September 24, 2018 / 10:22 PM / a month ago

Follow the money, says new global anti-slavery effort

UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The principality of Liechtenstein kicked off a campaign on Monday to enlist the global financial sector to fight modern slavery, flexing its role as a center 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, organizers said at the annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations.

Globally, modern slavery is believed to generate illicit profits of $150 billion a year, according to the International Labor Organization, 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 U.N. 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, organizers said.

Meanwhile, a lack of access to credit can make people vulnerable to forced labor 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 U.N. University.

Ending modern slavery is among the targets of the 17 global goals adopted by the 193 member nations of the U.N. 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 U.N.’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 labor.

“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.

Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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