February 13, 2019, by htaylor

The Rights Lab Modern Slavery Evidence Unit (MSEU)- research in the service of ending slavery  


By Sarah Kerr, Rights Lab Deputy Director and Modern Slavery Evidence Unit (MSEU) Director, Tuesday 29th January 2019

The Rights Lab Modern Slavery Evidence Unit (MSEU) is the interface between the Lab’s research base and modern slavery change agents in government, business and civil society in the UK and internationally. Domain specialists from each of the Rights Lab’s four research programmes (Data, Survivors, Governance, and Business) work in the Unit and focus explicitly on translating research findings for key stakeholder groups. New MSEU Fellows will join later in the year, adding vital new capacity in systematic review, policy analysis, monitoring and evaluation, and translation and impact.

This MSEU comes at a pivotal stage of the global antislavery movement’s history, says Rights Lab Director, Professor Zoe Trodd: “With a rapid proliferation of actors in the field, and legislation on modern slavery and human trafficking being drafted in an increasing number of states, there is an urgent need for a reliable evidence base to underpin effective and sustainable solutions. The Rights Lab Modern Slavery Evidence Unit is helping to deliver this evidence base.”

To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 (ending slavery by 2030), 9,000 slaves would need to be freed every day, and 25,000 children would need to be prevented from entering the worst forms of exploitative labour every day. The magnitude of this challenge will require a step-change in global antislavery activity and coordination underpinned by a robust evidence base, open sharing of monitoring and evaluation data (to establish and then diffuse promising practices), and the full power of innovation in the application of technology. Universities have the human and technical resource to help address this challenge.

Rights Lab Executive Director Professor Todd Landman agrees. “Universities as knowledge providers are perfectly positioned to deliver data, analysis and evidence authoritatively and independently. Investment from the University of Nottingham has allowed the Rights Lab to become the world’s leading research base on modern slavery, including the work of. MSEU in translating this research into useful findings and recommendations. World-class foundational research is only half of the impact equation: without the capability to translate this into accessible content, the change we want to see cannot happen”.

Strong Foundations

The Rights Lab Modern Slavery Evidence Unit is built on strong foundations and benefits from an unparalleled network locally, nationally and internationally. Our track record in policy engagement includes work by Rights Lab Research Director Professor Kevin Bales as Special Advisor to the Centre for Social Justice’s Slavery and Human Trafficking Review, which helped to write the UK Modern Slavery Act; as Consultant on the Global Program on Trafficking in Human Beings, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, including an “Anti-Trafficking Toolkit;” as a researcher on the US State Department project “Village resilience to child trafficking”; work by Rights Lab Professor of Modern Slavery Statistics Sir Bernard Silverman as a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Modern Slavery Taskforce and of the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Advisory Board; work by Rights Lab Associate Director Alison Gardner as the evaluator of the national Church of England’s Clewer Initiative; and formal research, advisory or M&E partnerships with the Home Office Modern Slavery Unit, UNU’s Delta 8.7 and Code 8.7, and the Irish, Norwegian and Nepali governments and the Economic Community of West African States on the formulation of policy on slavery and human trafficking.

Consolidating and being challenge-driven

This work has recently been consolidated through Rights Lab training for the Cabinet Office, the Prime Minister’s Implementation Unit, the Department for International Development, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Home Office, and the Modern Slavery Unit on monitoring & evaluation, and data use; through five co-authored reports with the Office of the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC); through the appointment of Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey – a leading antislavery cross-bench peer – as Rights Lab Honorary Professor; and through relationships with other key parliamentarians, including MP for Nottingham North and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery, Alex Norris. Alex feels the MSEU comes at a crucial point in modern slavery legislation development in the UK:

“The Modern Slavery Evidence Unit (MSEU) will be an invaluable resource to parliamentarians and policy-makers as the UK’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act undergoes review and amendment. Having immediate access to expertise across such a wide range of areas – from the terrorism/slavery nexus, to survivor-informed insight into possible future improvements to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), will help to ensure not only that we have the best possible evidence base for our work, but that we can commission new work in response to anticipated future challenges.”

Growing the Rights Lab’s international policy engagement capacity

The MSEU team has also been mapping and consolidating its Whitehall network, visiting the team at the Parliamentary Office for Science & Technology (POST) and reaching out to the House Librarian in the Commons to start the process of introducing MSEU work as a resource (see a sample report in which the Lab’s research features here). In acknowledgement of the global dimension of modern forms of slavery, MSEU has an explicit focus on models and approaches that can be deployed in or adapted for contexts across the globe. We will host a visit in March 2019 by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and modern slavery-focused MPs from Malawi in partnership with local MPs Alex Norris and Vernon Coaker, along with key Nottingham antislavery actors from the local authority. Visits to key legislators (on a local, regional, national and international scale) in the US, Canada, Australia, Norway, and Brazil in 2018 will underpin new legislative development work in 2019.

Key to the deployment and adaptation of new research-informed antislavery approaches is our relationship with the UN University Centre for Policy Research and the UN’s global knowledge sharing tool Delta 8.7. Delta 8.7 fulfils the role for the global antislavery community of hosting data and tools through innovative country-level data dashboards and a research forum. Rights Lab resources are hosted on Delta 8.7, and Rights Lab staff contribute regular articles to its forum. Delta 8.7 and the Rights Lab join other partners in February 2019 to launch Code 8.7: a new Global Working Group on AI and computational science strategies for tackling slavery.

Particularly exciting for 2019 will be work on Antislavery Domestic Legislation. MSEU and Rights Lab Research Fellow Katarina Schwarz’s work maps national laws concerning slavery, related exploitation, and human trafficking globally. Drawing from thousands of legislative provisions across all States, it assesses countries’ compliance with their basic international commitments and uncovers trends in antislavery governance. This reveals a global failure in national efforts to give effect to the prohibition against slavery. To fill this gap, Schwarz and other members of the Rights Lab Governance programme are working with partners to develop model laws and legislative guidelines, helping States create the laws necessary to eradicate slavery. What of its potential utility? Schwarz says “Law is a stepping-stone for antislavery work, and a fundamental first step in achieving change. This project allows us to target advocacy to the areas most in need of reform, shaping that change in line with best practice and international law.”

The change we will make

So what will the change be? Over the next two years, our work in the MSEU will serve to shorten the intelligence corridor between the antislavery research base and policy makers in the UK and internationally. Operating in thought leadership and responsive mode, we will publish briefings on areas we identify as important, and we will also listen to the policy base and undertake necessary research to fill evidence gaps. We will synthesise and evaluate a growing international evidence base, and we will share the findings in the form of reports and recommendations with policy makers and parliamentarians, civil society actors and the global business community.

Look out for our next blog on MSEU and NGOs featuring partnership work between MSEU and Freedom Fund, Walk Free and the Clewer Initiative.

Posted in Ending SlaveryMSEU