A new Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) report has estimated that some 600,000 people could be affected by "modern slavery" in Bangladesh, in sectors including garment factories, shipbreaking and domestic work.
The new ICAI review looks at work by the UK aid programme to tackle issues such as people trafficking, exploitative labour practices and some of the worst forms of child labour – referred to by the UK government as "modern slavery," says a press release.
The reviewers visited Bangladesh as part of their work, and collected evidence from government officials, NGOs, and directly from victims of trafficking.
The report found that this is a "new and complex" issue, and that UK diplomatic and influencing efforts had successfully raised the issue's global profile, cross-government coordination in the UK was strong, many programmes were on track to meet their immediate targets, and in Bangladesh, those who had benefited from UK aid in this area were generally positive about it.
However, UK aid watchdog highlighted limited evidence of long-term impact, inadequate survivor consultation, and lack of research on "what works".
ICAI also found that:
• Bangladesh has high levels of regular migration of men and women to work in other countries, and many of the problems associated with migration are linked to abuses in destination countries, where workers lack legal rights or the opportunity for representation – and some UK aid work had extended its focus to cover destination countries as a result.
• UK aid-funded training and awareness-raising programmes had made individuals better placed to make informed choices about whether to migrate and, if they chose to proceed, equipped them to make safer choices. Some women who had taken part in these projects had also gone on to help others in a similar position.
• However, an independent evaluation of the first phase of one such project, which reached women in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, found that it may have misled participants into believing that knowledge of the dangers they might face, rather than practical action to strengthen their rights, was enough to protect them.
• Survivors said that the lack of livelihood opportunities was causing women to migrate, with them often having to take out loans that resulted in them falling into a cycle of debt. They felt there should be local offices women can visit to access information and services for migration in both host and destination countries.
• Survivors also felt there should be action against corrupt agents and intermediaries involved in recruitment.
• Bangladesh signed up to the UK's 2017 Call to Action and made a series of commitments, and the UK should now work with the government of Bangladesh to follow this up and develop locally-owned action plans to reduce trafficking and exploitative labour practices.
Ending "modern slavery" – a term used by the UK that encompasses a range of issues including human trafficking, exploitative labour practices and some of the worst forms of child labour – at home and abroad has become a significant priority for the UK government, who pledged in 2018 to spend £200 million of aid addressing the issue.