Has COVID-19 increased the risk of modern slavery in Asia?
A recently published study revealed that the risk of modern slavery is higher than at any point since 2017 in manufacturing hubs across Asia.
The study was issued earlier in September by Verisk Maplecroft, a UK-based consultancy that specialises in working with multinational organisations on ESG (environment, social and corporate governance) and human rights risks.
They have offices in the UK, the US, Canada and Singapore. The report goes on to add that Asian manufacturing hubs have witnessed a significant increase in modern slavery over the last four years, and the risk is set to grow as the economic fallout from COVID-19 takes full hold.
In the latest annual edition of the Verisk Maplecroft Modern Slavery Index, among Asian countries, workers in Bangladesh face the highest risk of labour exploitation in Asia and is in 18th place globally. It is followed by China (20th position globally), Myanmar (23rd), India (25th), Cambodia (32nd), Vietnam (35th) and Indonesia (44th).
All these Asian countries sit at their lowest point in the ranking of 198 countries since 2017. The index measures the risk to business of the possible association with slavery, trafficking in persons and forced labour in supply chains, operations and service providers.
For the first time, Bangladesh and India, key manufacturing countries for the apparel sector, have dropped into the 'extreme risk' category of the Modern Slavery Index. They join China and Myanmar in a group of 32 countries where populations face the highest levels of risk.
The index identifies Bangladesh as not only seeing an increase in violations, but also a weakening of enforcement of labour laws over the last few years. In India, a notable decline in enforcement is largely responsible for its slip from 'high' to 'extreme' risk.
Reuters quoted the Clean Clothes Campaign pressure group reporting that Asian garment workers supplying global fashion brands lost up to USD 5.8 billion in wages from March to Mayas the COVID-19 pandemic led to store closures and cancelled orders.
About 60 million people work in Asia's garment industry and falling sales have put many jobs at risk.