Intervention by H.E. Ambassador Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations on 2 December 2015, the International Slavery Day.
Mr. Chair, distinguished Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me congratulate the UN University, in particular Dr Cockayne and Ms Panaccione, for the two extremely timely, thought-provoking, and user-friendly policy reports which both contain a list of strategic, policy-oriented, but at the same time very pragmatic recommendations addressed to States and other relevant actors active in the fight against modern slavery.
In addition, I would also like to commend the Freedom Fund for offering financial support for the development of these policy reports.
What is modern slavery and why we need to fight it?
Excellencies, dear Colleagues,
Modern slavery is one of the most horrific crimes of our times that violates the most fundamental, inalienable human rights of its victims, it steals the most precious values of human beings, namely their freedom and dignity.
Hungary did not play any part in historic slavery. We do not have a Gorée Island to remember the lost souls transported from Africa to build the developed world. But I am here today to stress that modern slavery can be found in every part of our world. No country is immune from it. While the number of modern slaves is the highest in Asia, we may find people working under slave-like conditions in highly developed countries, even here in the U.S. While my country may not be the most affected by this phenomenon, Hungarians also fall victim to modern slavery.
Sexual slavery, slavery based on fraudulent contracts and bonded labour are the most common forms of modern slavery affecting Hungarians.
As an example of sexual slavery, I could mention the numberless Roma girls and women trafficked to the Netherlands and other European countries to work in the sex industry.
The victims of “contract slavery” are typically those women and men who were promised good wages, perhaps even accommodation and food for a job usually abroad. These people often find themselves forced to work long hours for virtually no wage and living in horrific conditions. This is what happened in a recent case brought by the British authorities, which involved Hungarian nationals trafficked to the UK and being subjected to slave labour in a bed-making factory in northern England.
Bonded labour is also common in Hungary and usually affects the people living in extreme poverty. According to recent estimates, appr. 30000 Hungarians are subjected to exploitative servitude which is most common in small villages and farms in the Eastern part of my country. The victims typically come from vulnerable groups of society, i.e. they are homeless or disabled people, youth separated from their parents, alcoholics, or people living in isolation with no family. The recent case of a 69-year-old Hungarian man who was sold for appr. 150 USD by his own son-in-law to a family that forced him to feed their horses and carry out other tasks on their farm could be mentioned as an example for this category of modern slavery.
One-third of the estimated 35.8 million victims of modern slavery cross national borders. Such cases cannot be solved by individual states on their own, but require international cooperation between the countries of origin, destination and transit.
While we may not be always aware of it, we can feel the touch of modern slavery in the clothes we wear, the mobile phones we use or when we watch the latest news about ISIL or Boko Haram enslaving women and girls.
In addition, modern slavery generates unfair competition and results in huge tax revenue loss, public health burdens and significant legal costs for prosecuting such crimes.
What are the weaknesses of the current institutional framework and why we need to establish a global partnership to end modern slavery?
I believe that there is an urgent need to establish a global partnership to end modern slavery.
Hungary fully recognizes the important results achieved in previous years by UN entities in the fights against human trafficking and forced labour. I believe the fact that Hungary is a member of the Geneva-based Group of Friends on Decent Work and that we are an active member of the UNODC prove this.
Nonetheless we are of the view that modern slavery can be fought most successfully and effectively if we apply an integrated, holistic, coordinated approach. Fragmentation and competition within the system significantly limit the effectiveness of our response and often result in duplication of efforts. An effective institutional framework requires working across the existing silos within the UN, and bringing all the different forms of leverage in the UN arsenal to bear on this complex problem all at once.
This would require the involvement of not only the organizations based in Geneva or Vienna, but also many of those located here in New York and elsewhere.
We support the idea of appointing a time-bound Special Envoy who could be tasked to assist the brokering of a system-wide partnership, of course, in close cooperation with actors already active in this field. It is without question that the ILO and UNODC would be essential partners, but given the complexity of the problem and its expanding effects on peace and security, we think that other UN entities (such as the principal organs of the UN, including the Security Council, the UN Women, UNICEF, UNDP, etc.), the World Bank, the ICC, Interpol, regional organizations, as well as the private sector would also need to be involved or play a more active role. These actors would bring different skills and capacities to the table, which would be all necessary for winning the fight against modern slavery.
As the reports point out, the private sector is now making significant resources available for anti-slavery work. If the UN manages to find an innovative way to work in partnership with all the concerned stakeholders, it could harness these resources to achieve SDG 8.7. This is a unique opportunity that – in my opinion – should not be missed, especially if we take into account the scarcity of available resources in the UN system.
What can States do to assist the fight against modern slavery and the implementation of the policy recommendations of these report?
We – Member States – can create the political willingness necessary for establishing such a global partnership. Hungary wholeheartedly supports the call for political mobilization in this field. Of course, any action on modern slavery should be seen as building on the excellent work being done to fight human trafficking and to eradicate forced labour, rather than as an effort to compete with those efforts.
None of this should surprise anyone, since in Goal 17 of the 2030 Agenda we – Member States – already called for enhancing policy coordination and coherence and establishing global and multi-stakeholder partnerships to support the achievement of the SDGs, including target 8.7.
Hungary is right now discussing the details of offering financial contribution for UN Women projects that aim to assist, amongst others, the investigation of sexual and gender-based crimes (including enslavement) committed against women and young girls.
We are also planning to provide further funds for a UNICEF project that focuses on child soldiers, the rights of the child in armed conflicts, and forced child labour.
We are organising an event in March that would focus on the enslavement of women and children by terrorist groups such as the ISIL and Boko Haram.
In order to assist the implementation of the brilliant recommendations of the two reports, Hungary would also be ready to play an active role in setting up a small “task force” which could start the preparatory ground work necessary for the realization of some of the proposed ideas, including the possibility of the adoption of a General Assembly resolution on ending modern slavery.
Thank you for your attention.