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Harnessing UK trade and investment to address Indo-Pacific modern slavery risks

Report on addressing forced labour through international trade and investment.

Published: 21st May 2024

This is a summary of the research: Harnessing UK Trade and Investment to Address Indo-Pacific Modern Slavery Risks by Dr Timothy Masiko, Dame Sara Thornton, Dr Ergul Celiksoy, Dr Katarina Schwarz, Dr Oana Burcu, Dr Katrina Peake, Professor Todd Landman, and Professor Facundo Albornoz Crespo. It was led by University of Nottingham Rights Lab in partnership with Anti-Slavery International.


The relationship of trade and investment to modern slavery risks and outcomes is becoming increasingly clear. A growing body of international practice and literature positions labour rights, human rights, and sustainable development concerns—including addressing modern slavery—within the domains of international trade and investment. Therefore, understanding the role of trade and investment rules in addressing those risks and outcomes is critical to any attempts made to mitigate modern slavery risks and outcomes.

The research set out to assess the role of trade and investment arrangements in the Indo-Pacific region in shaping modern slavery risks. It provides new evidence, analysis, and recommendations on how the UK can reduce modern slavery risks through trade and investment with the Indo-Pacific.

Given the UK’s focus on the Indo-Pacific region for trade and investment, this project offers quantitative and qualitative evidence and analysis of immediate relevance to the UK’s recent accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPPTP), negotiations for a UK-India trade pact, growing UK-ASEAN trade cooperation, and enhanced two-way capital flows between the UK and the Indo-Pacific.

Key Findings

  1. The project’s systematic analysis of UK and Indo-Pacific Trade Agreements (TAs) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) reveals that UK efforts to include modern slavery relevant concerns in trade and investment instruments with the Indo-Pacific currently fall short of best practice and do not reflect a coherent strategy. While inclusion of modern slavery concerns in TAs has developed over time, these issues are yet to be meaningfully considered in the context of BITs.
  2. The econometric analysis reveals that the impact of trade relations on forced labour depends on the types of products being traded and the characteristics of trade partners. Trade openness can help to reduce forced labour and strengthen protection against it when involving partners with high levels of labour protection. Trade in primary goods and products intensive in unskilled labour can increase forced labour, where labour protections are not pursued and enforced.
  3. The project’s country case studies for China, India, Malaysia, and Thailand reveal high levels of differentiation between different Indo-Pacific states in terms of both modern slavery and trade dynamics, as well as states’ commitment to human and labour rights. While some standardisation in UK policy is valuable, this demonstrates the importance of context-specific approaches.

Key recommendations for the UK Government

  1. Develop a systematic approach to the integration of modern slavery concerns in trade and investment agreements, embedded in a broader UK trade strategy addressing human rights, labour rights, and sustainable development.
  2. Seek to ensure that modern slavery concerns are substantially integrated in trade and investment agreements in negotiations, with robust monitoring and engagement mechanisms.
  3. Review existing trade and investment agreements with a modern slavery lens to support future amendments and new instruments.