Targeted prosecutions needed to end modern-day slavery scourge

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The might of the law is the best way to end modern day slavery, by bringing strategic cases to court that can change company practice or government policy, experts seeking to stamp out the problem in corporate supply chains said today.

Such strategic litigation was successfully used to help end the British slave trade 250 years ago, making slavery in Britain illegal.

To help end slavery today, lawyers and NGOs must build an international network to use the law to punish and deter human traffickers, experts said.

“Strategic litigation can be a catalyst for genuine, long-term change,” Nick Grono, head of Freedom Fund, an international initiative to fight slavery, said in a statement.

“It can … force government action, drive legal reform, punish perpetrators, and compel action by businesses to end or prevent abuses,” he added. A few such cases are already happening.

In New Zealand, litigators secured court orders to seize fishing ships who were allegedly using slave labour in New Zealand waters. “This is a really innovative approach because it gets the exploiter to the table,” Grono said in an interview.

“If a fisherman brings a case in a New Zealand court against a (fishing) company, they’ll probably just ignore it. But if you seize their multi-million-dollar boat pending resolution of the court action, suddenly you get more attention,” Grono added.

Another case in the United States ultimately resulted in a company, accused of human trafficking, being forced into bankruptcy. The corporation had brought hundreds of workers from India to repair shipyards after Hurricane Katrina.

The case ruled on a $20 million settlement for the workers.

Freedom Fund and the US-based Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center want to establish a network of lawyers and NGOs to share their experiences and encourage better litigation practice to combat slavery, Grono said.

Nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labour, which generates about $150 billion a year in illegal profits, according to the International Labour Organization.

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