COVID-19’s Lessons on Protecting the Most Vulnerable

On July 13, 2020, the Liechtenstein Initiative for a Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking hosted a virtual event titled “Sustainable Finance’s Role in Reducing Modern Slavery: COVID-19’s Lessons on Protecting the Most Vulnerable.” The webinar explored the role of sustainable finance in addressing modern slavery and human trafficking, with a focus on lessons learned from the COVID-19 era. It addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated people’s vulnerability to labor exploitation and trafficking, its impact on survivors of modern slavery, and the risks the pandemic poses for these victims.

The methods in which modern slavery is perpetuated is a cycle of the world’s most horrific people hurting the world’s most vulnerable people. These victims are often at the beginning of supply chains, engaging in harsh labor to extract materials or assemble items that allow companies to sell and distribute their products. Such workers receive little to no pay and must endure an alarming lack of respect and dignity from their employers. The most vulnerable to these circumstances are women, children, those of African origin, those of indigenous origin, and those with disabilities. The current pandemic has only heightened these vulnerabilities as stay-at-home orders are put in place all over the world. They are confined to dangerous spaces while simultaneously handling limited work or unemployment.

In discussing solutions to this issue, finance is the biggest motivator for traffickers to pursue these agendas. This webinar addressed the three most important ways in which the financial sector can mitigate this issue. Firstly, the financial sector must be aware of where slavery lies in its businesses and eliminate those aspects of its supply chains. Secondly, private lenders and investors have a responsibility to leverage their clients and borrowers into using anti-slavery and trafficking practices. Lastly, the finance sector must enhance financial inclusion by offering credit to help those who are vulnerable in order to cultivate more opportunities for victims seeking safety. However, it is imperative they do so in a way that does not result in migrants accumulating debt by accruing recruitment and migration fees.

This is not only a human rights issue, but an issue that intersects nearly every other aspect of modern society. Vulnerable workers lead to vulnerable supply chains, economies, investments, and stock prices. Finance plays a large role in mitigating this issue, and this sector has a responsibility to use its power to do so.