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Tech Tools Can Lead Fight Against Modern Slavery: UN Expert

Technology will be key in beating slavery as a fragmenting workplace leaves many more at risk

Technology, Slavery, UN
Deidre Pujols, wife of L A. Angels' star Albert Pujols and creator of Strike Out Slavery, got involved after learning about modern-day slavery. Pujols was honored before a baseball game with the host N.Y. Mets, June 8, 2019. Pixabay

From tracing ill-gotten gains back to their source to spotting illegal factories, technology will be key in beating slavery as a fragmenting workplace leaves many more at risk, the United Nations leading expert on slavery said on Tuesday.

With an increase in automation and temporary contracts, billions go without rights like holiday pay or a minimum wage, but the technology which has enabled many of these changes can also be used to beat workplace abuses, said Urmila Bhoola.

“It (technology) definitely presents both a threat and an opportunity,” the U.N. special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“But the opportunities for using tech as a tool to identify people who are in modern slavery and to assist them are far greater and they outweigh the threat.”

Two billion people — more than 60% of the world’s workers — are in informal employment, where they are not covered by formal arrangements, such as a contract, or do not have protections like sick pay, International Labour Organization data shows.

Those in informal work are known to be at a higher risk of slavery, said Bhoola, as she prepares to present a report on current and emerging forms of slavery to the U.N. next month.

tech, tools, slavery, UN
But the opportunities for using tech as a tool to identify people who are in modern slavery and to assist them are far greater and they outweigh the threat. Pixabay

The number of informal workers is set to swell in coming years, as low-skilled workers are pushed out of more stable employment by automation and others move towards short-term jobs offered through digital platforms, she said.

“If we look at the informal economy and the anticipated increase in informal work and more precariousness and vulnerability, then we are very far from decent work and human rights in the workplace,” she said.

But even as technology enables some unscrupulous employers to abuse labor rights, it is also helping to identify slave-owners and offer help to those at risk, the South African lawyer said in a phone interview from Johannesburg.

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She cited innovative tools ranging from a project using satellite images to look out for illegal factories to secure blockchain databases that trace fashion back to the source, and simple apps giving advice and contacts to vulnerable workers.

“Those tools can play a critical role,” she said. “Protecting people is about providing access to information — where to go for help, where to go if you have a grievance.

“If you are enslaved in domestic work, for instance, and you get one opportunity to use someone’s phone, what are you able to do with that phone to get help?”

Technology is not a quick fix, said Bhoola, who raised concerns that the majority of anti-slavery technology is still being developed and deployed in the West, not in the developing world where the prevalence of abuse is highest.

She called for action to ensure that slavery victims were consulted about new tools, saying those who had experienced abuse were best placed to advise on what help others in the same situation might need.

Governments must also step in to prosecute abuses and ensure that businesses face the prospect of “remedy and reparation” if they are found to have committed or enabled abuses, she said.

However, with many police forces facing stretched budgets and slave-owners hiding from view, technology can help show them where to look, said Bhoola.

She cited a U.N. report suggesting that some $150 billion in profits is generated each year as a result of modern slavery.

“If you are actually able to find where that money is emanating from, where it’s going and how it is being used … then you really have a very strong basis for addressing what is essentially a hidden crime,” she said. (VOA)

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres Warns Countries Advocating Fossil Fuels

Antonio Guterres called on the nations that aren't taking action against climate change

Antonio Guterres
UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres warns countries advocating usage of fossil fuels. Wikimedia Commons


United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday in a stern warning called on the nations advocating for fossil fuels and creating roadblocks in carbon neutral transition asking them to end those activities soon.

“I also call on anyone who is still lobbying their governments for a slow transition or even no transition – to end those activities now. The world is watching,” he emphasised in his address in the final week of the United Nations climate talks, COP25, which is being hosted in Madrid.

Shifting taxes from income to carbon, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and ending investments in and construction of coal plants by 2020 are all efforts that will benefit from bold and genuine business buy-in and support, he said.

In 2020, many governments will present enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). We expect to see carbon neutrality strategies for 2050, and the decarbonisation of key sectors, such as energy, industry, construction and transport, added the UN Secretary General.

“In support of these efforts, I am calling on you, leaders from the private sector, to challenge your governments to use this opportunity to make clear their economic development policies that will enable your companies to invest decisively in a net-zero future,” Guterres said.

“We are still seeing too many bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles, including perverse fossil fuel subsidies and many other expressions of government action slowing down the private sector commitment to climate action.

Antonio Guterres
Antonio Guterres calls on leaders from private sectors to challenge their governements. Wikimedia Commons

“Only through positive ambition can private and public partners successfully drive ambitious climate action, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors,” the UN chief said.

To limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, there is a need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“While we see some incremental steps towards sustainable business models, it is nowhere near the scope or scale required. What we need is not an incremental approach, but a transformational one. We need businesses to unite behind the science by taking rapid and ambitious action across their operations and value chains,” Guterres said.

I am encouraged that more than 170 major companies have already committed to set scientific, verifiable emission reduction targets aligned with a 1.5-degree future through the aBusiness Ambition for 1.5 degrees’ campaign, he added.

By stepping up and setting science-based targets, these companies are pioneering new ways of doing business and driving systemic change throughout the global economy,” he said.

They are also sending a clear signal to consumers, investors and governments that they intend to lead as the global economy undergoes a just transition to a net-zero future by 2050.

At the same time, the financial community is increasingly demonstrating commitment to the opportunities of a green economy.

UN secretary Antonio Guterres
“Only through positive ambition can private and public partners successfully drive ambitious climate action,” says Antonio Guterres. Wikimedia Commons

Investors managing close to $4 trillion dollars in assets have committed to converting their investment portfolios to net-zero emissions by 2050 through the UN-convened Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, and the markets are shifting more and more each day, Guterres said.

But business and financial actors can’t do this alone, he stressed.

“As we saw at the Climate Action Summit in September, the determination demonstrated by business and financial leaders offers a potential path of hope. As businesses back away from fossil fuels it helps send market signals to massively scale up innovative solutions. While we thank those leaders, we urgently need more to join and shift the pace to higher gears,” Guterres said.

The magnitude of the climate crisis is jeopardizing our future and life on the planet as we know it. Climate change is already disrupting people, business operations, economies and ecosystems around the world.

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More than ever we need governments, regions, cities, businesses and civil society to work together towards a common goal of a more just, sustainable and prosperous world,” he said, adding he has come back to COP25 to appeal for a successful conclusion of the conference and increased climate action and ambition, he noted. (IANS)