Study finds 20 EU countries see rise in modern slavery risks

Modern slavery risks have risen in 20 of the 28 member states within the European Union (EU) over the past year, claims the annual study from global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

According to the 2nd edition of the firm’s Modern Slavery Index (MSI), the five EU countries posing the highest risk are Romania, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria – key entry points for migrants into the region who are extremely vulnerable to exploitation.

The research, which assesses 198 countries on the strength of their laws, the effectiveness of their enforcement and the severity of violations, shows drops in the scores for 20 countries across the bloc.

The slavery situation in Romania is deemed as deteriorating faster than any country globally, with a fall of 56 places in from last year’s ranking to 66th highest risk in this year’s MSI. Romania and Italy (ranked 133rd), which fell 17 places, have the worst reported violations in the EU, including severe forms of forced labour, such as servitude and trafficking.

Exploitation of migrants drives rise in EU modern slavery risks

The Geneva, Switzerland-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental body, estimates that over 100,000 migrants have entered Europe by sea in 2017; 85% of whom have landed in Italy.

Arrivals in Greece (129th) have fallen dramatically since the 2016 signing of the EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement, but the country, which dropped 16 places in the index, “is host to significant numbers of migrants and remains a key destination for human trafficking,” the study notes.

According to Verisk Maplecroft, the presence of these vulnerable migrant populations in the primary countries of arrival is a key contributor for increases in slavery across multiple sectors in the region, such as agriculture, construction and services.

Due to the geographic shift in migrant sea arrivals, the firm expects the risk of modern slavery to worsen in Italy over the next year, with agriculture a sector of concern.

“The migrant crisis has increased the risk of slavery incidents appearing in company supply chains across Europe,” states Sam Haynes, senior human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “It is no longer just the traditional sourcing hotspots in the emerging economies that businesses should pay attention to when risk assessing their suppliers and the commodities they source.”

Even the EU’s biggest economies are not immune to the rise in slavery risk, this year’s MSI suggests. Germany and the UK have seen slight negative shifts in their scores, taking them just over the ‘low risk’ threshold into the ‘medium risk’ category of the index. New data has revealed gaps in the UK’s labour inspectorate, while Germany has experienced an uptick in recorded trafficking and servitude violations.

Turkey’s MSI ranking plunges

Outside of the EU, Turkey experienced the world’s second largest drop in the MSI, falling from 110th to 58th most at risk and slipping into the ‘high risk’ category. The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Syrian war, combined with Turkey’s restrictive work permit system, has led to many becoming part of the informal workforce. Policing labour violations is also no longer a priority for the government, which is focused on the political crackdown, further adding to the risk.

Over the past year, several large brands sourcing from Turkish textile factories have been associated with high profile incidents of child labour and slavery. Companies importing agricultural goods, such as hazelnuts and cherries, are also exposed to a high risk of complicity with forced labour abuses, according to Verisk Maplecroft’s commodity risk analysis.

Forced labour violations still high in Asia’s top sourcing locations

With new and emerging legislation on modern slavery and human rights appearing in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Australia, the research shows that top sourcing locations in the emerging markets should, however, remain firmly on the radar of companies.

The chief Asian manufacturing hubs, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand, all feature in the ‘extreme’ or ‘high risk’ categories.

Despite being rated as ‘extreme risk’ in the part of the index measuring the severity and frequency of slavery violations, India and Thailand, have nevertheless shown improvements in their scores, due to better efforts to enforce slavery related laws.

India has improved more than any other country – going from 15th worst to 49th in the overall index. Thailand’s action on enforcing a national programme to eliminate slavery and trafficking, meanwhile, has moved it 21 places up the ranking to 48th highest risk.

This year’s MSI study stresses that slavery in both countries remains a significant problem. In India, severe forms of slavery are common in construction, brick kilns, garment production, manufacturing and farming; while in Thailand, the worst abuses still frequently occur in sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, fishing and rubber production.

“Intensive government activity will be required in India and Thailand if these green shoots of progress are to turn into a positive trajectory.” says Hannah Broscombe, Asia supply chain analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

China, ranked 21st in the index, remains firmly entrenched among the worst performing countries in the ‘extreme risk’ category. North Korea, Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, DR Congo, Sudan, Iran, Libya, Eritrea and Turkmenistan are rated by the MSI as posing the highest risk of all countries measured.

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