By Grant Jarvie
In 2019 the relationship between sport, modern slavery and human trafficking once again emerged as a significant concern. Much of the existing research has focused upon a limited number of areas. Sports and the sports industry have been actively seeking solutions to problems. A number of multi-lateral organisations that have championed the use of sport as an enabler.
In this final sports matters blog of 2019 we take a brief look at some key events of 2019 and aspirations for 2020.
The Modern Slavery Act
The UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA) was introduced to bring together anti-slavery and human trafficking offences into one piece of legislation. Accordingly, it is an offence to: hold a person in slavery or require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour; facilitate the travel of any person across borders with a view to that person being exploited; or commit an offence with the intention to commit human trafficking.
The International Labour Organisation in 2017 estimated that at any given time in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage. This means there are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world. 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children. Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.
Sport, modern slavery and human trafficking
In July 2019 the interim findings of the UK cross party group on sport, modern slavery and human trafficking reported that it intended to bring forward recommendations in the following areas:
- Companies working on the construction of sports venues and in the supply chains of major events to report under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act;
- In relation to the supply chains of public authorities as well as private companies, the UK Government’s full implementation of the recommendations of the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act which reported to Parliament in May 2019;
- Ensuring adequate child safeguarding for every event hosted in the UK, particularly for youth events;
- Encouraging sports bodies to consider human rights from the outset and integrate them into bid requirements;
- When hosting an event, supporting the Local Organising Committee by allocating budget and resource to facilitate human rights due diligence processes;
- Strengthening the Ofcom Broadcasting Code to consider social media outlets as broadcasters, particularly in cases of live streaming sport;
- Public authorities to start quantifying who is using what when it comes to public spaces and logging this information in a central database – for example, are boys teams using communal football pitches significantly more than girls teams;
- Considering enacting legislation similar to Title IX in the United States which views sport as an educational opportunity for girls and key to their future career success;
- Reviewing the reporting of gender in sport to include other diversity metrics in recognition of the inter-sectionality of several forms of discrimination.
The Sporting Chance Forum, held on 21st and 22nd November in Geneva in the historic Room XX of the UN Palais des Nations, served as a powerful opportunity to discuss the key human rights issues, and their solutions, that exist across the world of sport. Hosted by The Centre for Sport and Human Rights, International Labour Organization, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and UN Office in Geneva, the programme explored how different actors in the world of sport can use their individual and collective leverage to achieve a world of sport that fully respects human rights.
The cross-party group noted that one of the biggest human rights risks in commercial relationships surrounding sport, particularly regarding MSEs, relates to the construction of venues. When looking at the worst violations of workers rights in the construction of stadiums at MSEs, this can mean fatalities – 50 people died in construction activity for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, 9 people ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, 21 for the 2018 Russia World Cup, 2 so far for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and a wide range of estimates for Qatar 2022, from a few dozen to a few thousand when estimates include non-World Cup projects. London 2012 is the only major IOC or FIFA event in recent years to have zero fatalities.
The human rights risks in the sports supply chain are much the same as the human rights risks in any other supply chain and include:
- Health and safety
- Decent working conditions
- Decent wages.
- Forced labour
- Child labour – Child rights can be impacted if they work illegally including their right to health, right to education and to go to school, right to play, and their right to an adequate standard of living and adequate care.
Sport, humanity and human rights
It is not as if the world of sport is inactive in addressing the challenges that it faces as it enters the third decade of the 21st Century.
If sport connects with so many people internationally then how powerful can it be in the advancement of human rights? The recent case of the Australian footballer Hakkeem Al-Araibi is a powerful reminder of what can be achieved through the fusion of sport and rights. It is incredibly exciting to reflect upon what could be achieved in a bold new world where sport must uphold the universal values which are in reality anything but universal. The case of Hakeem Al-Araibi for Australians is a reminder of what a football and rights movement can achieve together and what the high profile of sports and athletes can enable when they raise their voice in support of the humane treatment of all as they did for Hakeem. This is not conventional politics this is pure human rights and it is a space where athletes can ground their advocacy for a better world.
Should we not understand what human rights policy obligations and due diligence means when applied in such a specific context as sport? It is here that the potential of National Human Rights Associations (NHRI’s) have not been fully realized or utilized by sporting partners. In 2015, the Merida Declaration set out the role that NHRI’s should play in the implementation of the 2030 Global Sustainable Development Goals. The statutory role that they have in advising national governments of their statutory obligations while remaining independent and reporting to the UN is a resource that sport in Scotland might make more use use of.
However, the argument that is put forward here is more than the above. While accepting that international sport is far from perfect and that the global sports industry needs to be challenged further there is also credence in the argument that sport can play more of a leadership role through (i) the social currency of athletes to amplify important discussions and (ii) a sports and rights movement that gives further credence to the athlete’s message, brings sport and athletes together in a shared advocacy that is enabling the promotion of international human rights instruments on a global level.
When a Tanni Grey Thompson or a Gordon Reid or a Kurt Fearnley challenge perceptions of what an athlete can do in a wheelchair and advocate for the rights of the disabled they are advocating for the rights of others. Sport can help to shift conversations and in the case of Hakeem mentioned above we have the case of a successful campaign to free a footballer who had a greater recourse to international standards as a registered footballer than he did under Australian, Bahraini or Thai domestic law.
When sport uses its new found humanitarian muscle the effects can be powerful. Child labour, supply chain abuse, construction worker deaths, displacement of vulnerable people, burying of human rights abuses and the general sport-washing of mega sports events are no longer just considered the host nation’s problem for sport must increasingly account for its own business and force states to adapt.
Hopes for 2020 and beyond
As international sports calendars unfold year after year it is worth remembering that while there is no single agent, group or sports intervention that can carry the hopes of humanity there are many points of engagement through sport that offer good causes for optimism, that things can get better, that we can move beyond a world paved with good intentions and that sport is a valued part of the mix in making the politics of the possible, possible.