Companies must ‘walk the talk’ as modern slavery risk escalates, warns Verisk Maplecroft

A quarter of countries have recorded a significant increase in modern slavery risk since the launch of a key tracker by Verisk Maplecroft six years ago.

Publishing its Modern Slavery Index for 2022, Verisk says poverty and climate change have increased the risk that products and goods using forced labour will enter supply chains.

Some 47 countries have fallen down the ranking since 2016, the report explains. It estimates that 80% of the global population lives in areas rated as high or extreme risk for modern slavery violations.

Workers uprooted by poverty and climate change are vulnerable to exploitation as they seek alternative work, the report says. Workers in the developing world are at the greatest risk but threats are also on the rise in Turkey, South Africa and China, Verisk warns. It adds that even the US could be affected as climate-driven migration increases the number of undocumented workers in the domestic labour force.

Verisk said plans by the European Commission to ban products made with forced labour from entering the bloc’s supply chains “will be no easy task”.

“With data from the ILO showing that 50 million people are trapped in modern slavery globally, the problem is getting worse, not better, meaning that organisations need to work harder to keep goods tainted by forced labour out of their supply chain,” states Dr James Sinclair, director of human rights at Verisk Maplecroft.

“Growing reputational and regulatory scrutiny means that companies increasingly need to walk the talk when it comes to tackling human rights violations,” adds Sinclair. “This is easier said than done, particularly for organisations with poor visibility over their supply chains. Those that take the time to identify risks and implement best-practice sourcing standards will be best placed to manage these growing threats.”

Some 24 countries are ranked as carrying extreme risk of modern slavery in Verisk’s latest index, with 17 of these being low- and lower-middle-income economies.

But Verisk warns that the number of high- and upper-middle-income countries rated at high or extreme risk on the Modern Slavery Index has increased to 44 from 39 when the index was first launched.

Turkey has fallen 46 places in the index to become the 62nd most at-risk country. Verisk says this was triggered by an increase in reported cases of forced labour involving Syrian migrants. South Africa also entered the high-risk category after falling 109 places to 103rd.

Some 14 of the 24 countries rated at extreme risk from modern slavery – including Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and DR Congo – are also rated at extreme risk from climate change. “As rising global temperatures threaten food security and drive mass migration, more people will seek out alternative livelihoods, in turn increasing their susceptibility to modern slavery,” the report says.

The US has seen increased numbers of migrants from Mexico but the report says Europe could receive up to one million migrants per year by 2050 if the impact of carbon emissions continues to displace workers.

Bulgaria is rated high risk on the Modern Slavery Index while France, Italy and the UK are all ranked as high risk for modern slavery in agriculture.

“The factors driving the negative global trend in modern slavery risk are set to worsen in the coming years,” Verisk says. “Inflation and fears of a global recession suggest the world is headed for a period of prolonged economic instability, which will leave millions more people vulnerable to exploitation.”

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