Jul 3, 2019
In Episode 6 of Series 4, we talk to James
Cockayne, Director of Centre for
Policy Research at the United Nations University in
New York. He is the Project Director for Delta 8.7 – The Alliance
8.7 Knowledge Platform, and is Head of the Secretariat for the
Liechtenstein Initiative for a Financial Sector Commission on
Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.
Todd begins by reflecting on the size of the UN and asks
James how it helps us understand the fight to end modern
- James agrees that the UN is a huge organisation and, as far as
tackling slavery is concerned, it is:
- A forum for member states to talk about global problems like
- A set of technical agencies undertaking research to help us
understand what modern slavery looks like on the ground.
- A set of organisations that can respond on the ground e.g.
peacekeeping in conflict situations, delivering education
Global Children’s Fund) through to protection of workers’
rights by the International Labour
- James argues this allows the UN to look at the problem
holistically revealing how it manifests itself differently in
The discussion moves to whether the UN treats modern slavery as
a human rights problem. James says it does but that it is not
- Modern slavery plays out differently in different
- Modern slavery is treated differently by member states and
described and viewed differently within the UN system.
- Some parts of the UN see modern or contemporary slavery as a
human rights problem based on the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, whilst others see it through the
lens of labour rights or as a criminal justice problem.
- Todd points out that quite a bit of modern slavery discourse
surrounds conflict and humanitarian law.
- James agrees - in the last few years the UN has been grappling
with the connections between these different manifestations and how
to respond to it. He offers the example of ISIS/Daesh in Iraq and
Syria who use slavery to generate money, to attract fighters by
offering enslaved women and girls and dominate the local
population. This leads to mass displacement creating its own
vulnerabilities to trafficking in Lebanon and other surrounding
countries that host refugees. These flow on into North Africa and
Europe creating new problems demonstrating the complexities in the
way the problems connect.
- James suggests that the UN is present all along the chain and
that there are human rights issues across the chain, but they are
probably playing out differently in each case.
4.56 – 6.07
Todd moves the discussion on to modern slavery in a business
context, mentioning the UN Global
Compact and the
- James agrees modern slavery is increasingly a part of this but
asserts that the anti-slavery movement “has been a little slow on
the uptake” in engaging with the broader business and human rights
- He believes lessons are being learned by business and by
government about how to ensure respect for human rights in the
business world and that this is flowing into the modern slavery
movement and having a positive impact.
6.07 – 11.48
Todd asks how the UN is moving towards the realisation of its
Development Goals and associated 169 targets
especially those relating to modern slavery.
- James points again to the size and complexity of the UN and the
ambitious set of goals and targets at the heart of its operations.
He explains how progression in one area might have a knock-on in
others (both positive and negative).
- For modern slavery this has meant having to think about how
efforts to end it connect to broader efforts to achieve sustainable
development, e.g. education, gender, work or environmental goals
and targets. This requires a more integrated approach and for
individual agencies to look beyond their own self-interest.
- James outlines how Alliance 8.7, led by the ILO is at
the heart of this. He describes it as “a multi-stakeholder circus
tent” where everyone is welcome and can test the effectiveness of
their responses. He explains the science of this is interesting as
measuring the incidence of modern slavery is very difficult. He
adds that the work of
Rights Lab and within the UN has led to major strides
in this area. There is still work to be done to establish whether
they are meeting their targets.
- The best estimate from the ILO from 2016
is 40.3 million slaves in the world meaning 9,000 people a day
would need to be moved out of modern slavery to achieve the target.
As things stand, James acknowledged they don’t know if the figure
is moving up or down.
- Todd adds that the number of people moving into modern slavery
also needs to be taken into account. James agrees and mentions that
Brazil, which has a good track record, has removed 50,000 slaves
across 20 years suggesting there is a long way to go. Good research
and evidence is fundamental to progress as is the availability of
- Todd agrees and outlines the problems with statistics in this
11:39 – 12.49
Todd asks about Delta
8.7 and its relation to Alliance 8.7?
- Delta 8.7 is the
knowledge platform of the alliance created by UN university centre
for policy research.
- The aim is to make it easier for policy actors to understand
the evidence in individual countries. James continues to explain
how this is done using individual country dashboards which include
easy to access and understand information on modern slavery along
with other local factors.
12.49 – 14.07
In February 2019 there was an event called Code 8.7 which Todd
asks James to talk about.
14.07 – 16.27
Todd talks about previous
podcast episodes with Patrick Ball, the
Human Rights Data Analyst Group
Executive Director, about machine learning and the discourse of
Dr Doreen Boyd who used satellite imagery to identify
brick kilns in South Asia. He asks whether this is evidence the UN
would consider important in the fight against modern slavery.
- James says that we have to use every source of data available,
and that artificial intelligence is important to sort
non-traditional data streams. He believes that Code 8.7 offers new
analytical pathways into the problem and also practical
applications for helping accelerate response.
- Todd suggests James’ background as a lawyer is crucial in
telling what machine learning and A.I. to look for. There is a fear
that natural biases from coders will lead to a misuse of these new
tools meaning that definitions and legal parameters become more
16.27 – End
With this in mind Todd asks what is the core content of modern
- James says target 8.7 “talks in one breath about modern
slavery, forced labour, human trafficking and the worst forms of
child labour” and believes this sends a powerful signal to
political actors that there is a need for a collaborative
- Modern slavery itself is not a term of international law but an
umbrella discourse term to encapsulate a range of things.
- A group of academic statisticians led by the ILO, has
created a statistical methodology providing a basis for national
survey methodologies giving us a common starting point regardless
of the varying legal definitions. This will take several years to
get results on the ground but James hopes other technologies will
also evolve in this time to make a meaningful difference.
- He concludes by saying survivors have to be at the heart of
this process with their explicit consent to avoid traumatising them
and increasing vulnerability. Todd agrees and highlights the
dilemma in human rights arguing that they are articulated
differently in different areas. Emphasising the need to avoid a
dissonance between the ivory towers of the UN and the reality on
- James says the first 3 words of the UN
charter are “We the peoples” and then it goes on to
talk about countries which creates a natural tension between
intergovernmental politics and the people we are supposed to be
- He asserts that the UN have to engage with the communities they
are trying to help without being patronising.
Previous Rights Track podcasts of
Eye in the sky: rooting out slavery from
space Dr Doreen Boyd on how satellite imagery is
being used to root out slavery
can statistics advance human rights? Patrick Ball
about how statistics can be used to advance and protect human
Crunching numbers: modern slavery and
statistics Sir Bernard Silverman about modern slavery
and statistics listen to
- Hopgood, The Endtimes of
Human Rights (New York: Cornell University