Abolish modern slavery!

Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa to the G20

There are 45.8 million slaves in the world today according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, nearly four times the total number of Africans sold in the Americas during the four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade. Modern servitude goes under a variety of names such as human trafficking or compulsory labour, fulfilling the prophecy of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave, that slavery “will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume, in what new skin this old snake will come forth.”

One new form is child trafficking in India. It’s designed to meet the demand for household help from the expanding middle class by taking advantage of supply from impoverished rural communities. Deepti Minch was sold to a family in Delhi. “My life was tough. I worked from six in the morning until midnight. I had to cook meals, clean the house, take care of the children and massage the legs of my employers before going to bed.”

Child labour is one of the worst forms of abuse. In the Indian case, the OECD has partnered with Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi on a range of issues related to promoting children’s welfare and well-being. Mr Satyarthi and the grassroots movement founded by him, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), have liberated more than 84,000 children from exploitation and developed a successful model for their education and rehabilitation. Juliane Kippenberg of Human Rights Watch describes how children have been injured and killed in mining accidents, suffered poisoning from mercury used in gold processing, and developed respiratory disease from exposure to dust. She welcomes another OECD initiative to develop practical actions to help identify, mitigate and account for the risks of child labour in the mineral supply chains, for example carry out independent third party audits on the due diligence practices among smelters and refiners.

The issues go far beyond mining. Modern slaves may be sewing the clothes you wear, growing the food you eat, and producing the gadgets that keep you entertained and informed. Around 2 million of them are working for states or rebel groups, and can become trapped in a vicious circle in which militia fight for control of precious resources such as minerals, while the profits from controlling mines fund further conflict. Consumers, business leaders, policy makers, we all have a duty to tackle this crime. And we have the tools to do so.

The 2010 US Dodd-Frank Act obliges public companies to report on products containing minerals that may be benefiting armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The UK government recognised the scale and seriousness of the problem by passing the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.  Prime Minister Theresa May set up a government task force on modern slavery and appointed an Anti-Slavery Commissioner. In an article promising that her government will lead the way in defeating modern slavery, the Prime Minister highlights the human suffering behind the headlines: “people are enduring experiences that are simply horrifying in their inhumanity. Vulnerable people who have travelled long distances believing they were heading for legitimate jobs are finding they have been duped, forced into hard labour, and then locked up and abused.”

The UK legislators are well aware of the complexity of the task facing them, and produced a Practical Guide for companies on transparency in supply chains that recommends the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. They point out that although the OECD Guidelines are not specifically focused on modern slavery (although the Due Diligence Guidelines do include it), “they provide principles and standards for responsible business conduct in areas such as employment and industrial relations and human rights which may help organisations when seeking to respond to or prevent modern slavery”.

Ending slavery is made even more difficult by the size and complexity of supply chains that make it hard to identify who is responsible for ensuring rights are respected at all the locations involved in production. Workers are often employed by subcontractors or sub-subcontractors of MNEs in their own country, and unfortunately it may take a catastrophe like the collapse of garment factories at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013 to set change in motion. Following that tragedy, The OECD developed a Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector. This Guidance, elaborated through an intense multi-stakeholder process, supports a common understanding of due diligence and responsible supply chain management in the sector. One of the most notable features is that it doesn’t allow multinationals to use the failings of local contractors as an excuse: “Enterprises should…seek to prevent or mitigate an adverse impact where they have not contributed to that impact, when the impact is nevertheless directly linked to their operations, products or services by a business relationship.”

It doesn’t always take a big disaster to change things though. The OECD and FAO produced due diligence guidance for the agriculture sector that will, among other things, help newcomers to the sector, such as institutional investors, to deal with ethical dilemmas and uphold internationally agreed standards of responsible business conduct, notably in markets with weak governance and insecure land rights. For instance the guidance recognises that regardless of the legal framework in which an operation takes place, indigenous people often have customary or traditional rights based on their relationship to the land, their culture and socio-economic status.

It’s easy to see how workers would benefit from improved conditions and why consumers would choose ethically-sourced products. But it makes good business sense too. The evidence on company performance shows that the ones that behave responsibly towards their employees, the environment, and society do better than the rest.

Modern slavery is a highly internationalised affair, and to end it we need to reinforce international coordination and cooperation. As more countries and sectors step up the fight against slavery and other abuses, our experience with the MNE Guidelines and due diligence guidance is likely to be called upon increasingly. We advocate the approach pioneered in the apparel industry where we work with industry, government, worker organisations, and civil society to elaborate strategies and we have to work together to implement them. We can all learn from each other and use our shared knowledge to expose slavery and help to abolish it. As Frederick Douglass said, “It flourishes best where it meets no reproving frowns, and hears no condemning voices.”

Useful links

Gabriela Ramos is moderating the first session of the 5th Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct, “Responsible global supply chains through due diligence”, taking place at the OECD on 29-30 June. Watch the webcast here

Empowering parental leave

deloitteDavid Cruickshank, global chairman of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited

Parental leave has come a long way since my daughters were born. Once seen as a consideration just for mothers, it’s starting to receive a fresh look and gain wider appreciation as a critical aspect of building a talented, productive workforce.

Today, parental leave, in some form, is available in most countries, but as a recent Deloitte survey in the US shows, availability doesn’t always equal usage. A disparity still exists between the perception of parental leave as a benefit and the sensitivity of being judged, or falling behind, by taking advantage of it.

While this imbalance persists, support for parental leave is gaining a louder voice as more men join the chorus in greater numbers by urging employers to strengthen parental leave policies and fathers make the case that it’s the best choice for both their family and place of work. It’s not a coincidence anymore that what happens to be good for families also happens to be good for business in terms of attracting and retaining satisfied, productive, focused employees. As a result, c-suites have started to pay more attention and make changes to their own company policies.

Results from a recent Deloitte survey in the US offer a compelling glimpse into where the parental leave discussion is heading and reinforces the concerns that still remain. Overall, the respondents said that they wanted more parental leave, but they remained fearful, especially among men, that taking parental leave will be a step backwards in their career.


The survey found that fewer than half of the respondents felt their company fostered an environment in which men are comfortable taking parental leave. In fact, 57 percent of men felt that exercising their parental leave right would be perceived as a lack of commitment to their jobs. This fear appears to extend well beyond the US too. In Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland, where all parental leave is transferable, only about three percent of dads use it.

Businesses in many countries are trying to change this mindset by using tactics to encourage paternal leave. These include transferable leave, making paternal leave compulsory, financial bonuses and lengthier paid time off. While these incentives are having an impact, they’re just one part of the solution. Changing minds requires transforming the culture in which parental leave – for both mothers and fathers – is seen as a smart decision for businesses, employees, and the communities in which they live and work.

The survey found that one in three respondents want to have more than three months of paid leave. It also found that 50 percent said that they would rather have more parental leave than a pay raise, and some said that a stronger parental leave policy was more important than having a better boss, a better title or a shorter commute.

However, offering more parental leave alone isn’t effective if it is not being used. The corporate culture around parental leave has to transform in order to attract, retain, and advance the workforce of the future. This includes more compassion and responsiveness so employees feel empowered to succeed.

Across the Deloitte network, we are giving our people the support and flexibility to make daily choices that empower them to be energised, confident and aware. In the UK, the government allows mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to utilise the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) program, to be taken up to a year after a child is born or adopted. This policy provides eligible parents with the option to share a period of their maternity or adoption leave with their partner, including sharing statutory pay.

Deloitte in the UK goes further to offer its people enhanced Shared Parental Leave. This matches the UK firm’s current level of enhanced maternity and adoption pay, which allows 16 weeks at full pay, followed by 10 weeks at half pay, so that parents can choose how to make their leave work for their own families. Our UK business also offers a Working Parents Transitions Program for all parents to help them plan and manage the transition to parenthood as they juggle the challenges of work and their responsibilities at home.

Deloitte in the US expanded its parental leave policy to a broader family leave policy. This new policy offers 16 weeks of paid leave to anyone – male or female – who has a need, whether that need is the arrival of a new child, caring for a spouse or domestic partner, or dealing with the health of ageing parents. This effort is part of the Deloitte network’s inclusive culture that recognises that we know the individuals across our multigenerational workforce have different sets of demands and needs outside of work that emerge at different stages in their lives.

Looking ahead, this conversation will continue to develop as more Millennials become parents and their baby boomer parents continue to age. Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Majority report in the US demonstrates that work/life balance and flexible work arrangements will be necessary for businesses to retain their Millennial employees. One way companies could differentiate themselves in the attraction and retention of Millennials is by committing to a comprehensive paternal leave policy that is embedded in a cultural change towards more flexibility.

While the parental leave survey discussed in this piece is specific to the United States, it’s reflective of a broader global conversation taking place around a more compassionate, flexible workplace that provides an environment for employees to feel empowered to prioritise their lives at work and at home.

Useful links

What fathers can do for gender equality, Monika Queisser, Willem Adema and Chris Clarke, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

OECD Gender Portal

OECD work on families and children

OECD work on social policies and data

OECD work on gender and development

Ten questions you should ask about life. The answers may surprise you!

The OECD has just published How’s Life? 2015: Measuring Well-being. It includes statistics on material well-being (such as income, jobs and housing) and the broader quality of people’s lives (such as their health, education, work-life balance, environment, social connections, civic engagement, subjective well-being and safety), with a special focus on child well-being, and also has a chapter on how volunteering affects well-being.

Do you know as much about life as an OECD bureaucrat? Try the quiz and find out. (You can cheat your way to happiness by looking up the answers in the book.)

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

Never too early to join the rat race …

He's late for algebra bootcamp
He’s late for algebra boot camp

Maybe it’s just middle-age nostalgia, but it feels like summer was once so simple for kids. The front door opened early in the morning, you ran out into bright sunshine, galloped around safe suburban streets, got hungry, and ran back home for dinner, tired but happy.

Things are different today. For one thing, few parents would dream of leaving children unattended for so long. And, among ambitious and well-off parents, fewer still would look on such aimless days as time well spent. Why waste the day kicking a ball around the park when you could be at algebra boot camp? Or learning Chinese in Shanghai? Or exploring self-expression through origami?

Enrolling kids in summer courses and programmes isn’t just a way of keeping them out of parents’ hair. More and more, it seems, this sort of “enrichment” is part of a year-round arms race aimed at ensuring kids get the best possible start in life. And, increasingly it seems, that race is being won by the well-off.

One sign of this is the difference in how much well-off and poorer families spend on their children. The data comes from the United States, and covers a period (from the early 1970s to the middle of the last decade) that saw rising income inequality. According to researchers Sabino Kornrich and Frank Furstenberg, in the early 70s, the poorest 10% of American families spent around $607 a year per child; by 2006/07, that had risen to $750, an increase of about 23% (the figures are adjusted for inflation). By contrast, the wealthiest 10% of families spent $2,832 in the early 1970s, rising to $6,573, an increase of about 132%.

It’s not as if the poorest families didn’t try to keep up: They more than doubled their spending on children as a share of their income, but that was nowhere near enough to match the investment – and “investment” is probably the right word – of wealthier parents.

Of course, parenting is not just about money. But, here again, better-off families – in the U.S. and, possibly, elsewhere – may have the advantage, as Sabrina Tavernise noted last year: “While wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children … lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources.”

So, what’s the impact of all this on the kids? According to Stanford researcher Sean Reardon (pdf), it’s contributing to a widening social gap in American education. Today, he writes, “the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families is roughly 30 to 40% larger among children born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier.” He also notes that research suggests these patterns are set early in life: “The income achievement gap is large when children enter kindergarten and does not appear to grow (or narrow) appreciably as children progress through school.”

In short, what appears to be happening is that – from children’s earliest years – the income levels of their parents are increasing linked to how well they do in education and that, in turn, determines how well they do in life. Or, as Nicholas Lehman wrote last year, “Opportunity is increasingly tied to education, and educational performance is tied to income and wealth.”

In the face of such research, it’s hard not to feel a little sad, not just for the kids who risk being left behind but also for those who are being “hothoused” for success. As Chrystia Freeland reported in May, some may be paying a price for their parents’ ambitions in terms of increased risk of substance abuse, depression and anxiety. But, as she also noted, you can’t blame families for wanting the best for their kids: “… the truth is that these parents are responding rationally to a hyper-competitive world economy”.

Can the opportunity gap be bridged? Probably not entirely, but many people believe government policies could do more to narrow it. As an OECD paper pointed out earlier this year, the U.S. is “one of only three OECD countries that on average spend less on students from disadvantaged backgrounds than on other students”. It also points out that, unlike in some other countries, the best teachers rarely work in the most disadvantaged schools. “These resource allocations,” says the OECD paper, “reinforce the disadvantages of social segregation, which results in children in poorer schools having lower educational expectations and outcomes.”

Useful links

Inequality and Poverty in the United States: Public Policies for Inclusive Growth   (OECD)

A Skills Beyond School Review of the United States (OECD)

OECD work on inequality and on education

OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Making education more equitable Marilyn Achiron on OECD educationtoday blog

Born a girl: bad karma?

international women's dayThe ILO estimates that at least 2.45 million trafficking victims are currently working in exploitative conditions worldwide, and that another 1.2 million are trafficked annually, both across and within national borders. Of these, up to 80% are women and girls according to the UN.

A widely-quoted UN estimate says that human trafficking and slavery is the third most lucrative illicit business in the world after arms and drug trafficking, although the UN doesn’t actually give any source for this claim. That could be because of the inherent difficulty in obtaining data on criminal activity or because the estimate includes other activities like taking money to smuggle illegal immigrants into a country. The US Department of State definition of trafficking is “all of the criminal conduct involved in forced labor and sex trafficking, essentially the conduct involved in reducing or holding someone in compelled service.”

Why does it still happen, and why are women the main victims? Economics, culture and tradition are all to blame.

Economically, you can look at it on the global or local level. Trafficking and the modern slave trade are driven by the same factors that encourage other aspects of globalisation such as increased mobility, cheaper travel and the ease of organising international networks. They are also reinforced by economic misery and absence or removal of social protection in countries opening up to the international economy, and the illusions engendered by images of a better life elsewhere on satellite television and other easily accessible mass media.

It sounds cynical, but you can also look at trafficking of women in terms of supply and demand factors, as the World Bank does here. For instance, on the demand side, employers want cheap labour, and not just in the sex industry. In 2004, the Council of Europe drew attention to the fact that domestic slaves are predominantly female and usually work in private households, starting out as migrant workers, au pairs or “mail-order brides”.

The supply of women and girls is maintained by poverty (some UN estimates say that nearly 70% of the world’s poor are women) and lack of opportunity. But social norms that consider women as inferior play a role too. Religion is one of these, and the World Bank report linked to above says that one of the factors pushing women into prostitution in the Mekong region is that under Theravada Buddhism, “women and girls are thought to be unable to achieve enlightenment. Thus, while men can show gratitude and respect to their parents by becoming monks and pursuing the spiritual life, many girls feel that they must make sacrifices for the benefit of their families, villages and their own karma.”

In addition, as this short guide published by the OECD points out, trafficking often emerges where many human rights violations are prevalent already. The most common violations are the right to personal autonomy, the right not to be held in slavery or servitude, the right to liberty and security of person, the right to be free from cruel or inhumane treatment, the right to safe and healthy working conditions and the freedom of movement. Governments can be guilty too, even towards people who have escaped from trafficking. Policies often give priority to detention, prosecution and expulsion of trafficked persons for offences related to their status, including violation of immigration laws, prostitution or begging. Victims may be treated as “disposable witnesses” whose sole value is their ability to assist in prosecuting traffickers.

What can be done?

The 2003 “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons” is the leading international instrument. It goes beyond trafficking for forced prostitution and takes into account other forms, including forced domestic work and commercial marriage. These aren’t just problems in developing countries. The slaves referred to by the Council of Europe were working in its member countries. Earlier this week, the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit reported that a two-year-old girl was among the victims it helped last year.

The 2003 Protocol recommends that governments allow victims of trafficking to remain in the destination country, temporarily or permanently. Governments should also ensure their safety and protect their privacy and identity. It also recommends that governments establish legal measures to award victims compensation.

At national level, efforts in source countries to tackle poverty and lack of rights would strike at the root of the problem, but a number of measures can have more immediate impacts, such as awareness-raising campaigns, given that many victims are deceived into migrating. Given the importance of poverty in fuelling trafficking, funding to start small businesses could help women.

Destination countries can contribute to such programmes. They can also help victims by protecting them even if they are not prepared to help the authorities investigating the trafficking networks, and not deporting them back to the country they were trafficked from.

Useful links

A Women’s Day Challenge, article on the educationtoday blog by Barbara Ischinger, OECD Director for Education and Skills

OECD work on gender

OECD work on gender equality and development

Evaluation of the International Organization for Migration and its Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking  

Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Regional conference to combat child trafficking

Cornflakes at the soup kitchen

Click to see what poverty means to Amira and other children

Amira, the little girl in the photo, had her picture taken as part of a Save the Children campaign against poverty. Unfortunately, we’re used to similar images and actions, except that Amira lives in London and the campaign is the first in the charity’s history to help children in the UK. In the text she wrote to go along with her portrait, Amira explains that it’s great when there’s money to pay the electricity bill because then you can enjoy a long list of things, starting with lights, and ending, well down a long list of things most of us take for granted, with TV. There are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK according to figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies quoted by It shouldn’t happen here, Save the Children’s report on child poverty. One in eight of the poorest children go without at least one hot meal a day, and one in ten of the UK’s poorest parents have cut back on food for themselves to make sure their children have enough to eat.

It’s not just in the UK. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 50 million people lived in food-insecure households last year, 12 million adults lived in households with very low food security (what they used to call food insecurity with hunger), and 8.6 million children lived in food-insecure households in which children, along with adults, were food insecure. The charity Feeding America says that hunger is a reality for 1 in 6 people in the United States. They serve 14 million children including 3 million under-fives, but this may not reflect the whole picture. My colleague Kate Lancaster says that in her home state of Vermont,  there are numerous small local-based groups that probably wouldn’t be known outside the immediate community also providing meals.

I had a look on www.oecd.org to see if we had any data, but our reports about hunger only seem to be about developing countries. That said, the general argument that hunger is a problem of poverty rather than availability is even more true in the rich countries than elsewhere. France is the world’s fifth largest exporter of farm and food products, but earlier in the summer a soup kitchen I pass on my way home was serving cornflakes. Maybe it was all they could afford once the winter surge of donations was used up. And cornflakes may not be so affordable next year, given the recent surge in cereal prices following the US drought and poor weather in other major exporting countries.

The OECD participates in the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) set up by the G20  “to enhance food market transparency and encourage coordination of policy action in response to market uncertainty”. The Rapid Response Forum, AMIS’s main body for reacting to abnormal conditions, may meet once an updated forecast of US harvests is available later this week. Or they may not. The FAO Food Price Index averaged 213 points in August 2012, the same as July, but 18 points less than a year ago and 25 points below the peak reached in February 2011.

According to this statement from the French Ministry for Agriculture, following a videoconference with the US, Mexico (current G20 president) and various international organisations, the present situation is worrying but there’s no threat to global food security. They probably meant no additional threat. The USDA’s July report on global food security estimates the number of food insecure people in the 76 developing countries covered at 802 million in 2012, and projects that number to rise by 37 million over the next 10 years.

There’s no projection for the OECD countries, but almost a hundred years after Save the Children was set up to tackle hunger in post-World War I Vienna, who would have predicted that it would be turning its attention to Europe again?

Useful links

Price Volatility in Food and Agricultural Markets: Policy Responses

Of kissing, the less the better

1 in 7 billion. Now click to see how population growth affects you

Today’s post to mark the birth of the 7 billionth baby was written in collaboration with Lynn Robertson of the OECD’s  Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs, and follows on discussions that led to this post we did in September on children’s happiness

The world’s 7 billionth baby was born today, or a couple of years ago, or maybe will be born in a couple of years from now. Demographers can’t say exactly when we reach the magic number, but Halloween 2011 is as good a guess as any. Many experts agree though that there’s never been a worse time to be a child. Extensive research in a number of bars has proved that when we were kids, life was much better, and so were children. And this result is robust over time: whatever period you look at, it turns out that you missed the golden age by a generation.

One change over the millennia is that now we talk about children being more selfish, lazy, etc rather than just people. That in itself is an improvement the golden agers probably haven’t thought about. Until the late 19th century, children enjoyed no special status or protection. They worked long hours often in dangerous conditions, could suffer barbaric punishments, and be abused with impunity by practically any adult. In fact, we’re only now learning of many cases of abuse that took place when today’s adults were children.

When things did start to change, progress was slow, with great faith in harsh treatment. L. Emmett Holt’s 1894 bestseller  Care and Feeding of Children explained that: “Babies under six months old should never be played with, and of kissing the less the better”.  In 1928, the most influential child psychologist in America, John B. Watson, echoed this advice in Psychological Care of Infant and Child when he warned against the dangers of “too much mother love”, telling women “Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap.” Otherwise, the result would be spoilt, self-centred, unproductive brats.

This drivel is sometimes called a “no-nonsense” approach to child rearing, and obviously influences people who want to return to a time when they had no responsibility and someone else always told them what to do. It’s impossible to argue against nostalgia, fond memories, and the feeling that things were better before despite the world wars, genocides, diseases and squalor of times past, but the fact that this view can be retraced back over the centuries suggests that it’s nothing more than a myth. The objective facts paint a different picture.

Take health for example. A child born fifty years ago when the OECD was created could expect to live to over 73 on average in only two countries of the world compared with 87 countries today. In OECD countries, average life expectancy reached 79.1 in 2007, more than ten years better than in 1960, and exceeded 80 years in almost half the OECD countries.

Elsewhere, improvement has been dramatic too even over short time spans.  According to UN figures on the Millennium Development Goals, the global mortality rate for children under five has declined by a third, from 89 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 60 in 2009. Despite population growth, the number of deaths in children under five worldwide declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009, or nearly 12,000 fewer children dying each day. Access to education is also improving, and there is progress on the other MDG targets too.

Much of the evidence on more subjective aspects comes from small-scale studies with only a few participants, but last year Brent Donnellan of Michigan State University and Kali Trzesniewski of the University of Western Ontario published an analysis of nearly half a million high-school seniors spread over three decades. They argue that “more often than not, kids these days are about the same as they were back in the mid-1970s” regarding a whole range of topics, including individualism, happiness and antisocial behaviour. Their data also suggest that compared with previous generations, today’s youth are more cynical and less trusting of institutions;  less fearful of social problems such as race relations, hunger, poverty and energy shortages; and have higher educational expectations.

Still, the basic problem remains: they’re not us. The good news is that in a decade or two they will be, and they’ll be boring their own kids with stories about how they were happy with a simple iPad for their birthday. So, whoever you are little 7 billion, good luck. With parents like us, you’ll need it.

Useful links

The OECD is partnering 7 Billion Actions, established by the UN Population Fund to “inspire change that will make a difference by highlighting positive action by individuals and organisations around the world”. You can find out more about the OECD Better Life Initiative and make and share your own Better Life Index here

Doing Better for Children provides data, analysis and policy advice on child well-being in OECD countries

UNICEF IRC, the OECD, the Learning for Well-being Consortium and the European Commission are co-organising an expert consultation on cross-national research on child indicators and well-being on 2-3 November 2011 at the OECD. You can download the papers here.

Wikichild is part of the OECD’s Wikiprogress platform for sharing information on global societal progress