Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


76th GA high-level event on trafficking in persons and sustainable procurement

  27 September 2021


Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Co-Chairs of the Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons, I welcome you to our event on sustainable procurement and preventing trafficking in persons.

This is a timely discussion, with the General Assembly currently appraising the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. In view of this, I am very grateful that the co-facilitators are taking part in our event. Thank you, Ambassadors, for joining us during this busy week at the GA.

The OSCE is our close partner in addressing human trafficking and other transnational threats to comprehensive security, and I am pleased to have OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid with us today.

I also welcome the Chair of the International Trafficking in Persons Advisory Council. Engaging trafficking survivors is a key priority for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and it is reflected in the theme for the 2021 International Day against Trafficking in Persons, which calls on the world to let “Victims’ Voices Lead the Way”.

Survivors have played an important role in helping to identify and support victims of trafficking for forced labour, which has been on the rise for more than a decade. UNODC’s 2020 “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons” found that 38 percent of detected victims worldwide had been trafficked for forced labour. Children account for more than one third of all detected victims.

Public procurement can unintentionally contribute to human trafficking involving child labour, forced labour, and other crimes and forms of violence, abuse and exploitation.

The goods, services and works paid for by the public sector, on average, account for 13 percent of GDP, in low-, middle- and high-income countries alike.

According to World Bank estimates, public procurement amounted to 11 trillion dollars, or 12 percent, of global GDP in 2018.

International organizations also represent major sources of contracts for goods and services. Thirty-nine UN organizations reported a collective 19.9 billion dollars spent on procurement in 2019.

Private sector suppliers for public procurement seek to benefit from economies of scale to maximize profits. The global supply chains involved in fulfilling demand are getting more complex all the time – an order for office supplies or uniforms may be contracted and sub-contracted, involving factories and potentially sweatshops from across the world.

Oversight is clearly a challenge, leaving supply chains extremely vulnerable to violations and facilitation of human trafficking.

At the same time, the enormous purchasing power of States and international organizations represents an opportunity and an obligation to ensure procurement and global supply chains are better regulated to prevent human trafficking.

UNODC has been working with our partners to ensure that the UN plays its part in preventing human trafficking in our own work and operations, in line with the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, and resolutions from the Security Council, ECOSOC, and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

I am glad to see that the chair of the Task Force for the Development of a Joint Approach in Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labour in Supply Chains is here today to provide an overview of our ongoing efforts.

As part of UNODC’s technical assistance to prevent and tackle all aspects of human trafficking and support victims, we are collecting data, and providing legislative as well as technical assistance to Member States to identify and protect victims; and bring perpetrators to justice.

As the Permanent Coordinator and Co-Chair of ICAT, UNODC is also working with our 29 partner entities to advance responses, including through the Issue Brief that is being presented by the OSCE here today.

Currently, only a handful of countries have specific legislation and policies addressing procurement, forced labour and human trafficking in supply chains.

I hope our event today will add to the momentum and encourage Member States to commit to sustainable procurement practices.

Legislation to protect human rights and prevent trafficking in public procurement should be binding, and codify principles requiring disclosure, reporting, transparency, and due diligence throughout supply chains.

Businesses with prior convictions for criminal offences involving child labour and other forms of trafficking in persons should be excluded from participating in public tenders.

Monitoring, auditing and accountability measures, as well as the application of appropriate administrative, civil and criminal sanctions, should be strengthened to improve compliance.

Companies that do not live up to obligations should not receive taxpayers’ money, full stop.

At the same time, the private sector represents a key ally in addressing human trafficking, and we need to work with businesses and corporations to take preventive and corrective action throughout global supply chains.

We also need to strengthen partnerships with businesses, as well as with civil society, survivor networks, trade unions, and other stakeholders to raise awareness and take all measures to stop the problem.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

Our demand for goods and services cannot be allowed, knowingly or unknowingly, to foster exploitation. UNODC and ICAT are committed to working with you to clean up public procurement and global supply chains; to lead by example; and to scale up efforts to prevent and mitigate trafficking risks, promote accountability, and protect victims.

Together, we can ensure that public procurement is part of the solution and not the problem, and that public services and public works truly serve and work for all people, their dignity and human rights.

Thank you.