UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States will launch a competition in the coming weeks to find projects that will reduce modern slavery, which by one estimate affects nearly 46 million people around the world, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced Wednesday.
She told a U.N. Security Council meeting focusing on the scourge that the initiative will seek to raise $1.5 billion, partly from the U.S. government but mostly from foreign governments and the private sector, to help countries break trafficking rings and support survivors.
Haley said groups that receive funding "must target a 50 percent reduction" in the people they seek to help escape slavery.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said armed conflicts "are especially virulent breeding grounds" for human trafficking resulting in forced prostitution, sexual slavery, forced marriage, trade in human organs and forced labor.
According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index that ranks 167 countries, an estimated 45.8 million people are subject to some form of modern slavery which it defines as "situations where one person has taken away another person's freedom — their freedom to control their body, their freedom to choose to refuse certain work or to stop working — so that they can be exploited."
Guterres quoted International Labor Organization statistics saying 21 million people globally are victims of forced labor and exploitation.
"Annual profits are estimated to be $150 billion," he said.
The secretary-general said much greater priority is being given to drug trafficking which is "an awful crime, but to traffic in human beings is, I must say, much worse."
He said "modern manifestations of servitude may touch and even implicate us all."
"Global supply-chains have transformed many lives for the better — but not always without costs," Guterres said. "Clothes, food, smartphones, jewelry and other consumer goods may bear, wittingly or unwittingly, the traces of exploitation. Gleaming new skyscrapers may owe some of their shine to the sweat of bonded laborers."
The U.N. chief called for governments to strengthen cooperation on law enforcement, investigations and intelligence sharing and to coordinate with civil society and the business community. He also urged global action to address "the underlying vulnerabilities that fuel this phenomenon" including by ending conflicts, educating girls, respecting the rights of minorities and establishing safe and legal channels of migration.
Haley said the problem is getting harder to solve because criminal gangs put fake job ads online and use social media to lure people into trafficking rings. Terrorist organizations are also financing their attacks "by smuggling desperate people," she said.
The U.S. "Program to End Modern Slavery" proposed by Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in December, demonstrates the U.S. commitment to stand up to modern slavery, she said.
Kevin Hyland, the United Kingdom's first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said the International Organization for Migration reported in October that over 70 percent of all migrants moving to Europe from North Africa "had experienced exploitation and human trafficking, mainly to Libya."
"A modern-day slave trade is now booming in Libya," he said. "Militias are subjecting migrants to forced labor and sexual exploitation in detention centers until they pay off a ransom to allow passage to Europe."
Hyland said, for example, that traffickers in southern Nigeria taking advantage of conflict and instability in the Lake Chad Basin have for decades deceived victims with false promises of better lives in Europe.
But he said the trickle of victims "has now become a flow."
In 2016, Hyland said just over 11,000 Nigerian women arrived in Italy from Libya, an eight-fold increase from 2014.
"The International Organization for Migration believes that 80 percent are trafficking victims destined for brothels across Europe," he said.
Hyland, who visited Edo state where most Nigerian victims come from, said all those he met "wanted to tell me about the identities, tactics and routes of traffickers."
"Unfortunately this information is not being routinely collected, analyzed or acted on," he said.
He said governments need to "get smart" about debriefing victims, step up investigations, and start convicting organizers "to act as a deterrent to others."