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Hong Kong lawmakers push for UK-style anti-slavery law

by Beh Lih Yi | @BehLihYi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 26 April 2018 08:15 GMT

A general view of Victoria Harbour and downtown skyline is seen from the Peak in Hong Kong, China August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

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Campaigners say exploitation in the sex industry is common and forced labour is rife among 370,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, April 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hong Kong should introduce a law that will stamp out human trafficking and stop illegal profits passing through the financial hub, a lawmaker who is spearheading an anti-slavery campaign has urged.

Since 2016, Hong Kong has been placed by the U.S. State Department on the second-lowest ranking in its annual Trafficking in Persons report, alongside countries like Rwanda and Pakistan, for not doing enough to tackle human trafficking.

Campaigners say exploitation in the sex industry is common and forced labour is rife among 370,000 foreign domestic workers in the former British colony, which maintains a laissez-faire economic system despite its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Lawmaker Dennis Kwok said he will table a private member's bill modelled after Britain's Modern Slavery Act to the city's legislature in July to clean up its "very bad" record.

"As an international financial centre, we believe Hong Kong has an important role to play on this subject which affects 40 million people around the world," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Hong Kong.

Recommendations in the bill include life sentences for traffickers, compelling firms to report whether their supply chains are free from slavery, and gives enforcement officers wider investigation power.

Kwok, a lawyer from the pro-democracy Civic Party, said Hong Kong could clamp down on the $150 billion in profits generated by traffickers around the globe each year.

"I am sure some of them flow through Hong Kong so we need a comprehensive legislation to deal with that," Kwok said ahead of a conference on Friday to galvanise public support for the bill.

Some 200 people are expected at the conference convened by Kwok and another lawmaker.

Britain is regarded a leader in the global fight against human trafficking since passing the landmark Modern Slavery Act in 2015, and inspired countries from Australia to the Netherlands mulling similar action.

Activists said a new law will plug the gap in the current legislation.

"They don't have a comprehensive piece of legislation to act on," said Annie Li, of the campaign group Justice Centre Hong Kong. "What do they prosecute people for? Because there is no offence per se on human trafficking."

A 2016 study by the Justice Centre showed one in six migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong were victims of forced labour.

Some 29,500 people are living in modern slavery in Hong Kong, according to the Global Slavery Index 2016 by the charity Walk Free Foundation. (Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Jared Ferrie;

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