New report counts 29,500 slaves in Hong Kong, labels government as low-performer

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According to a new report, Hong Kong is not doing all it can to combat modern day slavery. One local organisation agrees. Meanwhile, the government expresses concerns over the methodology.

Around 45.8 million people are trapped in modern-day slavery globally including 29,500 in Hong Kong, according to the Global Slavery Index 2016 report, an initiative of the Walk Free Foundation.

That is not the worst of the report’s findings. It also classifies the Hong Kong government among those that are “taking the least action” to combat modern slavery, a club that also includes countries such as North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Hong Kong’s security bureau has questioned the methodology of the report, claiming that the territory has a well established legal framework to prevent human trafficking, including penalties ranging from 10 years in jail to lifetime imprisonment.

However, some local activists see merits in the foundation’s conclusions.

“The Hong Kong government has no comprehensive legislation or policies to tackle forced labour, or trafficking for the purpose of forced labour,” says Piya Muqit, Executive Director of Justice Centre Hong Kong. “The government continually denies that the territory is a source, destination or transit area for human trafficking and forced labour.”

In March, Justice Centre published its own report, which found that one in six (17%) of migrant domestic workers in the territory display all of the indicators required to be counted as forced labour.

The Walk Free report also notes reports of exploitation and servitude in Hong Kong and other Asian locations where there is a high demand for live-in help. Nevertheless, the report acknowledges efforts by the Hong Kong government to increase the frequency of employment agency inspections and to prosecute agencies that collect excessive placement fees from foreign domestic workers.

The Global Slavery Index 2016 report defines modern slavery as situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. It measures the problem by quantifying data across three dimensions of slavery – the size of the problem in the affected locality, vulnerability to slavery within the locality, and the degree of the government’s response.