Why Veganism Cannot Solve All, but Some, of this World’s Problems: The Virus and the Consumption of Animal Products

Why Veganism Cannot Solve All, but Some, of this World’s Problems: The Virus and the Consumption of Animal Products

Opinion
Why Veganism Cannot Solve All, but Some, of this World’s Problems: The Virus and the Consumption of Animal Products
Supermarket butcher's counter
5th August 2020

 

The term “veganism” and the lifestyle affiliated to it, namely the complete abstention from animal products, especially in diet, is growing in international importance. A vegan diet has been fundamentally proven to lead to better health, by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and rates of heart disease. Veganism is also globally renowned for its positive environmental impact, such as reducing the carbon footprint of an individual by up to 73%. This clearly makes it a superior sustainable way of living. However, what we talk about far less is the fact that a shift to a plant-based diet is the only guaranteed way to prevent pandemics such as COVID-19 from occurring in the future. Of course, your economical self might ask “What are the negative externalities of a plant-based diet?” The answer: there are none.

 

Individuals with a meat-based diet incentivise mass livestock farming that is incredibly destructive to the conservation of natural habitats and the preservation of millions of lifeforms, such as in the Amazon Rainforest, while also allowing for dangerous pathogens such as the COVID-19 virus  to emerge. This mass farming strategy that underpins our entire world economy today creates a close physical proximity between humans and wildlife, enabling disease  to be a consistent threat to global and local health systems – not to mention  the approach used for animal farming, which gives rise to such filthy, unethical conditions.

 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 75% of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals. Thus, most pandemics are human-made, emerging in animals raised for human consumption and jumping the species-barrier to humans, and not the uncontrollable natural disasters we perceive them to be. Our enormous demand for meat means that animals are living cramped together in squalid conditions, giving rise to the development of viruses and other diseases which can eventually become dangerous for humans as well. In short, raising and killing animals for food threatens human health. COVID-19 specifically is the result of gross animal mistreatment, as it most likely emerged in an Asian wet market where live animals are housed in constricted, unsanitary conditions.

 

The demands made by Singers and Cavalieri, a team of philosophers devoted to animal rights to close such wet markets in China, is more than justified – but we also must look at our own animal production conditions in Europe, which unfortunately reflect a similar picture. Animals are violently fitted to the husbandry system, leading to the brutal removal of horns, tails, or teeth. The basic needs of the animals are ignored: they are drastically restricted in their freedom to move around and routinely fed antibiotics to be kept alive, leading to the emergence and the rapid transmission of dangerous pathogens. To live in a vegan world would mean that those sordid conditions, and the associated emergence of disease  with pandemic potential, would discontinue. This would lead to the elimination of situations like a pandemic altogether.

 

 

“According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 75% of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals.”

Regrettably, this is by no means a new discovery, and COVID-19 is not the first virus which developed out of the shocking animal farming conditions and overconsumption of animal products around the world. HIV most likely originated from SIV, crossing the species barrier through non-human primates killed for human consumption. The Creutzfeldt Jakob syndrome developed from BSE (mad cow disease), which arose out of the consumption of infected cattle. Although it is no secret that the way we are currently treating animals for consumption drastically affects our own physical health, there has been no active movements to a more sustainable way of eating. Veganism is “trending” at the moment, yet in day-today life vegans are still the subject of eye rolls and scoffs by greater society.

 

Put it this way, an average meat-based diet requires 17 times more land, 14 times more water and 10 times more energy than a vegan diet. So, to meet the demand of animal products endless hectares of rainforest and other natural habitats are destroyed, creating an imbalance in the environment – yet another cause for the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19. For example, bat-associated viruses have emerged due to the loss of bat habitat from deforestation and agricultural expansion. The destruction of such habitat leads to closer proximity between wild animals and humans, again facilitating the jump of the species-barrier. Veganism drastically reduces the amount of destruction to the environment, as less agricultural space and energy is used to feed populations, which encourages the retention of natural habitat. Wild animals would stay wild in their natural habitats and would not live in close proximity to humans. As a result, the diseases that they carry are not able to exploit humans as a host. This facilitates a more natural, balanced relationship between wild animals and humans.

 

The solution to a pandemic-less future then, is theoretically simple: we need to reconsider and reject our consumption of animal products in every form. But in practice, of course, this will be far more complex – this largely global issue requires global cooperation (something that is rarely, if ever, actually achieved). It is a constant battle between politics and economics. Many people argue that the advocacy of a plant-based diet infringes on their freedom of choice, that everyone has the individual right to make the decision to eat animal products or not. Yet, looking at the current pandemic and the drastic consequences it has had and will continue to have for all of humanity, in every part of the world, from losing loved ones to the disease over destroying career prospects to restricting our very freedom of movement, we must  ask ourselves if the consumption of animal products truly is, or should be, an individual decision.

 

And even if moral, health and environmental reasons are still not enough to convince the majority of the population to reconsider their eating habits, the current pandemic is hard proof that it is past time to do so. It must be made clear that eating habits are not an individual decision but a collective one –  we all suffer the consequences of animal production and consumption, never more visible than during the current pandemic. Lockdowns worldwide show that we are willing to make sacrifices when our own lives are in danger. So should we not be equally willing to shift to a more plant-based diet in order to prevent such situations from even occurring in the first place, instead of merely fighting them tooth and nail as they arise? We do not need a few perfect vegans. We need millions of people trying to reduce their consumption of animal products to prevent the emergence of pandemics. It is important to have understanding, and to recognise that it takes time to make this type of change. We must encourage people to make this important shift through educative means and support. That said, veganism is not, by any means, the magic solution to this world’s problems; but a movement towards a plant-based, vegan diet is the only way of avoiding the emergence of future pandemics, and the best shot we have available to us to combat them at this time. We must rally together and unite to fight the good fight.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Inigo de la Maza

 

 

Modern slavery allegations against Boohoo – Boohoo indeed!

Modern slavery allegations against Boohoo – Boohoo indeed!

Opinion

Modern Slavery Allegations against Boohoo – Boohoo indeed!

2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh

Sharon Casey Gray

4th August 2020

 

Most of us have at some point felt overcome with shopper’s buzz after managing to snatch up a trendy garment on a fast fashion website at a shockingly cheap price. It is far less common, however, that we stop before making our purchase, to consider how that hotly dropped item is being produced and sold for only a fraction of the expected price, or the price of similar garments being sold elsewhere. That’s the thing – these too-good-to-be-true prices often are too good to be true! A shirt cannot be produced and sold for £3 or at a 70% reduction without someone in the production or distribution chain paying the price. Thankfully, in the wake of the recent modern slavery allegation against Boohoo, people are now reflecting on the ethics of fast fashion and are finally asking the crucial question – who is paying the price?

The infamous investigation recently led by The Sunday Times unveiled that a textile manufacturer in Leicester supplying the online retail giant Boohoo has been paying its workers as little as £3.50 an hour, far below the UK national minimum wage of £8.72. Equally appalling is the fact that the story only came to light after the UK government linked a spike in Covid-19 infections to poor working conditions in the textile factory in Leicester. This is not the first time such accusations have been made against the fast fashion chain, as both Channel 4 and the Financial Times have published similar findings in recent years, which have largely gone unaddressed.

Perhaps, it is in light of a recent shift in societal outlook, such as that demonstrated by the BLM movement, which has ignited this change. Our society is no longer tolerant of human exploitation and inequality. This has been reflected by the resulting plummeting of shares in Boohoo and the company’s stock being dropped by popular retailers ASOS, Zolando and Next. Some positives may be derived from this unfortunate circumstance though, as it has prompted public reflection and advocacy to update modern slavery laws, promote industry transparency and increase international solidarity in the fashion industry, to prevent such abhorrent practices occurring again.

While it is wholesome to see such an appalled reaction by the public to the allegations, the reason this practice is receiving so much attention domestically is because it is occurring on our own doorstep. Why are we not so appalled by the exploitation that continues to occur in the fashion industry, often on much greater scales, in factories abroad?

 

“The Sunday Times unveiled that a textile manufacturer in Leicester supplying the online retail giant Boohoo has been paying its workers as little as £3.50 an hour, far below the UK national minimum wage of £8.72.”

​ It is well known that exploitation is common practice in developing countries, where labour is often outsourced without auditing or transparency in order to accelerate and reduce the cost of manufacturing; a game of liability “pass-the-parcel”, so to speak. To mention more extreme examples, evidence from the US department of labour has shown that forced and child labour continues to occur in countries such as China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Brazil and Indonesia. Dangerous working conditions, resulting in fires and accidents which put workers’ health and lives at risk, are also dangerously common.

Take, for example, the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where garment workers were forced to work in a clearly structurally unsound building which collapsed, killing 1,134 people. Primark labels were found in the rubble. Some good came from the short-lived media attention by the western public, as elevated brand accountability prompted initiatives to improve safety standards in many Bangladeshi garment factories. 

However, it is now seven years on, and despite continued lobbying by workers rights groups and unions, not much sustainable change has been made and the conditions continue to be dire. Workers there continue to earn the lowest wages of garment workers in the world. If a lesson is to be learned from these tragic circumstances, it is that in order to see change, we must continue to question where our clothes came from, who made them and how – not only when injustice occurs on our own doorstep, but always.

We must also bear in mind that the fast fashion industry hurts people and the planet. Textile producers will continue to keep up with the demand for fast fashion, fuelling the need to cut corners in order to get the designs from boardroom to website as fast and as cheaply as possible. This is prompted by the rinse -and -repeat nature of short-lived consumer fashion trends. Today’s turnover of textiles means that clothes go from rail to landfill as quickly as being produced. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation reported that 73% of all materials used in fast fashion end up in landfills or are burned and cause more CO2 emissions than global travel and shipping combined. 

We all may play a part in partially remedying this problem, by switching to more sustainable fashion choices such as buying better quality, more timeless pieces from brands that promote transparent and ethical practices in their production process. Another trending solution is to go vintage and breathe new life into old pieces of clothing. If we are to boast as a society that we promote equality for all people, then we must not forget to also fight for the rights of the workers behind our clothing labels, whoever or wherever they may be.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Rijans

 

 

Honk Kong’s New Security Law

Honk Kong’s New Security Law

Business & Politics

Honk Kong’s New Security Law

Honk Kong riot police

3rd August 2020

The civil, political and cultural divides between Hong Kong and mainland China is rooted in the fallout from the First Opium war. In 1842 China ceded the island to Britain in the treaty of Nanking. The 150 years of segregation that followed saw sharp contrasts in the lives of Hong Kong and Chinese citizens. When Britain returned the former colony to China in 1997, it marked the beginning of Beijing’s attempts to re-integrate Hong Kong. The introduction of a new national security law signifies a more forceful and legally binding step in the removal of Hong Kong’s independence and autonomy.

The closed-door nature of the Chinese government creates an air of mystery surrounding the new law. It is assumed that Beijing has always sought to dissolve the distinction between Hong Kong and other cities within the country. While free speech and freedom of religion are values long enjoyed by those who live in Hong Kong, they counter the aspirations of the Chinese communist party. It is thought that the sooner the island could be aligned with Beijing’s ideals, the faster such values could be eradicated, thus discouraging other Chinese citizens from seeking such rights. One need look no further than China’s treatment of the Uighur  Muslims to understand the government’s view on religious expression.

So why now? No one is entirely sure, although there are many theories. The Chinese government is much stronger than it was in 1997, making the introduction of the new law easier now but near impossible 23 years ago. Also, the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has made large scale protests unfeasible. 

In July 2014 Hong Kong saw one of the largest pro-democracy rallies in decades, and since then pro-democracy rallies and protests have been commonplace on the island. As large gatherings and rallies have been difficult during the pandemic this meant less pushback from civilians when the new law was introduced. 

In September of this year, Hong Kong will hold legislative Council elections. This new law will help Beijing exert greater control over the political processes and developments. While these are only speculations, the events leading up its announcement meant that the introduction of the law has been rather seamless.

There have been concerns globally regarding the new legislation and for those unfamiliar with Chinese politics, the language used by most media outlets has been less than illuminating. The terms ’pro-democracy protests’ and ’national security law’ hardly seem menacing. But the law threatens the freedoms of those living in Hong Kong and those who have never set foot on the island in a way that has never been seen before. The vague language used makes it very difficult to predict what is now illegal. 

There are four offences identified in the law — secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces. The term ’endangering national security’ is also used but not expanded upon. The lack of specifications means that the government in Beijing can name anything they choose as endangerment and arrest the culprit with no warning. The new law also threatens press freedom and makes it possible for authorities to remove online material and obtain individuals online data without a warrant or means of speculation.

Suspects who are accused of breaching the incredibly vague law can be extradited to mainland China and tried under mainland law, as the legislation trumps existing laws including current human rights legislation. Possibly the most astonishing thing is that these laws are applicable to everyone in the world. For example, although I have never set foot in Hong Kong or mainland China, the critical nature of this article puts me in breach of the new national security law. 

 

“The lack of specifications means that the government in Beijing can name anything they choose as endangerment and arrest the culprit with no warning”

 

Director Zheng Yanxiong of the newly established Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is the man tasked with the law enforcement. He is expected to show little leniency and has a reputation for being a tough taskmaster,  a reputation earned through his involvement in the violent suppression of protests in Wukan in 2016. The effects of the new legislation have been felt almost immediately. Over 370 people who protested the introduction of the law were arrested for offences such as holding flags or signs. A further 8 were arrested for holding blank paper, a crime that can now incur a minimum of 3 years in prison or a life sentence. Reports of individuals deactivating social media accounts that they have previously used to share news on are widespread.

Many countries throughout the world are taking steps which will have a drastic impact on their political relationship with both Hong Kong and mainland China. For the past 30 years, the United Kingdom’s government has had an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. Since the announcement of the new Hong Kong security law the UK government has announced that it will suspend the extradition treaty “immediately and indefinitely”. This has come amid fears that any individual extradited to Hong Kong from the United Kingdom would be sent to mainland China and tried under mainland law.

Ivan Ko, a Hong Kong property developer and founder of the Victoria Harbour group has been looking at “Ireland and two other countries” in which to build ‘Nextpolis’. The autonomous city which would spend approximately 500 sq km would become home to tens of thousands of individuals looking to relocate from Hong Kong. The city which could be located in East Cork, East Galway, Drogheda or Dundalk among other suggested locations would consist of an estimated 50% Hong Kongers and 15-30% Irish and European citizens. With an initial population of 50,000, the city will have a “free reforming economic system” within Ireland along with a low taxation system, and independent relationship with the European Union as well as its own border control.

As were previous attributes in Hong Kong, democracy and freedom of religion and expression would be key pillars in the city. While the city remains in the discussion stage, Mr Ko has been in contact with Tim Mawe, The regional director in the Asia-Pacific unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs as well as David Costello, the Consul general of Ireland to Hong Kong. In a statement released on July 26 the Department of Foreign Affairs said “following an initial approach in December 2019, the department had limited contact with the individuals involved to provide helpful realistic guidance about Ireland. Since providing this guidance there has been no further action taken by the department in this matter”. Whether the city plans will go ahead remains unseen.

While the world is still struggling to comprehend this new legislation, we await further fallout from this new law and hope that it does not severely negatively impact the residents of Hong Kong.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Jonathan van Smit

 

 

The Forgotten Generation: The Children of Yemen

The Forgotten Generation: The Children of Yemen

Opinion

The Forgotten Generation: The Children of Yemen

Yemen refugee camp

1st August 2020

 

The largest humanitarian crisis in the world is occurring in Yemen right now, and the world is still glossing over it. Five years of war, pitting the internationally-recognised government backed by a Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels – and civilians are the ones who continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. What is already the poorest nation in the Middle East has seen its economy decimated, leaving millions unemployed. Yemen’s health infrastructure has been devastated, leaving its people open to repeated disease outbreaks, malnutrition, and increasing vulnerabilities. And Yemen is an arid country, access to water depends on bore holes and pumping stations which require expensive fuel to operate; even clean water is in short supply. 

Of course, as if the conflict, economic shocks, extensive  floods and desert locusts are not enough, Covid-19 has served to only exacerbate the situation. It has created an emergency within an emergency. Only half of the country’s already insufficient health facilities were functioning before the pandemic; now many of the remaining facilities have been devoted entirely to the care of those suffering from Covid-19, all the while lacking in basic equipment, such as PPE, oxygen and other essential services needed to treat the virus.

The testing and reporting of the virus remains limited, and people with severe symptoms, such as high fevers and laboured breathing, must be turned away from health facilities that are overflowing or simply unable to provide safe treatment. Many health workers are receiving no salaries or incentives.

Overall, more than 24 million people (a staggering 80 per cent of the population) are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. According to the Statement on Yemen by the Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee of UNICEF, the conflict in Yemen has a disproportionate impact on women and children. Yemen is already acknowledged as one of the worst places on earth to be a woman or a child. After five years of war, over 12 million children and 6 million women of childbearing age need some kind of humanitarian assistance. Safety, health, nutrition and education are already constantly at risk as infrastructure collapses from the violence. For these 12 million children, Yemen has become a living hell.

Children continue to be killed and injured in the violence; twelve children have been recently lost to airstrikes. Damage done to schools and hospitals has led to their closure, disrupting access to both education and health services. Even before the pandemic began, around 2 million children were out of school. Now, that number is closer to 7.8 million – and they  don’t even have the ability to access distanced or online learning as our children do. They can’t even go out to play. 

This is leaving them  even more vulnerable and is robbing children of their futures.The widespread absence from classes and education, combined with a worsening economy, may put older children specifically at an even greater risk of child labour, recruitment into armed groups and child marriage. Of the 3.6 million displaced Yemenis who have been forced to flee their homes, around 972,000 of these, or 27 per cent, are under the age of eighteen. They are now facing much more than the traditional barriers encountered when trying to access healthcare in such harsh conditions. Most of them live in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.

 

“Of the 3.6 million displaced Yemenis who have been forced to flee their homes, around 972,000 of these, or 27 per cent, are under the age of eighteen”

The coronavirus will impact children potentially more drastically than in any other country. UNICEF has published some startling numbers. 10.2 million children do not have proper access to basic healthcare. Almost 10 million children do not have proper access to water and sanitation. More than 8 million people, nearly half of them children, are depending directly on the agency WASH for water, sanitation and hygiene services. Almost half a million Yemeni children are already malnourished. 

However, as Covid-19 spreads, it has been calculated that 30,000 children could develop life-threatening, severe acute malnutrition over the next six months. The overall number of malnourished children under the age of five could increase to 2.4 million. This malnutrition, combined with the lack of clean water, has left their immune systems already dangerously compromised, meaning that the children have become at immediate risk of life-threatening diseases like malaria and cholera, in addition to Covid-19. It is estimated that a further 6,600 children under five could die from preventable causes by the end of 2020.

Humanitarian agencies are doing everything they can to help: rapidly upscaling proven publish health measures against Covid-19, such as early detection and frequent testing, isolation, treatment and contact-tracing actively promoting personal hygiene as well as social distancing, mobilising supplies and equipment needed for healthcare, and maintaining essential health and humanitarian services. Authorities across Yemen have been called upon to report cases transparently, as well as to adapt measures to further suppress and control the spread of the disease. But help from large governments is required too. 

On 2nd June at a virtual donor conference, mainly Arab as well as some Western countries pledged $1.35bn for aid operations in Yemen. This, however, is far less than the $2.4bn the UN originally asked for, as well as the $3.6bn the UN received last year. Millions of people will not get essential nutritional and vitamin supplements, or immunisation against deadly diseases. Many children will be pushed to the brink of starvation, many succumb to Covid-19, many will suffer from cholera, and many will die. Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian chief, told Security Council members that the choice was between “supporting the humanitarian response in Yemen and helping to create the space for a sustainable political situation, or watch Yemen fall off the cliff.” 

According to Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative to Yemen the scale of this emergency can simply not be overstated. “As the world’s attention focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic I fear the children of Yemen will be all but forgotten. Despite our own preoccupations right now, we all have a responsibility to act and help the children of Yemen. They have the same rights of any child, anywhere.” Nyanti says that by just standing by, the international community will send a clear message that the lives of innocent children devastated by conflict, economic collapse, and no disease, simply do not matter. She describes her worry during a recent Zoom call with children from across Yemen: “They talked about the fact that they feel there is no one listening to them,” she said. “These children feel forgotten.”

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and that of its children have never been more severe, or funding more constrained. However, although the entire world is undoubtedly suffering as we all fight our own pandemic-induced demons, we and our governments must do our best and do more to remember and to help those children straddling the slim fence between life and death. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by  EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

 

 

 

Hunger Strikes in Skellig Star – How Could We Let It Come to This?

Hunger Strikes in Skellig Star – How Could We Let It Come to This?

Opinion

Hunger Strikes in Skellig Star – How Could We Let It Come to This?

Yemen refugee camp

31st July 2020

 

This week, 30 residents of Direct Provision began have begun a hunger strike after being left “traumatised” by their inhumane living conditions under the scheme. This came to light on Tuesday 28 July at the Skellig Star Hotel Direct Provision centre in Cahersiveen, County Kerry. The group was seeking is seeking to be transferred to other Direct Provision centres around the country with immediate effect. The hunger strike was suspended late Thursday evening when promises came from Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to residents that they will be relocated to more humane centres. Despite cries of victory and ‘power to the people’, it should never have come to this. 

The Skellig Star centre opened in mid-March in order to ensure safety and social distancing in accommodation centres when Covid-19 hit, but only a fortnight later, the first cases of coronavirus among its residents were confirmed. Since then, 25 cases among residents have been confirmed.  For four months now, calls for the closure of the Skellig Star have been made repeatedly by local people as well as residents. Both groups stand united, calling the centre unfit for purpose and that it renders social distancing near impossible. Although around 30 people have since left the facility, 41 people remain at the hotel – including seven children. Despite five months of raising concerns about conditions, little has been done for them.

In May, the then-Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, apologised to the people of Cahersiveen for the manner in which the centre was opened, while rejecting calls for it to be closed – and yet recent allegations from the resident asylum seekers continue to increase in severity. There have been claims of residents being forced to ration food and water at the centre; that staff are only allowed to give two two-litre cartons of milk per day for the 41 residents at the hotel; that due to a Boil Water Notice imposed on Cahersiveen, an allowance of 5 litres of water per day afforded to each resident during lockdown was decreased to 2 litres a day – and last week, to none, meaning that residents who can’t afford to buy their own water must drink boiled tap water. There have also been claims of poor deep cleaning and sanitisation of the hotel rooms which housed residents with confirmed cases of Covid-19. There have been claims that staff working at the centre do not have appropriate Garda vetting. All claims have been dismissed by management. And yet, as of this week, all adults at the centre – representing ten different nationalities – have been so ignored, and their concerns so flippantly dismissed, that they have resorted to that particularly Irish recourse of the hunger strike.

 

“There have been claims of residents being forced to ration food and water at the centre; that staff are only allowed to give two two-litre cartons of milk per day for the 41 residents at the hotel”

Aswar Fuard came to Ireland from Sri Lanka in May 2019 and is a current resident of the Direct Provision centre in the Skellig Star, along with his wife and one of his children. “This place is not okay,” he says. “We should be moved, but the department is not listening.” Mr Fuard makes a key point: if another wave of Covid-19 hits, the centre at Cahersiveen is going to be a severe problem. The residents want to be moved – to a self-contained unit with adequate facilities, where the residents can look after themselves and cook for themselves, where they can have access to a social worker, where they can have a vulnerability assessment and get treatment. “We need to restart our lives. While we are here, we will not recover.”

The current Programme for Government has made commitments to abolish the system of Direct Provision. The Department of Justice has said that it plans to investigate the conditions at the Skellig Star Hotel, resolving any issues as a matter of “priority”. Lack of previous concern would suggest otherwise. In fact, a Department spokesperson went so far as to say that the government are “concerned that any resident would put their health in danger by refusing food.” This is an ironic statement if there ever was one. Where was the concern for healthcare in Direct Provision in the height of the Covid-19 crisis, when conditions were cramped, shared spaces went unsanitised, and the virus infected 25 residents in the centre?

 

 

 

Featured photo by Say No to Direct Provision Ireland

 

 

 

Covid-19 and the Heightened Risks in Human Trafficking

Covid-19 and the Heightened Risks in Human Trafficking

Women
Covid-19 and the Heightened Risks in Human Trafficking
Micheal Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan walking at a distance together
Niamh Elliott-Sheridan
30th July 2020

 

Today, July 30th 2020, marks the United Nations’ World Day against Trafficking in Persons, established to raise awareness about the plight of victims and to promote and protect their rights. Experts have warned that the Covid-19 crisis has put human trafficking victims at risk of further exploitation. New analysis from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has indicated the coronavirus pandemic has impacted procedures for the protection of victims of trafficking at all stages of their ordeal. UNODC Executive Director Ghada Fathi Waly has highlighted that restricted movement, widespread travel restrictions which are “diverting law enforcement resources”, and the reduction of public and social services mean that victims of trafficking have even less chance of getting help or escaping their situation.

 

Resources previously dedicated to fighting crime have been diverted toward Covid-19 efforts, with the result that services assisting victims of trafficking, such as charities and shelters, are being reduced or entirely shut down due to the virus and the lack of personal protective equipment for staff and service users. With many countries closing their borders and enforcing quarantines and sometimes curfews in a bid to curb the virus, some victims are unable to return home. Others face delays in legal proceedings due to courts closing and difficulties in evidence collection. Halting the adjudication of cases delays justice for trafficking victims and prolongs suffering.

 

Even under normal circumstances, identifying and supporting victims of human trafficking is difficult due to the hidden and insidious nature of trafficking and the hold that fear has over victims. During a pandemic, this task becomes nearly impossible as countries divert their priorities elsewhere. Victims of trafficking are also at high risk of contracting the virus because they are less equipped to protect themselves from it and to access testing and treatment if they become sick. And for survivors who have escaped from trafficking, the pandemic is a particularly difficult time because isolation measures and even wearing masks can act as trauma triggers.

 

The marginalisation of vulnerable groups, from refugees and domestic abuse survivors to people who are homeless and suffering from addiction, means our societies and economies fail to protect those who need the most help at this time. And as school closures result in the loss of a vital source of shelter and meals, many children in poorer countries are being forced onto the streets in search of money and food, which increases their risk of exploitation and exposure to violence. Traffickers have adjusted their business models to the current climate and are preying on vulnerable people, including those who may have lost their income due to the public health crisis. It is feared that organised crime networks will continue to further profit from the pandemic, increasing  their current earnings of roughly $150 billion a year of which $99 billion comes from commercial sexual exploitation.

 

 

“Globally, it is estimated that 71% of enslaved people are young girls and women; 29% are men.”

As of 2016, on any given day there are 403,000 people in the United States living in modern slavery, with 50,000 people trafficked in the Americas annually; a staggering figure which helps to illustrate the scale of this problem. According to the Global Slavery Index, 25 million people are trapped in modern slavery in the Asia-Pacific region, with Thailand and Malaysia being known leading destinations for trafficking. In Ireland, an estimated 8000 people are living in modern slavery. The 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report stated 64 people were trafficked in Ireland in 2018 of whom 27 were women trafficked for sexual exploitation, 23 were men exploited in the fishing industries and 14 were in various other labour and forced criminal situations. Globally, it is estimated that 71% of enslaved people are young girls and women; 29% are men.

 

While Covid-19 is affecting all victims of trafficking, children are one group being particularly affected at this time. Sexual exploitation is one main form of trafficking in children and minors. The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Mama Fatima Singhateh, has stated that travel restrictions have facilitated new methods of exploitation and abuse of children. These include attempts to establish “delivery” services (where traffickers “deliver” children to buyers) and a spike in numbers of people trying to access child pornography online. As young people spend more time online, they are exposed to sexual predators. Ms Singhateh said, “producing and accessing child sexual abuse material and live-stream child sexual abuse online has now become an easy alternative to groom and lure children into sexual activities and to trade images in online communities”.

 

A spokesperson for the Royal Mounted Canadian Police has said: “chatter in dark web forums indicate that offenders see the pandemic as an opportunity to commit more offences against children”. The Victim Services of Durham Region reports that Canada’s Alberta Province has seen over a 50% increase in online child exploitation since March 2020. An ECPAT report says that increasing numbers of Syrian families are marrying off underage daughters to Turkish men for money to afford food for their other children. Turkey also has the highest number of child refugees in the world, making these children highly vulnerable to trafficking, forced marriage and further exploitation, according to ECPAT.

 

While the UNODC has recently increased its support for its global partners to help them combat trafficking, it is imperative for individual countries to keep NGO services, shelters and hotlines open . Access to these essential services is crucial at a time when trafficking is being driven further underground. Access to justice must be safeguarded and countries need to prioritise legal proceedings for trafficking victims. Meaningful collaboration between countries’ official powers and human rights organisations is necessary to ensure proper protection for victims. Covid-19 responses must be continuously monitored, with adjustments made to meet the needs of specific groups, e.g. children. International law enforcement and cooperation have to remain vigilant. There is a need for systematic data collection and analysis on the impact of Covid-19 on trafficking and on the human rights of victims. As Professor Siobhán Mullaly, Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights (ICHR) at NUI Galway, and the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, has said: “It is critical now that effective protection measures are taken to vindicate the human rights of victims of trafficking, and that Governments and the international community take seriously their obligations to prevent human trafficking.”

 

 

Featured photo by UNODOC