Imagine taken by the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations

Looking back on a year of partnership against modern slavery

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Partner Spotlight

This post by our Advocacy Officer, Carlo Ladd, was originally published by the United Nations Association of New York.

The United Nations Association of New York has long maintained a special commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 8.7: to “eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor.”

Last year’s UN Day Gala, indeed, was entirely dedicated to the issue, with guests including Nicholas Kristof and Mira Sorvino honored for their work against this most heinous form of exploitation. The evening culminated in the announcement of a further step in our fight against modern slavery: a new partnership with Freedom United.

Freedom United represents the world’s largest anti-slavery community, mobilizing millions of people to take action against human trafficking, forced labor, and other forms of modern slavery. As a member of Alliance 8.7 and 50 for Freedom, they are part of a global partnership of civil society organizations, UN agencies, and other institutions working to achieve SDG 8.7 by 2030.

As part of this mission, Freedom United has been pushing for the wider ratification of the Forced Labour Protocol (P29) of the International Labour Organization (ILO)—the current gold standard in international anti-slavery legislation. An essential step in the path toward achieving SDG 8.7, P29 makes crucial amendments to the widely ratified Forced Labour Convention of 1930, a core part of the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Over 100,000 people from around the world have signed Freedom United’s petition calling on governments to and ratify the treaty and step up their legislation against forced labor.

With UNA-NYC’s help, Freedom United has been able to bring their fight directly to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, achieving numerous goals in the process. When our partnership began, only 37 countries had ratified the Protocol; since then, that number has climbed to 45. As our year together comes to an end, let’s look back at the successes our partnership has brought.

In December last year, UNA-NYC and Freedom United organized an event promoting the ratification of P29 at the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica. As part of the event, H.E. Ambassador Rodrigo A. Carazo accepted Freedom United’s petition and committed to pushing for his country’s ratification. Representatives from the ILO and the mission of Mexico, another country in the region that is still to ratify, joined the Ambassador on a lively panel discussion. Costa Rica is currently in the process of ratifying.

A month later, at the Permanent Mission of France, another joint event shifted the focus to implementation, this time bringing together countries that have already ratified P29. H.E. Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière of France and H.E. Ambassador Tiemoko Moriko of Côte d’Ivoire made opening remarks underlining their countries’ commitments to honor the Protocol, comments echoed by representatives from Argentina, Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

In February, UNA-NYC and Freedom United brought our partnership to the wider public, co-hosting a film screening of Made in Bangladesh. Rubaiyat Hossain’s compelling documentary explores the exploitation of women in the garment sector in Bangladesh, another country that is yet to ratify. In particular, the film underscores the importance of educating workers on forced labor legislation, a key tenet of P29.

Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has precluded in-person events since March, Freedom United and UNA-NYC have still been able to find ways to work together to advance P29, starting with two successful webinars. The first, hosted by UNA-NYC in April, took a broad look at the modern slavery threat posed by the pandemic; the second, hosted by Freedom United in July, welcomed the new UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata, and focused on the implementation gap in anti-slavery legislation.

Later in the summer, Australia made strides toward ratification. At a virtual petition hand-in in late July, Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, H.E. Ambassador Mitch Fifield, accepted Freedom United’s over 100,000 signatures and pledged to support the ratification of P29 in Australia. In August, the Western Australian Parliament received the petition at an in-person event and moved toward passing the legislative changes necessary for the country to ratify the Protocol. The government’s ratification process remains ongoing.

“The support we have received from UNA-NYC has helped ensure our community’s voices are heard in the corridors of power,” said Freedom United’s Executive Director, Joanna Ewart-James. “I am grateful to UNA-NYC and its leadership for recognizing the impact of combining its partnerships and networks with our community, as we seek change towards a world in which modern slavery no longer thrives.”

We’re proud of the work we’ve been able to accomplish in our year of partnership with Freedom United, especially in the face of a global pandemic that shut down the UN Headquarters and forced us to find alternative ways to continue our work. As the host city chapter of the United Nations Association, we take our responsibility to champion the mission of the UN very seriously, and with our special interest in modern slavery we have been honored to promote its most important treaty against forced labor.

With the pandemic and its economic repercussions seriously threatening progress on SDG 8.7 around the world, the need for P29 has never been so urgent. We will continue to push for its ratification in the months and years to come.

If you are interested in becoming a member of UNA-NYC, please head to their website.

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