A Hong Kong lawmaker vowed on Wednesday to launch a renewed push for an anti-slavery law, warning that there was “no room” for delay as thousands of victims are trapped in the city.
There is little support within the Hong Kong government for a new slavery law but lawmaker Dennis Kwok said he had been lobbying international groups, including the United Nations, to put pressure on city officials.
Kwok, who has spearheaded a campaign for a new law since 2017, said he and another lawmaker would table a private member’s bill modeled on Britain’s Modern Slavery Act to the city’s legislature by the middle of this year.
“There is really no room for any further delay,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Hong Kong.
“There are countless of victims out there who are being subjected to human trafficking and modern slavery because we have a loophole here in Hong Kong. We need to close that loophole,” Kwok added.
Campaigners say forced labor and exploitation is rife in the sex industry and among 370,000 foreign domestic workers in the former British colony, which maintains a laissez-faire economic system after its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Hong Kong’s government said its current framework is “comprehensive” and “effective” in tackling trafficking crimes, according to a statement it posted on the legislative council’s website in June last year.
But Kwok said traffickers in the region continue to use easy access to Hong Kong’s financial system to run their operations, and the government must clamp down on illegal profits flowing through the city.
Some $150 billion in profits are generated by the global slave trade each year and affect at least 40 million people worldwide, U.N. estimates show.
Recommendations in Kwok’s bill include life sentences for traffickers, compelling firms to report whether their supply chains are free from slavery, and giving law enforcement officers wider investigation power.
Hong Kong has been placed by the U.S. State Department on the second-lowest ranking in its annual Trafficking in Persons report since 2016, alongside countries like Nigeria and Kuwait.
“You can’t address the needs of a human trafficking victim if you have no system, process and procedure in place,” said Matt Friedman, chief executive of the Hong Kong-based anti-slavery group The Mekong Club.
“Having a legal system is an essential part of the process,” he added.
Some 10,000 people are living in modern slavery in Hong Kong, according to the Global Slavery Index 2018 by the charity Walk Free Foundation.
Britain is regarded as a leader in the global fight against slavery after it introduced the landmark Modern Slavery Act in 2015, followed by Australia in November last year.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Michael Taylor, Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change.)