Follow the money, says new global anti-slavery effort

Flags fly above diplomatic vehicles on the first day of high-level meetings at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on Sept 24, 2018.
Flags fly above diplomatic vehicles on the first day of high-level meetings at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on Sept 24, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The principality of Liechtenstein kicked off a campaign on Monday (Sept 24) to enlist the global financial sector to fight modern slavery, flexing its role as a centre of world wealth management to tap the clout of banks, hedge funds and investors.

The financially focused effort aims to fight money laundering by traffickers, promote ethical investment and offer opportunities to people vulnerable to slavery, organisers said at the annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations.

Globally, modern slavery is believed to generate illicit profits of US$150 billion (S$205 billion) a year, according to the International Labour Organisation, which estimates more than 40 million people are enslaved around the world.

"Following the money can not only lead us to the perpetrators but also deny them the resources they need to commit such crimes in the first place," said Aurelia Frick, Liechtenstein's foreign affairs minister, at launch of the financial sector commission at UN headquarters in New York.

Traffickers illegally launder illicit gains, take advantage of informal banking systems and benefit when investors unknowingly back companies that profit from slavery in their supply chains, organisers said.

Meanwhile, a lack of access to credit can make people vulnerable to forced labour and trafficking, they said.

Plans call for commission members - institutional investors, global pension funds, investment banks, financial regulators and others - to design an anti-slavery strategy by mid-2019 for the financial sector.

"This commission will make a major contribution to undermining the primary goal of the human traffickers and those who would enslave another human being - the money they make out of human misery," said Marise Payne, Australia's minister for foreign affairs.

Coined the Liechtenstein initiative, the commission was launched by the wealthy European principality and by Australia, along with the UN University.

Ending modern slavery is among the targets of the 17 global goals adopted by the 193 member nations of the UN three years ago to promote such issues as gender equality and sustainable energy and end poverty, inequality and other world woes by 2030.

Separately, Britain announced anti-slavery efforts, including plans with the UN's children's agency UNICEF to provide some 400,000 children in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan with birth registration and identity documents that could help protect them from forced labour.

"No one nation can banish this borderless crime alone,"Britain's International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in a prepared statement.

Also announced was an alliance of Britain, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to try and eradicate slavery in global supply chains and meet annually to coordinate efforts.