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Building local resilience to modern slavery after Covid-19

Project analysing the impact of the pandemic on resilience to modern slavery in communities in Senegal and Kenya

The Covid-19 pandemic has threatened the progress made to tackle modern slavery across the world. In Africa, where the proportion of workers in informal employment is already the highest in the world, millions have faced a loss of income or found themselves in increasingly precarious situations.

Migration and supply chains have been disrupted, creating risk factors for trafficking and labour abuse. Identification of people being exploited has become more challenging, as states shift protection resources towards tackling the pandemic. Critical support services from the public, private and voluntary sectors have been placed under significant pressure, severely compromised by lockdown restrictions. The political, social and economic impact of lockdown is also likely to be damaging to anti-slavery efforts.

A research team from the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with Free the Slaves, an international civil society organisation dedicated to changing the conditions that allow modern slavery to exist, explored the impact of the pandemic on community-based anti-slavery work, using an example of two initiatives in Senegal and Kenya.

The project used a peer-reviewed slavery-free communities resilience framework to explore the structural, legal, cultural, social and individual factors and processes underpinning exploitation and resilience in each setting.

The research is examined four key questions:

  • What factors underpin community resilience against exploitation?
  • How were anti-slavery projects contributing to building resilience before Covid-19?
  • How is Covid-19 impacting on the structural issues, legislation, institutions, systems and practices that underpin resilience to exploitation?
  • What issues, partnerships and processes need to be prioritised to developed and protect resilience to exploitation?

The team is drew on international development data to inform an overview of the economic, social, legal and political baseline prior to the pandemic.

Then, working closely with Free the Slaves, which runs local projects in Dakar and Nairobi, the researchers worked with front-line organisations to create an overview of the local antislavery governance frameworks. Interviews with key local actors were designed to understand which social factors, government interventions, institutions and initiatives have been most critical to preventing exploitation in each setting.

The research aimed to create pre- and post-pandemic 'theories of change' that can illustrate how an international crisis is impacting anti-slavery efforts at a local level.

Ultimately, the project aimed to build knowledge on the wider systemic impacts of Covid-19 and provide evidence for policymakers, NGOs and funders on how to strengthen community resilience against modern slavery in the face of global crises.

This project was funded as part of the Modern Slavery PEC call for research on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on modern slavery.

Project team: Dr Alison Gardner, Dr Phil Northall, Rights Lab, University of Nottingham.

Project partners: Free the Slaves