Thursday, March 26, 2020

Slavery Today

Slavery isn't a thing of the past, but a reality for more than 40 million people. We have to be very clear that no country is free from modern slavery. In the UK, there are estimates of as many as 138,000 people who are trapped in modern slavery. Every country in Europe has that problem and in many different forms. The most prevalent is probably forced labor. People are trafficked for being exploited in agriculture, construction, hospitality. There is trafficking for sexual exploitation and increasingly trafficking for criminal activities such as running drugs or being forced to steal.

 Anti-Slavery International, was founded by abolitionist William Wilberforce in 1839. It's been fighting slavery for more than 180 years.

Jakub Sobik from Anti-Slavery International explains the difference between the traditional forms of slavery we saw in the 19th century and now the modern forms of slavery is that slavery, understood historically, is about people literally owning other people. While these forms of slavery still exist in places (for example, in West Africa), modern slavery is about exploiting people, about trapping them for labor or for some kind of service such as sexual exploitation. There are always people who are more vulnerable than others: people who are in poverty, people who are discriminated against and people who are not protected very well by law.

For example, in India, a group of Dalits — who are essentially a lower caste — they don't enjoy any rights. They are discriminated against. They don't have many opportunities for good jobs and they're not protected by law because that caste is seen as a lesser one. Hundreds of thousands of Dalit people are being exploited in the brick industry — in brick factories across India — and in other industries too. It happens often through debt bondage and other forms of exploitation.
Debt bondage is quite widespread across Southeast Asia. In terms of bonded labor, a whole generation of people, whole families can be indebted to someone for generations. Inevitably they lose control over that debt. The employer keeps control over the debt, adds interest on top of that all the time and they're trapped in this cycle of exploitation that they're unable to get out of.

Even though in India debt bondage and bonded labor is outlawed, the law is not implemented. We see that all the time when people (especially those from castes that are discriminated against, such as Dalits) go to the police, they're simply not being listened to.

Debt is probably the most common way of entrapping people in these kind of exploitative situations. We see that in trafficking, when someone wants a job and goes abroad to find a job, they have to pay for travel and recruitment costs. Often, they have to borrow this money from the traffickers. In this way, the traffickers have gained control over these vulnerable people and they can exploit them at the destination.
Some trafficking will be implemented by organized criminal gangs. But some of them could be a farm owner who just exploits people and sees some kind of vulnerability in migrants who are illegally in a country and don't speak the language, so they don't know where to turn to for help. I think it's just about certain people finding that vulnerability in people to exploit them. That's why it's so difficult to spot, because a lot of people in modern slavery look like they're in normal jobs, but there is something more troubling behind the surface.

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