How to investigate and report on modern slavery

Thalia Holmes summarizes the "Exposing Human Trafficking and Forced Labor" panel at the 10th Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg, where veteran reporters who've broken major modern slavery stories discussed their methods and offered advice for others pursuing similar stories.

The reporters offered very practical advice, such as sourcing from "survivor led" NGOs for information on slavery in different countries and regions; using newspaper ads to find "labor brokers" who feed vulnerable people to slavers; using satellites and drone footage to gain direct views into slave labor conditions; starting with crop harvests and quizzing doctors and nurses when looking for child slaves.

There's also fascinating material on the tradeoffs and tradecraft of hidden cameras, tips on forming interdisciplinary teams, a reminder that "trusted" people can be involved in slavery (like a UNHCR official — with a persona as a kindly mother — in Nigeria who was turning Liberian refugees over to slavers).

The panel ended with a welcome reminder on empathy and sensitivity to enslaved people when reporting on their situation: "Be aware of signs of trauma in victims, such as memory loss, lack of focus, lack of overt emotion and multiple versions of a story."

Scour advertisements in local newspapers. "When you see advertisements in local papers recruiting workers abroad, they can give you an idea of who the middle men are, and how it goes and how much they're promising for pay," said Sandler.

In his experience, victims often borrow from family members and friends to raise "extraordinary amounts of money" to secure the advertised job in their desired destination. Once they arrive, they find that it is not the job that was advertised, and the victims become economic prisoners – unable to repay the debts they incurred to get there.

Reporting on Slavery: Tips from the Pros
[Thalia Holmes/Global Investigative Journalism Network]

(Image: Kate Hodal, Chris Kelly and Felicity Lawrence/The Guardian)