Measuring Modern Slavery

Luca Di Gennaro Splendore ,Statistical Consultant, Data Analyst and Electoral Expert

Why do we need to measure Modern Slavery?

Generally speaking, Modern Slavery could be defined as severe exploitation of other people for their business gains. Millions of children and adults are trapped in slavery in every single country in the world. Modern Slavery is a complex phenomenon: mostly, illegal and hidden. It is difficult to take the right political decisions, without any statistical evidence, data and information. Therefore, policy-makers need reliable data to act against Modern Slavery. A problem is that the data is transversal to different economic and social sectors. Adequate statistics are often not available.

From a statistical point of view, the Modern Slavery population is a hidden population (as COVID or HIV infected, illegal activities, prostitution and so on). To survey a hidden population, it is difficult to find a statistical sample. And, the questions normally are sensitive, so one could expect an extent of partial or total misreporting. Many techniques are available for a hidden population at micro level, nevertheless no one can guarantee soundly the statistical results.

Does Modern Slavery data in part already exist?

As Modern Slavery is a horizontal phenomenon, data can be found in many other surveys that do not have the aim to measure Modern Slavery. For instance, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) does surveys on refugees and there are many questions about illegal activity. Those questions can be used to measure Modern Slavery. From these statistical methods will be applied to extract, in a methodological way, the relevant information of Modern Slavery. In addition to the statistical methods, another source of information is by accessing administrative data.

The official statistics offices already look after the illegal economic activities in the National Accounts (basically the GDP). Nevertheless, there are no statistical policies of any national statistics offices to measure Modern Slavery.

To identify proxy variables or to identify indirect measures of Modern Slavery (for instance to estimate illegal drug consumption, one can chemically analyse the drainage system or total tax evaders, one cannot pay tax in slavery). Connected with a proxy variable to find the interactions (for instance with an election or democracy) and the determinants that create a fertile environment for Modern Slavery can be another goal of this research. Partial democratic societies, as well as inequal and high-income societies, could represent a good combination to ‘establish’ Modern Slavery. Also, natural and human phenomena can help the creation of Modern Slavery, like post-disaster, environmental degradation, deforestation, war and post-war environment. Some economic sectors seem to be more affected from Modern Slavery.

Modern Slavery is a multi-faceted phenomenon which affects not only the individual freedom, but also many other life essential decisions (pregnancy, location, life enjoyment and
free time).

This vulnerability may be estimated from living conditions such as employment, health, education, and housing. It is important to monitor gender differences and age (children seem to be the most effected category) or citizenship status (maybe refugee, illegal immigration…), and, also, to understand the causes of these differences, in order to prepare strategies for more efficient intervention schemes aimed at the eradication of Modern Slavery.

What should be the protocol to calculate Modern Slavery in the official statistics system?

This complexity of Modern slavery poses challenges for many domains within official statistics and non-official statistics. It is indeed necessary to use different sources of data, statistics and administrative registers and to build a new set of static and dynamic indicators to develop at international, national and sub-national level. Those data can be contextualized in the framework of the measurement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations. In particular, it focuses on SDG 8.7, namely on forced labour under the effort of the International Labour Organization (ILO). This way, the official information derived from all the research studies on Modern Slavery could serve as a catalyst for participation in decision-making. Official statisticians are key actors for the realization of the right to information and for human rights in general (Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics). Thus, a protocol and suggestions for official statistics system to measure Modern Slavery is the operative and applied framework of this research. This idea could also have great and relevant practical implications to act against Modern Slavery.

I’m looking forward to discussing these and other topics at the 2020 Virtual UN World Data Forum. The upholding of official data quality can contribute to build trust in official data and statistics, will play an crucial role in creating a more strong community.