebuild their lives.

At this moment, however, the full impact is yet to be examined thoroughly, as the situation is still evolving. It leaves a number of important questions open, for example to what extent unemployment is actually pushing people into exploitation and forced labour. Also, while an increase in demand for labour in certain sectors may give strong incentives for businesses to exploit vulnerable individuals, a clear global trend is yet to be established. Questions remain as to how states' focus on tackling the pandemic affected those trapped in modern slavery.

There are also additional questions in relation to wider protection measures: do they address the key impacts of Covid-19 sufficiently? Is protection tailored to address the specific needs of particularly vulnerable populations such as women, children or minorities? Can they be accessed by all workers without discrimination? What are the practical difficulties in implementing them?

A research team from the Keele University led by Prof. Tomoya Obokata, who is also a UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, in collaboration with Minority Rights Group International, aims to answer these questions and identify good practice in protecting workers and people affected by modern slavery.

The team is conducting research on the key socio-economic impacts of the pandemic on modern slavery. It will then assess the appropriateness and effectiveness of measures designed to protect workers and people affected by modern slavery, including identifying examples of good practice.

The team is employing desktop research of materials already available in public domain, such as reports and literature published by scholars, governments, NGOs, international organisations and other stakeholders, complemented by virtual interviews with stakeholders from around the world, allowing the team to triangulate and verify desktop research.

In line with Modern Slavery and Human Right’s Policy and Evidence Centre’s focus on practical impact, the project aims to provide practical recommendations to be taken up by governments, business, civil society and international organisations.

In order to promote a human rights centred approach, the team will create "Guiding principles on actions against modern slavery during the state of emergency", containing important human rights norms and principles to be upheld by governmental and non-governmental actors during similar future crises.

This project was commissioned under the Modern Slavery PEC call for research on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on modern slavery.

Research team: Prof Tomoya Obokata, Dr Forough Ramezankah, Keele University.