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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

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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.

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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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Iran Installing New Centrifuges, UN Confirms

The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency said Monday its inspectors confirmed Iran is installing more advanced centrifuges

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Acting Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Cornel Feruta from Romania waits for the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Sept. 9, 2019. VOA

The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency said Monday its inspectors confirmed Iran is installing more advanced centrifuges that can be used to refine uranium.

An International Atomic Energy Agency statement said the equipment includes several types of centrifuges prohibited under the 2015 nuclear deal Iran reached with a group of world powers that limited its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

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Iran says it will continue to work with the IAEA to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities.. Pixabay

The confirmation comes days after Iranian officials announced the move.  It was the latest step Iran has taken away from the nuclear agreement as it complains European nations are not doing enough to help Iran’s oil sector deal with U.S. sanctions.

Iran earlier decided to break the limit on the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to hold at one time, and a limit on the level to which it can enrich.

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The United States imposed its sanctions after abandoning the agreement last year.  President Donald Trump has said he wants to negotiate a new deal, but one that also includes limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and a longer timeline than the original agreement struck under the administration of his predecessor Barack Obama.

Despite openly taking steps to go against limitations specified in the agreement, Iran says it will continue to work with the IAEA to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities. (VOA)