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Side event organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat on sustainable development and modern slavery

Intervention of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Ms. Urmila Bhoola at
the Human Rights Council

I would like to start by thanking the Commonwealth Secretariat for convening this event and express my regret that due to prior commitments I am not able to attend in person. Partnership is key to tackling contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences so I commend this initiative and hope there are future opportunities for collaboration.

I very much welcome the focus of today’s event on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and slavery. Slavery eradication and sustainable development are deeply inter-connected and mutually reinforcing objectives. Achieving sustainable development is key to ensuring the full eradication of slavery and ending slavery is fundamental to fair and equitable development. As I mentioned in my presentation to the Human Rights Council this week, I believe the inclusion of target 8.7, which calls on the global community to “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms” in the SDGs is a historical opportunity to accelerate efforts to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery. 

I am of this view because inclusion of this target by Member States provides significant opportunities for the mobilisation of resources towards ending all forms of contemporary slavery and its consequences. And because its inclusion makes a stronger link to development paradigms creating a chance to go beyond the lens of individual vulnerability to look at the systemic socio-economic drivers of extreme exploitation, including decent work deficits, displacement, globalization as currently managed, poverty, increasing global inequality, governance challenges and weak labour market regulation.  

My report to the upcoming 72nd session of the General Assembly, which will be my first presentation to the GA and is available on the OHCHR webpages on my mandate, focuses on the issue SDGs and slavery.  It argues that in many ways the continued prevalence of extreme exploitation is a symptom of the failure of inclusive and sustainable development that is human rights centred. The very need for slavery to be included in the SDGs is indicative of the fact that, in 2015, contemporary forms of slavery continued to have an impact on the lives of millions of adults and children, despite sustained efforts to achieve sustainable development. My report discusses the weaknesses of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) vis-a-vis slavery eradication, including both the exclusion of a specific reference to slavery and the broader lack of a human rights based approach limiting the framework’s ability to fulfil its potential to tackle its causes and consequence.

I feel that the 2030 Agenda goes far beyond the MDGs, both in relation to contemporary forms of slavery and a more generalized respect for, and promotion of, human rights principles and frameworks. Given the extent to which the MDGs were able to influence the sustainable development discourse and the mobilization of resources, these advancements have great potential. It is in this respect that the 2030 Agenda represents a historic opportunity that Member States, the international community, the business community and other stakeholders must seek to maximize.

The 2030 Agenda is ambitious and far-reaching. This is in many ways its strength but also raises serious questions about the availability of capacity and resources to implement the Goals and targets. Estimates have suggested that an amount of between $3 trillion and $5 trillion needs to be mobilized to effectively finance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. It is vital that the resources be allocated in full so that the Goals and targets are all implemented successfully as interdependent, mutually reinforcing and interlinked development outcomes, as none can be achieved in a vacuum from the others. States and other stakeholders must avoid cherry-picking those that are the easiest and most politically expedient for them to implement. It is essential that States and other actors align the financing for the 2030 Agenda with their obligations under international law to allocate the maximum available resources to the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights. Policy coherence between the action taken to implement different goals, as well as the initiatives to implement the 2030 Agenda and related policy areas, including those on trade and investment, border management and migration, must also be achieved. It is therefore necessary for States, the private sector, donors and the international community to work together to mobilize the resources needed in order to avoid selectivity in relation to the targets and thus ensure the overall success of the implementation of the Agenda and the maximization of its potential to fully eradicate contemporary forms of slavery.

The historic opportunity presented by the inclusion of target 8.7 will be lost unless sufficient resources can be mobilized to achieve all the Sustainable Development Goals as interdependent and intersecting outcomes.

I therefore call on those here today to play their role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. My report to the General Assembly presents a range of recommendations, which I hope Member States, Civil Society organisations, business stakeholders and others will give careful consideration to.

Thank you again to the Commonwealth Secretariat for convening this event on a topic, which I believe, is a key priority for the eradication of contemporary slavery, its causes and consequences.


United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, “UNCTAD: investing in Sustainable
Development Goals: part 1 — action plan for private investments in SDGs” (Geneva, 2015).