Survivor well-being and recovery remains long-term priority of Santa Marta Group

Kevin Hyland OBE, Special Adviser to the Santa Marta Group, gave a virtual presentation to a Caritas India pandemic webinar that focused on the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on Trafficking in Persons’. It was held online on 15 June 2020.

Mr Hyland, in giving the keynote address, reiterated the Santa Marta Group’s priorities – facilitating an engaged network for change and the proper implementation of existing laws to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice:

“The 40 million people across the world who are victims of this serious crime do not suffer one-off incidents, exploitation is endured daily for weeks, months, years or even for a lifetime.

“Those who commit these crimes must face justice, as without justice they will be unable to show remorse to those whom they have violated.”

Hyland also stressed that during these COVID-19 times of heightened uncertainty and anxiety, international partnerships were key to combating human trafficking and modern slavery:

“To work collaboratively between state and civil society takes great trust on both sides, and Santa Marta Group focuses the priority on the well-being and long-term, lifetime recovery of the victim.

“Whilst the future months and years ahead will be difficult, the Church must continue to play its vital role in respecting and protecting human dignity, as so many of you are already doing in your countries.

“Each time you rescue a victim that is making a real difference.”

Full Keynote

Good morning from me here in Ireland. I am delighted to join you in India and with those participating from other locations across the world.

Thank you for asking me to participate in this important event and a special thanks to all of you who are on the frontline, working with victims of human trafficking. At any time, your work is challenging, but currently it is particularly difficult, and critical in protecting vulnerable people and saving lives.

I know Cardinal Nichols always speaks of the dedication of those providing service to victims as a living witness to the life of St Josephine Bakhita, who herself having been released from her life of exploitation joined a religious order and provided service to others in her congregation. Her example of values and humility is replicated day in and day out by so many who provide comfort and sanctuary to those who are now victim of what we call modern day slavery.

Over 40 million lives suffer in this scourge; 10 million are children and with criminal benefits each year exceeding US$150 billion annually it might be imagined enormous resources and funding flow from nations across the world to stem this trade in suffering. Sadly, this is far from the reality. Despite many international commitments, protocols, and directives alongside almost every government denouncing this abuse and criminalising human trafficking in domestic law, this crime continues to prosper.

Many in the fight against human trafficking call for more data on the prevalence supported by lists of metrics to evaluate how well things are going. Of course knowing the size of a problem is important, but these can be meaningless if they constitute no more than material for reports that then lead to more requests for research and data, purportedly so responses can be delivered to priory area, suggesting there is a scale when modern slavery is acceptable and when it is not. Understanding the problem is crucial but must be backed by action, funding and resources.

In South and Central Asia figures from 2019 show 24,500 victims were identified and recorded through official state services, representing less than 0.05 per cent of all victims in the region. Convictions totalled 2,465 in 2019, with only 9 of these for forced labour, dropping from over 8,100 in 2017 and 3,100 in 2018. This demonstrates a lack of priority and resources, with many opportunities being lost to prevent these crimes.

Globally current official measures often do little for the Asian women exploited in domestic servitude in an exclusive London home, or for the boy lured from Africa on the promise of being a top flight European footballer only to end in forced labour in the agricultural fields of Italy or for British children who are being controlled by an organised gang peddling drugs across the UK, living in fear of their lives. These tragic forms of abuse show why the work of the Church everywhere is so crucial, particularly in victim identification, support and recovery.

Human trafficking does not operate in isolation, it has much wider negative impact, especially when considering development at the heart of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is a gender issue, as almost 75 per cent trafficked people are women or girls, reinforcing the abuse, discrimination and secondary status of women and girls across the world. It is a youth and young adult issue, as where there are no opportunities for young people, they are easily lured by false promises of employment and lives of riches, but instead end up being exploited taking away their potential to improve their own communities or support their families as remittances are taken by criminals through debt bondage or in recruitment fees. It is a governance issue, as corrupt regimes are the very architects of systems or policies that create marginalisation or vacuums of rule of law allowing exploitation to thrive. And it is a health issue as many who are trafficked suffer illness, are injured or infected including through HIV.

Now our world is suffering in a way not seen for over 100 years as a result of the hidden coronavirus pandemic. Whilst impossible to see, its impact could not be more devastating. In the UK, nearly 50,000 lives have been lost – per capita extremely high against the near 9,000 recorded in India. But whatever of numbers, each represents a life lost with a family feeling pain and, in many cases, the real grieving is yet to begin.

As preparation for a new world order begins living alongside COVID19, are governments’ plans inclusive for all people or are they absent of measures to protect the vulnerable? With temporary periods of government financial support now being withdrawn this will leave the poorest more marginalised and in despair. The priority of many governments focusses on the economy and restarting trade – which is important. Jobs are crucial for any community to strive and prosper, but what of low paid workers and the global migrant workforce who have kept us buoyant during the pandemic, are they being considered in future plans? Why has this cash rich world has become so unequitable, where profit and finances have dominated and wealth has been for the few?

Over the past three decades human trafficking has become intrinsic to the socio-economic fabric of the globalised world. The presumption that human trafficking and modern slavery is inevitable in some geographical parts of the world or industries has done that very thing – made it inevitable. And all this is taking place in the backdrop of the introduction of many international instruments and domestic laws to prevent human trafficking; while, sadly and unacceptably, implementation and efforts to protect the vulnerable and prevent this crime remain weak.

This year the UN Palermo Protocol for the suppression of human trafficking reaches its 20th anniversary, its aims and ambitions were clear, but have not yet been realised. Perhaps the words of Paul are so relevant now:

“They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.”

We need to see implementation and improved efforts to end human trafficking, but that will take compassion, transparency, commitment and humility. We can hope that employers, recruiters, investors and businesses will do their part to ease negative impact of COVID 19 on low skilled workers and some will. But even before this pandemic millions were in debt bondage, working long hours for little or no pay, violently assaulted, exploited on fishing vessels, in factories, on construction sites, harvesting in fields, in clothing sweatshop or in many other ways including a lucrative trade in human organs.

Before spring of 2020, profits soared and shareholders dividends increased, while many businesses remained blind knowingly, or unwittingly, to the plight of workers exploited in their supply chains. This needs to change and as we enter our new world order. Protecting people from exposure to COVID19 has been rightly a priority, but so must also be protecting people from rouge businesses and traffickers, another virus on our planet we need to eradicate.

According to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy it is believed there are now over 122 million who are unemployed across India, over 25 per cent of the entire workforce. The World Food Programme has reported that famine and starvation may hit as many as 250 million people in 2020, and at the same time governments have already announced reductions to international aid budgets when they are most needed and as India was faced with the largest movement of people since the partition.

At this time of great challenge, we have had to keep apart – a new term ‘social distancing’ becomes common to us all. Yet in many ways we have never been closer, united in a common battle against a pandemic. We need to use this closeness determination and fulfilment of spirit to fight the injustice of human trafficking and modern slavery. We all now long for the day when we can reach out and shake hands or hug each other in expressions of friendship and love, something we took for granted until earlier this year. Let’s also long for the day when all workers are treated fairly, recruitment fees are abolished, and migrants have safe routes to seek employment. Their global contribution is evidenced from over $700 billion dollars each year that move in remittances, over $550 billion to middle or low income nations.

During COVID19 we have recognised frontline workers, health care providers, care home staff, cleaners, lorry drivers, food packers, supermarket staff, agricultural workers, fishers, and many others all crucial to our very survival. Yet these are sectors where for many years human trafficking has been prominent and continues to be so.

What some now see as a rite of passage to travel the world and experience other cultures now faces a moratorium. Going to the shops involves queues reminiscent of a busy airport security departure lounge. Our life has changed and will remain changed for some time. But we need to ensure these changes include measure to prevent human trafficking built into legislation, policy and properly resourced. We need to demand that businesses and investors, particularly multinationals, do their part to prevent this crime.

For example, in India mica mines supplying minerals to cosmetic businesses or for pearlescent paint on luxury cars. We need to understand and identify who are the investors, the shareholders, the companies who use these products and ask what are they doing to prevent exploitation of children abused or who tragically lose their lives in these industries. And with even more legislation coming into force in Europe in 2021 relating to mining – with mica not included – I ask why not? Who is responsible for that? Who do we need to influence to change that? There is a need for better understanding and implementation of legal frameworks, 2,400 convictions across your entire region, with only nine for forced labour is wholly inadequate.

Impunity should no longer be tolerated.

Better relationships and effective law enforcement have been at the heart of the Santa Marta Group since its inception in 2014. The reason for this emphasis is we must never forget that human trafficking and forced labour are serious crimes and, for those who are exploited, justice is fundamental to their recovery. The 40 million people across the world who are victims of this serious crime do not suffer one-off incidents, exploitation is endured daily for weeks, months, years or even for a lifetime. Those who commit these crimes must face justice, as without justice they will be unable to show remorse to those whom they have violated. But to work collaboratively between state and civil society takes great trust on both sides, and Santa Marta Group focuses the priority on the well-being and long-term, lifetime recovery of the victim. Whilst the future months and years ahead will be difficult, the Church must continue to play its vital role in respecting and protecting human dignity, as so many of you are already doing in your countries. Each time you rescue a victim that is making a real difference.

As we all do, I often reflect on what is being done and what more needs to be done to end this crime. There are many ways to make a difference, but I feel perhaps the time is right for us to again listen to Paul carefully and take his advice, particularly looking at the commitments of G20 nations, the UN, EU, OSCE, Council of Europe and government commitments, with such a vast number of legal instruments to end this crime, I hear Paul’s words:
“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.”

A continued priority for Santa Marta Group will be, ‘we have the laws, now we need to use them properly.’

Thank you for inviting me to participate in your conference and for the work you are doing. I will inform Cardinal Vincent of the inspirational work you do and I know he hopes that Santa Marta Group and Caritas in India can begin to work closer together in the future improving the lives of many in eradicating this human rights abuse of modern slavery.

Keep safe and well and I will pray for you and I ask that you remember me in your prayers.