Human trafficking has long been one of Asia's biggest challenges. In recognition of this situation, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—a group of ten countries—came together in November of 2015 to adopt the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP).
This landmark legislation is modeled on a Convention issued by the Council of Europe. The legally binding nature of ACTIP makes it a watershed act, yet the Convention leaves a great deal uncertain—because it still falls to member countries to implement the Convention's provisions.
Rather than simply taking the findings to the ASEAN Secretariat, we are sharing White & Case's research with lobbying organizations, country representatives and government officials, creating a broader base of awareness. The initial response has been very positive.
Head of Legal at Liberty Asia
Liberty Asia, a leading anti-trafficking nongovernmental organization (NGO), has been working to forge solutions to the trafficking crisis—a resolve that is mirrored by Global Goal 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, whose seventh provision centers on the eradication of slavery. In the wake of ACTIP's announcement, as an existing pro bono client, Liberty Asia turned to White & Case to provide research and analysis to help ensure a successful implementation of ACTIP by the ASEAN member states.
In addition to providing an overview of the new Convention, a team of ten associates from across our Asia offices, working under the supervision of local partner Jon Bowden and partner Barrye Wall of the Singapore office, undertook country-by-country studies of existing legal frameworks and provided recommendations for successfully implementing and monitoring ACTIP. Jon notes: "This was another great example of our ability to coordinate seamlessly across multiple offices."
Singapore associate Cavan Reilly spearheaded the research. "The Convention is a very idealistic document, invaluable in the way it lays out core principles in the fight against human trafficking. Yet the absence of an international body, such as the European Court of Human Rights, to see to its enforcement remains a matter of concern."
Beyond focusing on the lack of an enforcement mechanism, our lawyers recommended ways to remedy deficiencies in domestic legal frameworks. "Domestic law," Cavan notes, "can do a much better job of protecting victims." Only three member countries currently have clauses explicitly stating that trafficking victims should be free from prosecution.
Archana Kotecha, Head of Legal at Liberty Asia, says that the organization has been working to disseminate the research. "Rather than simply taking the findings to the ASEAN Secretariat, we are sharing White & Case's research with lobbying organizations, country representatives and government officials, creating a broader base of awareness. The initial response has been very positive."
Making a difference in the fight against human trafficking has been difficult, Archana says. "This Convention was more than a decade in the making. The involved jurisdictions are so varied that common action is a challenge." Still, she notes that global interconnectedness provides various "leverage points to change behavior." Liberty Asia has benefited from the increasingly committed collaboration of private sector organizations; financial institutions, for instance, have been eager to learn from the NGO about ways to monitor supply chains.
"White & Case's support has provided us with new tools in this long fight, deepening our resolve," Archana says. "The research and advice provided by the team from White & Case on this matter is a classic example of what pro bono can achieve."
UN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
GOALS ADVANCED BY THIS WORK
01 | No Poverty
03 | Good Health and Well-Being
04 | Quality Education
05 | Gender Equality
08 | Decent Work and Economic Growth
10 | Reduced Inequalities
16 | Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions