Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 70(3) August 2020


Modern slavery and Covid-19

Dr Anthony Cole

photo of authorIt is inevitable that the economic collapse precipitated by the global Covid-19 pandemic has greatly increased the number of vulnerable people who are at risk of modern slavery. The disruption to business and the justice system and the preoccupation of law enforcers is creating an opportunity for criminal gangs to exploit them.

Pope Francis described modern slavery as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society" when he endorsed the Santa Marta Group, an international alliance of Catholic bishops and police chiefs[1] to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery.

Organisations fighting sex trafficking have written to the Secretary General of the United Nations to ask that sex trafficking prostitution and sexual exploited persons be included in the UN`s Covid-19 policy document calling for funds. "The goal of the fund should be to assist and uplift human beings who are bought and sold in the global multi-billion-dollar sex trade; not further their profiteers and exploiters who deem sexual exploitation a form of labour". [2]

In the UK The Modern Slavery Act 2015[3] consolidated previous offences relating to trafficking and slavery and appointed an anti-slavery commissioner. It called for a register which business employers should consult when considering their international supply chain. Over 10,000 businesses have complied but the Act does not cover prostitution or "tied visas", involving domestic servants and which would limit their right to change employment. Though these were raised in Parliament they were not accepted. Thus, the Act is mainly about matters before the courts.

Police authorities have alerted the public to slavery which may be in plain sight. They urge the public to look out for a number of suspicious things such as;

  • Is the worker afraid to speak to strangers?
  • Are they badly dressed and rarely change clothes?
  • Are they living in squalor or sleeping on the premises?
  • Are they brought to work early and collected late?
  • Under the pandemic they may lack any masks gloves or protective clothing.

The authorities will then investigate to see if they possess valid documents including a passport.[4]

In the present demonstrations about "black lives matter", just occasionally one sees a mention of modern slavery. Why is this when slavery is arguably more relevant than ever?

Dr Anthony Cole J P FRCPCH. Dr Cole is a retired Paediatrician


  1. 8/10/15
  2. santa marta group April 17/4/20 Zuzanna
  3. Modern Slavery Act 2015 Gov UK 10/6/19
  4. Ipswich Star