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Attention needed to end modern-day slavery

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Yoon government urged to take action to counter human trafficking

By Matthew S. Friedman

Human trafficking, which represents the recruitment, transport, receipt and harboring of people for the purpose of exploiting their labor, affects almost all parts of the world. Globally, it is estimated that there are over 40 million men, women and children in modern day slavery today.

According to the Slavery Index (2018), there are an estimated 99,000 trafficking victims in South Korea. These victims are found in factories, construction sites, within fisheries and sex venues and are forced to work for little or no pay, deprived of their freedom, and often subjected to unimaginable suffering. Despite this staggering number of exploited victims, according to the U.S. government's "Trafficking in Persons Report" (2021), the global benchmark for government responses to the issue, the Korean government "fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking."

To further complement and support the on-going efforts being carried out within South Korea, the Yoon Suk-yeol government should consider developing, expanding and improving the following components.

Many counter-trafficking programs work without full knowledge of the issue they are trying to address. Data on modern slavery victims must be collected using rigorous, scientific methodologies, and evaluated to determine what is working and what isn't. This will help interventions be more targeted, efficient and cost-effective. There is a need for more comprehensive government-funded research and data collection programs to be developed that invest in both research methodologies and researchers to understand the scope of the problem. This would help to establish improved systems and procedures to collect data related to these crimes.

Local authorities should also expand the use of victim identification policies and procedures to identify more forced labor and sex trafficking victims. This includes screening vulnerable workers within fisheries, manufacturing and agriculture. Actions should be taken to significantly increase efforts to identify, investigate and convict criminals who carry out human trafficking activities with sentences that reflect the severity of the crime.

Legal reform is also relevant to this approach. The government should revise and improve existing laws to criminalize trafficking outcomes in line with international guidelines and standards. Increased penalties should be considered for these crimes and clauses that prevent victims from being prosecuted for acts committed as trafficked persons.

Many efforts to counter human trafficking continue to be implemented in isolation. Programs are being developed independently based on each organization's priorities. Differences in approach, values and competition for funding are some of the reasons a lack of collaboration exists. It is recommended to implement efforts to increase collaboration within the counter trafficking response. With increased collaboration between different stakeholders such as non-profits, government bodies, law enforcement and corporations, there will be reduced redundancy and improved efficiency.

With most victims receiving little assistance in South Korea, new ways of linking collective efforts need to be found. This will ensure additional resources are being deployed to reduce trafficking, put criminals in jail, and help those who have been exploited.

To expand the collective response, the government should cooperate more with the private sector. This includes working with private companies to help them examine their own supply chains to identify and address forced labor cases; working with banks to help them put in place accounting systems and procedures to identify trafficking and shut it down, and identify criminal proceeds from the trafficking of persons; and using the skills found within the fields of technology and communications to come up with new and innovative solutions.

Breakthroughs in prevention, prosecution, and the protection of victims of trafficking can originate from the use of technology and the expertise available in the field of communications. The private sector is willing and able to help as seen in many multinationals responding to the different Modern Slavery Acts and relevant legislation in the United States, UK, Canada and Australia. There has often been a "firewall" between the public and private sector when it comes to these opportunities. Efficiency and impact can be multiplied by exploring a collaborative spirit between these two diverse groups.

As a final note, experience has demonstrated that collective actions have the greatest chance of impact ― and that an army of ordinary people working together can change the world and help eliminate the exploitation of people. For change to happen, the government needs to unite different types of people ― all sharing their unique experience and skills.

Matthew S. Friedman is CEO of Mekong Club and a modern slavery expert.


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