The depravity of modern slavery persists around the world. In 2014 the International Labour Organisation estimated that globally 21 million people were victims of forced labour, which generated $150 billion of profit in the global private economy. With the consequences of Climate Change displacing increasing numbers of people around the world, there is mounting pressure on governments to protect those who are socio-economically vulnerable from slavery. But are governments entirely guilt free of perpetrating slavery themselves? To this end the ILO have launched their ’50 for Freedom Campaign’, which is a call on 50 governments to ratify their forced labour laws.
The Global Slavery Index 2014, conducted by the Walk Free Foundation, estimated that 35.8 million people experience enslavement in a combination of one or more of the following; bonded labour, child slavery, early and forced marriage, forced labour, descent based slavery, trafficking. Over 60% of this figure is accounted for by just five countries (in millions): India (14.3), China (3.2), Pakistan (2), Uzbekistan (1.2), and Russia (1).
In India $38 million worth of firecrackers used for Diwali celebrations were produced by children who were trafficked. The ‘Sumangali Scheme’ in Tamil-Nadu coerces young unmarried girls under false pretences to work in cotton factories. Uzbekistan, a country that boasts the world’s largest state run system of forced labour, has an economy that is also heavily reliant on cotton. So much so that ageing workers lose 50% of their pension to the state if they choose not to work in cotton fields. The UAE was spotlighted by the Human Rights watch in 2014 for their practice of the ‘Kafala’ regime, in the particular case of the Nepalese migrant workers who were reportedly forced to labour in 50C temperatures with no access to water in the construction projects worth $100bn for the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Terrorist groups such as ISIL are known for trafficking women and young children and exploiting them for prostitution and in the latter case to engage them in extremist militant warfare.
“There are an estimated 3000 Vietnamese children who work in forced labour for criminal gangs in cannabis factories, nail bars, garment factories, brothels and private homes”
The Walk Free Foundation also found that 3.6% of people in Modern Slavery are from the Americas. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has the second highest percentage of people who are enslaved (2.37%). Despite being known for the only successful slave revolt in history that occurred in 1804, the tradition of slavery has since carried on into the present day. 1 in 15 children are trafficked under the popular practice of Restavèk; a traditional system where children from rural low-income families are sent by parents to live with other families and work for them as domestic servants in exchange for their education and lodging. However the reality is far removed from this, as they are exploited and subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Since the 2010 Earthquake, an increasing number of children from IDP camps have been trafficked into the Dominican Republic for prostitution and forced labour. The corruption that runs within these governments as well as the predominance and intimidation that drug cartels have over people not only in the Dominican Republic but also parts of Latin America, particularly Mexico and Brazil, render any anti-slavery legislation that is in place futile.
Of course slavery is not exclusive to the macroeconomic global south. According to the UK Counter Human Trafficking Bureau, there are an estimated 3000 Vietnamese children who work in forced labour for criminal gangs in cannabis factories, nail bars, garment factories, brothels and private homes. Collectively, they owe their traffickers £75m. The boom in the UK cannabis trade is one of the innumerable reasons that trafficking is on the rise in the UK. To tackle this increase, the government passed the Modern Slavery Act in march this year, with significant amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill. The amendments were a result of the continuous lobbying efforts from The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group. There is now an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Furthermore children who are trafficked will now have legal advocates to protect them from being re-trafficked. The visas of domestic workers are no longer tied to their employers, which means that in instances of abuse and exploitation, workers are free to leave their employers and legally remain in the UK for 6 months, provided the National Referral Mechanism is able to confirm victims have been previously trafficked.
“It is unfair and unjust that people who are socially and circumstantially less privileged purely by chance, are deprived of their individual liberties”
Elliot Emery, President of ‘UoN Stop The Traffik’ society demonstrated how this was problematic by pointing out that workers are “distrustful of the authorities for fear of their immigration status being threatened”. An interesting comparison would be the workfare schemes in place across the UK that threaten to deprive people of their benefits, primarily those who are disabled, unless they participate in the schemes, which pay less than living wage. The UN are actually in the process of investigating the UK and the DWP for these human rights violations against disabled people, specifically their right to exist with respect and dignity.
The statistics speak volumes; they show us that narrative remains the same whichever part of the world you traverse. To this end a change is not only imminent, but necessary. No one chooses where they are born or what they are born into, and it is unfair and unjust that people who are socially and circumstantially less privileged purely by chance, are deprived of their individual liberties. Together with our governments it is imperative that we widen our collective geography of empathy, whilst it still matters, and whilst we still can.
Image: Son of Groucho via Flickr