A new study from Verisk Maplecroft has revealed that Romania and Bulgaria are among five EU countries with the greatest risk of modern slavery. Romania has seen the worst deterioration in the situation globally, resulting in a fall of 56 places on the 2017 Modern Slavery Index (MSI).
The arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants to Europe, many of them desperate and vulnerable to exploitation, has exacerbated the risk of modern slavery across the continent, including in Central and Southeast Europe.
“The presence of these vulnerable migrant populations in the primary countries of arrival is a key contributor for increases in slavery across multiple sectors in the region, such as agriculture, construction and services,” says the report from the global risk consultancy.
Romania is now in 66th place in terms of the risk of modern slavery among the 198 countries on the 2017 index. Verisk assesses each country on the strength of their laws, the effectiveness of their enforcement and the severity of violations.
The US State Department’s latest “Trafficking in Persons” report says that Romanians “represent a significant source of sex and labor trafficking victims” in Western, Central and Southern Europe.
Romanians are “subjected to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, domestic service, hotels, and manufacturing, as well as forced begging and theft in Romania and other European countries” the report says. It also details forced begging and forced criminal activities, with the victims often Roma children.
Romania and Bulgaria are by no means the only countries in the EU28 to see a drop in their scores on the MSI; the situation in 18 other countries has also deteriorated, with substantial declines also seen in Greece, Italy and Cyprus – all key entry points for migrants.
Across the bloc, Romania and Italy (ranked 133rd) have the worst reported violations, including severe forms of forced labour, such as servitude and trafficking, the study says.
Elsewhere in CEE, the situation has also worsened in EU member states Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. Several Western Balkan states also saw a turn for the worse, with the situation deteriorating in Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro.
“The migrant crisis has increased the risk of slavery incidents appearing in company supply chains across Europe,” says Sam Haynes, senior human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “It is no longer just the traditional sourcing hotspots in the emerging economies that businesses should pay attention to when risk assessing their suppliers and the commodities they source.”
Turkey saw a dramatic increase in the risk of modern slavery, making the second largest drop on the global index to 58th place, which put it in the ‘high risk’ category.
“The influx of 100,000s of refugees from the Syrian war, combined with Turkey’s restrictive work permit system, has led to thousands becoming part of the informal workforce. Policing labour violations is also no longer a priority for the government, which is focused on the political crackdown, further adding to the risk,” says the report.
It also points to recent revelations of child labour and slavery in the textiles industry, and warns of similar risks to companies importing agricultural goods, such as hazelnuts and cherries.
On the other hand, migrant flows via Greece and the Balkans have fallen dramatically after a deal was struck between the EU and Turkey in 2016 that saw the route effectively closed down. Instead, migrants are making their way to Europe by sea, with the lion’s share — 85% — making their first entry to the continent in Italy. The risk of modern slavery is therefore expected to worsen in Italy over the next year.
Globally, the situation is most severe in North Korea, Syria and South Sudan. Turkmenistan is among the countries with the highest risk of modern slavery (10th place). China, at 21st place, is also in the ‘extreme risk’ category along with several other Asian manufacturing hubs. Russia also performs poorly; the country has a large migrant population vulnerable exploitation, and recent investigative reports have uncovered numerous cases of exploitation surrounding the construction of stadiums for the 2018 World Cup.