As warned by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the COVID-19 pandemic would broaden systemic gaps leading to forced labor and modern slavery. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), a United Nations body, more than 40 million people are believed to be trapped in modern slavery, including 24,9 million forced labour and 15,4 million forced marriages. Kids are one out of four. Thus “disproportionately impacted” by forced labor are women and girls representing 99% of victims in trade sex and 58% in other sectors.
With the Coronavirus crisis worsening living situations for months to come, those same people are now at even greater risk, the WEF said. Not only do they lack access to adequate healthcare, but their already restricted movements are further hamstrung by border closures and travel disruptions. Worse, they’re susceptible to stigmatization and discrimination by nativist rhetoric and politics.
Even migrant workers who wish to return home are unlikely to be able to do so safely for a long time. While countries such as Australia have proposed extensions for seasonal worker visas, such overtures are few and far between. Demand for labor—forced or otherwise—is also expected to ebb as the infection tightens its grip on markets, placing those already at high risk of exploitation even deeper in harm’s way
At the same time, the WEF said, there is an increase in chance of enslavement. While the economic effect of the pandemic persists, the availability of workers vulnerable to exploitation due to poverty will increase. The ILO predicts that, if governments fail to act properly, COVID-19 will generate an additional 25 million jobs and free the global economy.