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The worldwide scourge of modern slavery requires a coordinated global response

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crackdown on modern slavery

Yesterday marked UN World Day against Trafficking in Persons, an annual event during which the organisation encourages world governments, charities and private sector companies to do more to eradicate modern slavery from the face of the planet. As has been the case in the past, this year’s event involved the UN itself and numerous stakeholder organisations around the world paying lip service to their intention to crack down on the trafficking networks that profit from this evil and growing trade, without committing to any firm course of action that might bring about an end to the suffering of the millions of people affected by modern slavery in every country across the globe. The UN this year demanded that “both victims and potential victims’ rights must be upheld – especially women and children – and appealed for all states to prevent and combat the global scourge”, without proposing any tangible ways in which countries can fulfil their obligation to prevent trafficking.

While any attempt to draw attention to modern slavery is welcome, the UN’s World Day against Trafficking in Persons perfectly exemplifies the international community’s abject failure to get any sort of a grip on the problem. As is typically the case with many countries’ approach to forced labour and similar crimes, the UN’s day of action was defined by the expression of fine intentions, with a total lack of any serious plans on how to tackle the issue. Earlier this month, the biennial Global Slavery Index revealed that more than 40 million people across the globe were victims of modern slavery in 2016, and that human trafficking for the purposes of forced labour and similar crimes is far more acute in developed nations than had previously been believed. The survey showed that one in every 800 people living in the US is a victim of forced labour, meaning that America is home to more than 400,000 people living as modern slaves. In Britain, the data revealed some 136,000 people are living in modern slavery, which is the equivalent of 2.1 victims per every 1,000 people in the country. Despite this, Western governments appear either unwilling or unable to beat the traffickers.

The UK was one of the first countries to take human trafficking seriously, introducing the Modern Slavery Act back in 2015. Over the intervening years, the British government’s flagship policy has failed to deliver on its initial promise, with a 2017 report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services revealing that police forces around the country were failing to recognise cases of human trafficking and protect victims. Seemingly accepting that the Modern Slavery Act has not lived up to expectations, the UK government yesterday announced an independent review of the Bill, noting that “the criminal networks that recruit and control victims are constantly adapting and finding new ways to exploit victims”. While Donald Trump declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the US, America has so far failed to introduce similar legalisation, despite the President’s daughter Ivanka taking a keen personal interest in the issue.

In the developing world, where the problem is considerably more acute, the picture looks even bleaker. The United Nations said this week that trafficking gangs are continuing to flourish across Africa, largely thanks to the ongoing migrant crisis. The organisation said the international community is failing to dismantle these networks due to a lack of coordination. Elsewhere, this year’s Global Slavery Index found that North Korea and Eritrea had the highest per capita rates of enslaved people on the planet in 2016, and that other countries where modern slavery was particularly widespread included the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Pakistan. Despite this, UN World Day against Trafficking in Persons largely consisted of stakeholders advising members of the public to be watchful for signs that somebody they come into contact with might be a victim of modern slavery, or that products they buy could come from firms that have issues with forced labour in their supply chains.

Of course members of the public have a role to play when it comes to identifying incidents of modern slavery on the ground, but when it comes to the bigger picture, the global trafficking trade is driven by issues that can only be tackled by world governments and international institutions on a geopolitical level. Instead of arranging ineffective days of action that do little to tackle the problem, the UN and its partners should look to develop a coordinated global response to modern slavery, focusing their attention on the main drivers of the trade, such as illegal immigration, people smuggling, the migrant crisis and the failure of private sector firms to root out labour exploitation from their supply chains. While Britain’s Modern Slavery Act is not without its flaws, the establishment of a global coalition against human trafficking based on its guiding principles would stand a far better chance of moving the fight against forced labour and similar crimes forward than a day of action that amounts to little more than an exercise in virtue signalling.

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Drugs gangs recruiting pensioners to act as mules on cruise ships travelling between South America and Europe

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pensioners to act as mules on cruise ships

Police in Portugal have warned that drugs gangs are recruiting aging cruise line passengers to act as mules on ships travelling from South America and the Caribbean to Europe.

Speaking with Portuguese daily Correio da Manha after police arrested a British septuagenarian couple on suspicion of attempting to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated $2.5 million into Europe after returning from the Caribbean on a cruise liner, an official source said trafficking gangs are using elderly people as mules due to the fact they arouse less suspicion than younger passengers.

The source spoke out after it was revealed that married couple Roger and Susan Clarke, aged 72 and 70 respectively, were arrested by detectives in Lisbon after police there were tipped off by the UK’s National Crime Agency.

Portuguese investigators said they discovered a large quantity of cocaine “ingeniously” concealed in four suitcases in the pensioners’ cabin.

Police said the drugs were hidden in false bottoms that had been created inside the bags, and that the cocaine was evenly distributed between the four pieces of luggage.

It is believed the couple were handed the drugs while they were holidaying on a Caribbean island.

In comments given to Correio da Manha, Vitor Ananais, who led the investigation that led to the arrest of the pensioners, noted that the pair would have blended in well on the cruise liner, on which the majority of passengers were of a similar age.

He told the paper that the couple, who are reported to have gone on as many six cruises every year, did not protest their innocence after they were detained, and that they had said nothing about how the drugs came to be concealed in suitcases that were found in their cabin.

The couple were arrested at the boat’s penultimate stop before it reached its final docking point of Essex in the UK.

Ananais said: “We acted when we did rather than wait for a possible handover because we wanted to protect the investigation and ensure we seized the drugs.

“We do not know for sure at the moment where the cocaine was going to be brought ashore,” he added.

“We believe the couple were given the drugs in a Caribbean island but are still looking into which island at this stage.”

It was reported yesterday that both of the Clarkes have criminal records in the UK, and that they now live in Spain.

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Shoppers in Ireland warned to be on lookout for counterfeit cosmetics prior to Christmas

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counterfeit cosmetics

Irish consumers have been warned to exercise caution when purchasing “high-end” beauty products in the lead-up to Christmas.

Health regulators in the republic this morning cautioned that counterfeit beauty products sold through certain online and physical markets over the festive season could pose a potential serious threat to consumers’ health and safety.

Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the Health Service Executive (HSE) said the availability of fake beauty products tends to peak in the country prior to Christmas, noting how a significant quantity of such items were seized by Irish customs officers last year.

The fake items, some of which purported to be from popular brands such as Urban Decay and Kylie Cosmetics by Kylie Jenner, were often purchased from websites based outside of the European Union or from sellers on social media.

Tests carried out on these products, many of which were eye shadow and lip colourants, revealed that some contained harmful substances such as lead and arsenic.

In addition to lead and arsenic, which is widely referred to the “king of poisons”, counterfeit cosmetic products have also been known to contain a number of other unpleasant substances including mercury, cyanide, paint-stripper and even faeces.

The consequences of using counterfeit cosmetics that contain some of these substances can include mild skin irritation, chemical burns and even long-term damage to the central nervous system and the brain, the latter of which may be permanent.

In a statement on the regulator’s website, Emer O’Neill, Cosmetics Product Manager at the HPRA, said: “We can’t emphasise enough the need for consumers to exercise caution and to be vigilant when purchasing cosmetics this Christmas.

“While it may be tempting to avail of cheaper prices, counterfeit products could cost you your health. Unfortunately, the Christmas season is generally the peak time of year for rogue sellers of counterfeit products, which are often found when purchasing products online or from temporary stalls or outlets.

“Shoppers are strongly urged to apply common sense and to ask themselves; if a product seems very cheap, is it really likely to be the genuine article? The danger of counterfeit products is that their quality and safety is not known.”

In advice on how to avoid purchasing counterfeit beauty products, the HPRA cautions consumers to steer clear of items on offer for considerably less money than they would typically cost if bought through a major retailer.

It also tells shoppers to physically examine potential counterfeit cosmetics where possible, looking out for anomalies such as uneven fill levels, faded packaging and misspellings on packaging or in information leaflets.

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Iran threatens to flood Europe with drugs and migrants following US sanctions

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Iran threatens to flood Europe with drugs

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has threatened to flood Europe with heroin, migrants and terrorists in revenge for sanctions imposed on the country by the US over Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Addressing a six-nation counter-terrorism conference in Tehran attended by lawmakers from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, China and Russia over the weekend, Rouhani told delegates that crippling US sanctions would prevent Iran’s security services from stopping drug traffickers and people smugglers targeting western countries, noting how the criminal groups behind such trades are often linked to terrorist groups.

In a speech that was carried by state TV, Rouhani said: “Weakening Iran by sanctions, many will not be safe. Those who do not believe us, it is good to look at the map.”

He added: “Imagine what a disaster there would be if there is a breach in the dam.

“I warn those who impose sanctions that if Iran’s ability to fight drugs and terrorism are affected…, you will not be safe from a deluge of drugs, asylum seekers, bombs and terrorism.”

While Iran is by no means a major drug-producing nation, large quantities of opium pass through the country on major smuggling routes that link Afghanistan and Pakistan with Europe.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the primary ingredient of heroin, with Helmand Province, which is close to the border with Iran, being the country’s largest opium-producing region.

Iran claims to incinerate around 100 tonnes of seized drugs every year as a symbol of its determination to halt the flow of narcotics through trafficking routes that cross its borders.

In June 2017, Iranian media reported that drug addiction across the country had more than doubled over the previous six years, with research showing that approximately 2.8 million Iranians were regularly consuming drugs.

Iran also serves as a major hub on a number of people smuggling routes used by migrants looking to make their way to Turkey.

Many of these asylum seekers pay large sums of money to people smuggling gangs, some of which are thought to be closely linked to terrorist organisations.

Over recent weeks, scores of mostly Iranian migrants have been picked in flimsy boats while attempting to cross the English Channel from the French border town of Calais.

Rouhani said worsening economic conditions in Iran brought about by the sanctions had led to an increase in the number of migrants illegally crossing the border from Iran into Turkey since the summer.

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