Who’s In? Who’s Not?


Last week, a colleague shared a story by Kieran Guilbert (for Reuters) about Costa Rica becoming the 47th nation to back a 2014 pact of a UN Treaty to combat forced labor. (See: Costa Rica Backs U.N. Treaty to Combat Forced Labor). According to the article, the pact “requires countries to identify and rescue victims of forced labor, provide them with compensation and punish human traffickers.” The best thing about this pact, a protocol to the U.N. International Labour Organization (ILO), it is a legally binding treaty.

The article estimates that over 20 million people globally are forced labor victims and nearly 5 million are trafficked for sex. Costa Rica’s UN Ambassador, Catalina Devandas Aguilar stated, “By joining this protocol, we renew our commitment to combat and prevent forced labor in all its forms and join our efforts in the fight…to eradicate this scourge from our societies.” According to the article, Costa Rica set up a national coalition and is developing anti-trafficking policies and a response unit to protect and rehabilitate victims.

“With this ratification…Costa Rica actively contributes to the achievement of decent work and the achievement of the United Nations sustainable development goals for 2030,” ILO director-general Guy Ryder said in a statement. In 2015, ending modern slavery was adopted as one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals to be completed by 2030. They were hoping for 50 signatories by 2018.

This got me wondering, ‘why only 47’? Who is in, who is not? It is in moments like these when being an eDiscovery attorney with degrees in geography has its perks. It also helps if you like using excel. So, I put together the list of countries with their 2020 population estimates, then sorted them. I was excited to see certain countries like Russia, Germany and Thailand (ranked 9, 19, and 20 respectively in the world in population). However, Costa Rica is number 122. 

So, Costa Rica is vowing to ramp up its fight against modern slavery, yet none of the Top 8 largest countries in the world (and 17 of top 20) have done so? To be fair, the United Kingdom (21), France (22), Spain (30), as well as Argentina and Canada have also ratified the pact.  

When you add up the 47 countries, less than one billion people live in them. This amounts to 12.6% of the world’s population of approximately 7.8 billion. 

Why have China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, and Bangladesh not moved forward? (numbers 1-8 in order of population size). Communist Russia has been in the pact for nearly two years, yet the two largest democracies in the world, India and the United States, are not?

I am writing this post on November 23, 2020. On this day of all days, I am left wondering why are we not more active in pushing our government? Today, the US government finally ascertained that President-elect Biden can transition to power. On this day fifty-seven years ago, the United States lost a President who famously said, “”If not us, who? If not now, when?”

We all know someone…who knows someone. I know I do. I vow to reach out to my ‘someones’ and see if we can at least get this on the agenda. Maybe you can reach out to your contacts or your congressional representatives in your state and ask them to take a serious look at joining the 2014 ILO pact to combat forced labor? After all, JFK also said, “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.” 

For over 10 years, the Life Preservers Project has been helping victims in the New York metro area. However, California, Texas and Florida (especially South Florida) have a significant number of victims who could use help. During this period of downtime, we are hopeful the legal community (and others) will feel compelled to learn more about this incredibly important cause. Jessie Torres, Esq., is the Discovery Team Manager at Berger Singerman and working to get the legal community in South Florida more involved.