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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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Chinese ‘Ivory Queen’ jailed in Tanzania for heading up elephant tusk smuggling operation

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Chinese ‘Ivory Queen’

A Chinese woman dubbed the “Ivory Queen” has been jailed for 15 years in Tanzania after being convicted of smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks.

Yang Fenglan was found guilty of running one of the largest ivory smuggling operations ever discovered in Africa, and is said to have been responsible for the trafficking of tusks from as many as 400 elephants worth an estimated $2.5 million.

A court heard how the 69-year-old businesswoman had managed to pose as an upstanding member of the Chinese expatriate community in Tanzania for decades, while all the while overseeing a major smuggling operation that involved huge quantities of illicit ivory being trafficked between Africa and China.

Yang was yesterday found guilty of being behind the smuggling of 860 tusks between 2000 and 2014.

She is said to have used her connections with wealthy and powerful individuals she met while working as Secretary General of Tanzania’s China-Africa business council to facilitate the trafficking operation.

Sentencing Yang to 15 years behind bars for heading up an organised crime gang, a magistrate also ordered her to hand over a fine equal to twice the market value of the ivory she was convicted of smuggling or face another two years in prison.

According to court documents, Yang, who is reported to have worked as a Swahili translator and run a successful Chinese restaurant since arriving in Tanzania in the 1970s, organised the smuggling of ivory weighing a total of 1,889 tonnes.

Authorities believe she may have been active in the illicit ivory trade from as far back as the 1980s.

Speaking after Yang was jailed, campaigners said the prison time she was handed was not sufficiently long enough.

In comments made to the Reuters news agency, WWF Country Director Amani Ngusaru said: “[It] is not punishment enough for the atrocities she committed, by being responsible for the poaching of thousands of elephants in Tanzania.

“She ran a network that killed thousands of elephants.”

The poaching of ivory in Africa, which is estimated to have caused a 20% decline in the population of elephants across the continent over the course of the past 10 years, is driven by demand in Asia, where elephant tusk is used to make ornaments and jewellery.

Ivory is also used widely in Chinese medicine, and is thought by many in Asia to contain properties that can remove toxins from the body and contribute towards a glowing complexion.

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Number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa falls below 1,000 for first time in five years

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rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa falls below 1,000 f

The number of rhinos that were killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa fell below 1,000 for the first time in five years in 2018, according to the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

In a statement issued last week, Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane revealed that 769 rhinos lost their lives to poachers last year, making 2018 the third consecutive 12-month period during which the number of rhinos killed for their horns fell in South Africa.

As well as a fall in the number rhinos that were killed by poachers, last year also saw police in South Africa arrest 365 suspected rhino poachers, 229 of whom were detained inside or adjacent to Kruger National Park.

“The decline is not only indicative of the successful implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros Approach countrywide, but also a confirmation of the commitment and dedication of the men and women working at the coalface to save the species,” Mokonyane said.

“Combating rhino poaching remains a national priority, and as such, all the relevant government departments will continue their close collaboration to ensure that this iconic species is conserved for generations to come.

“Although we are encouraged by the national poaching figures for 2018, it is critical that we continue to implement collaborative initiatives to address the scourge of rhino poaching.”

While rhino poaching deaths fell in the country last year, there was an increase in the number of elephants who were killed by wildlife criminals.

Across 2018, 72 elephants lost their lives to poachers who killed them for their tusks, with all but one of these being slaughtered in Kruger National Park.

While cautiously welcoming the fall in the number of rhino poaching deaths in South Africa last year, WWF International warned that the global crisis affecting rhino numbers is very far from over, noting that poaching remains  high across the region.

Dr Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader, commented: “Corruption remains a major part of the challenge in addressing rhino poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.

“To address this, we need to consider what draws people into wildlife crime.

“We must find a way to empower people working and living around protected areas to be invested in a future with wildlife, including helping identify those who break the law.”

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American sniffer dog helps find cocaine stashed in decorative tombstone

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cocaine stashed in decorative tombstone

A US drug sniffer dog has helped his handlers locate a “decorative tombstone” stuffed full of cocaine that had been imported into the country from Canada.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) drug dog Freddy sniffed out the shipment while working at an express consignment facility in Cincinnati.

Border officers moved to x-ray the container the tombstone was being shipped in after Freddy flagged it as potentially containing drugs, resulting in the discovery of a white powder hidden in a compartment inside the resin item.

Tests carried out later confirmed that the substance was in fact cocaine.

Commenting on the discovery, CBP Cincinnati Port Director Joshua Shorr said: “Our officers are committed to keep our country and communities safe from illegal and dangerous drugs.

“This seizure is one example of the quality enforcement work they do on a daily basis.”

In a statement relating to the seizure, CBP Cincinnati highlighted how its officers had recently discovered shipments of cocaine hidden inside items such as documents, piston heads and wheels.

At the beginning of January, CBP officers in Cincinnati intercepted two packages of tinfoil-wrapped sweets that later tested positive for methamphetamines.

After x-raying the packages of sweets, which were on their way from Mexico to Gridley in California, inspectors noted a number of anomalies, prompting them to take a closer look.

Having done so, they discovered that several of the sweets contained plastic capsules holding small bags of a white crystalline powder.

Police said both shipments contained a total of approximately 4kgs of methamphetamines.

“Cocaine and methamphetamines are dangerous and highly addictive stimulants,” the CBP said.

“Abuse of these drugs can lead to paranoia, exhaustion, heart conditions, convulsions, stroke, and death. Both are classified as Schedule II stimulants under the Controlled Substances Act.”

In a separate announcement, CBP officers in California last week revealed they had impounded more than 100kgs of cocaine concealed in produce cargo vessels arriving at Port Hueneme from Ecuador and Guatemala.

The drugs were discovered in two separate shipments, with just over 92kgs being found beneath the floorboards of a refrigerated vessel that had arrived from Ecuador, with the remainder uncovered on a cargo vessel arriving from Guatemala.

“This is the largest drug seizure at Port Hueneme in the last quarter of a century,” said LaFonda Sutton-Burke, CBP Port Director of the LA/Long Beach Seaport, and Port Hueneme.

“I’m extremely proud of the results of this joint effort, it shows the professionalism, vigilance and keen focus of both agencies in preventing dangerous drugs into our communities.”

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