Why Does Modern Day Slavery still exist?
By Prabalta Rijal
So, why does slavery still exist even today, at a time when we have legal liberties and laws that allow us to live dignified lives?
Modern day slavery in its various forms is considered illegal and is prohibited by international law and is the same in over 121 countries around the world, but it still thrives because of three main factors and the intertwining relationship between them:
1. Individual Vulnerability and marginalization
2. Industrialization and demand for very cheap labor
3. Weak rule of law and Individual Vulnerability and marginalization
Poverty and Population Boom:
Throughout history poverty has always been the reason behind individual vulnerability be it in the 19th century when slaves were used to farm sugar in the Americas or today where over 90 percent of the slaves belong to countries from the developing world and 58 percent of them come from five Asian countries : India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.
All of these countries have high levels of poverty and where there is poverty and the lack of economic opportunities; people take risks in their desire for a better life. And as population growth booms the ratio between jobs and number of people increases so there are less jobs and more people. The global population explosion has tripled and this has happened mainly in developing countries, where because the population has grown faster than the economy many people are unemployed and are economically vulnerable, forcing them to live in sheer poverty.
Poverty led vulnerability is the main reason why so many women and children are falling prey to human trafficking and in some cases in countries like Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Nepal it is the parents and other family members who are selling their children and wives to traffickers or forcing them into the sex trade.
It’s not just in poor countries that poor people are vulnerable to slavery, men, children, young women and the handicapped even in European countries keep falling prey to traffickers. According to Adrián Begáň, head of the National Unit for the Fight against Illegal Migration of the Police Corps’ Presidium, in Slovakia traffickers pay anywhere between €3,500 to €20,000 per person, depending on the person and on how old he or she is, where they come from, and what the purpose of their work is .
Marginalized groups across the world-- be it the aborigines in Australia or the Dalits in South Asia-- have mostly lived in poverty all their lives. Such groups are always vulnerable as they have no resources for survival, or easy access to basic rights like education, health care and justice, so they are therefore forced to live their whole lives as slaves.
For example, the Dalit in India today work mostly as bonded labour in brick kilns in South India, according to reports by The Liverpool National Museum, every year after the rice harvesting season, over 200,000 people migrate from Odisha to brick factories in Andra Pradesh, as their harvests have failed and they are unable to pay off a loan of as little as Rs.12, 000 (676 Zloty).
They are kept in captive and work 18 hours a day in very precarious conditions. They live in shanty huts with no proper sanitary facilities like toilets or clean drinking water and women are usually physically abused in such places. Dalit children are also known to be exploited in such factories.
Such cases don’t only occur in India but are prevalent around the world today, even more so due to civil unrest in many countries.
Marginalization caused by Political unrest and migration:
Similarly, people from marginalized groups in countries where there is civil unrest tend to suffer abject poverty and are most affected by modern day slavery. They have no resources to protect them from slavery and their need to survive forces them into the trade. This is also true for asylum seekers and people who have been left stateless due to the wars in their countries, towns and villages.
According to reports, Syrian refugees in Lebanon and other countries have become subjects to slavery. Child labour is rampant, sex for survival is term now being used as many women are forced to sleep with human smugglers in an effort to get to get on to a boat to Europe, as the conditions in these camps worsen .
The civil unrest in the Middle East and the migration because of it has made asylum seekers more vulnerable to slavery more than ever. Most asylum seekers have no legal documentations and the countries like Jordan have not given them legal status as refugees so they are forced to take harsh measures to survive.
The same applies to the Muslim Rohingya population who are being systematically killed and forced to leave their homes by the government of Myanmar face gruesome treatment in refugee camps in Bangladesh. They haven’t been granted permission to legally work so many of the men are forced into fishing for local trades who pay them less than half of what they should be getting. While young Rohingya women are being raped by the people who have hired their husbands or fathers .
Industrialization and demand for extremely cheap labor
The problem maybe that way the western world views slavery is flawed because, let us not forget it is not a desperate mother who sells her body to feed her child who is wrong, it is the society that forces her into prostitution that is wrong.
Let us also not forget that the western world is the architect of our capitalistic world today and the model they set in the past is still being followed today.
For centuries the western world has thrived on goods produced from very cheap labour, as they are unwilling to pay the true price of labour. If we look at the history of the slave trade we find that during the era of industrialization Europe thrived on slave cotton from the US, sugar grown by slaves in Latin America and tea from plantations in India where slaves did all the work.
Although theoretically Slavery has been abolished it still exists because the developed world is unwilling to pay the true price of labour.
Let’s think about it this way, why are brands like Benetton, JC Penney, Mango still in business? even after the collapse of the Rana Palace in Bangladesh in 2013, where it was found that hundreds of Bangladeshi workers were forced to work under very poor conditions for literally no pay at all and not only were they violently treated they were also not paid their meager wages on time. A total of 1,134 workers lost their lives in the disaster, where the factories of these popular brands were housed. Was it not their moral responsibility to check the conditions of the factories where their clothes are produced?
Sadly, even after this disaster in 2013, the monthly wage for garment workers in Bangladesh is $68 or approximately PLN 249 per month and the working conditions haven’t improved much.
Although the garment business is the economic bloodline of this South Asian nation is it really fair that they suffer to produce our flashy clothes?
Similarly let’s take a look at the chocolates we love, where does it come from? Have you ever stopped to think where the PLN 5.75 Mars bar is actually coming from?
Over 70 percent of the cocoa produced in the world comes from South Western Africa , where children are forced to drop out of school and work on family run plantations to support their families or are or are sold to traffickers who in turn sell them to large cocoa farm owners who force them to work in farms for no pay at all.
It’s not just in the garment or chocolate industry where forced labor is found, we find it in an array industries around the world including:
• Agriculture and fishing
• Domestic work
• Construction, mining, quarrying and brick kilns
• Manufacturing, processing and packaging
• Prostitution and sexual exploitation
Forced labour is the most common form of modern day slavery and this usually affects the vulnerable and excluded groups, even in developed countries.
Weak rule of law and lack of Good Governance
Today because of the weak rule of law in the developed and developing world, thousands of people are forced into slavery. When the people who have been sworn into office don’t take their responsibilities seriously, it’s only natural that the illegal entities find loopholes in the system.
It’s really funny that getting a visa to the UK even for tourism purposes is very, very difficult for people of African and Asian descent, but sadly traffickers and smugglers walk in and out of the borders, without getting caught and without anyone questioning them as to what their relationship with the child they are travelling with is, no one bothers to ask these children who they are. How are these people getting past border control, in a country with very strict immigration laws?
According to data published by the National Crime Agency in 2014, child’s slaves came mainly from South East Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and countries like Slovakia, Poland and Lithuania the UK. And we aren’t talking about the rule of law or governance in a poor country we are talking about a country which prides its governance. NCA’s report in 2017 stated that Modern Day slavery is much more widespread and rampant than what the law enforcement previously thought. So, although the bill for the Modern Slavery Act was passed years ago, the battle against slavery isn’t over.
Anti-Immigration laws causing more harm than good:
In fact Asylum seekers coming to European countries like the UK today, are extremely vulnerable to modern day slavery due to the immigration laws, these people have left their homes because they aren’t safe back there, so even when their asylum gets rejected they have nowhere to go and continue to stay in the countries they entered. Once their claims are rejected they are no longer under police or government protection which makes them vulnerable to enslavement. It’s like just because their asylum status was rejected they no longer are human beings. The reason modern day slavery thrives even today is because of a weak rule of law and the lack of will to robustly enforce laws which exist to prevent and battle against slavery. Anti-migration laws and laws which segregate people from the society are not helping but are instead enforcing modern day slavery as it makes these marginalized groups more vulnerable to traffickers and people looking for forced labour.
The rights of Asylum seekers to receive state protection was long made a part of the international human rights mandate and was long made a part of the law by many European countries but, tightening immigration laws pushes asylum seekers away from legal entities and into the arms of traffickers who force them into making dangerous inhumane journeys just to claim asylum.
And their journey doesn’t end here, once their asylum applications are rejected, they are no longer asylum seekers but are now illegal immigrants who receive no protection from the law and are now socially excluded.
Bad Governance in places of conflict:
People living in places of conflict like the Iraq, Syria and Central Africa are especially prone to modern day slavery, because of poor governance. A very good example would be the abduction of 200 girls by the terror organization Boko Haram which used most of them as sex slaves. How could 200 children be abducted in broad daylight?
We have child soldiers fighting on both the rebel and government side in these places to extract conflict minerals-- (Tin, tantalum, Tungsten and gold), which go into our circuit boards to create our smart devices. Tantalum is the best known conductor of electricity and it’s used in capacitors that keep our smart devices running. According to an article published by dissentmagazine.org, approximately a quarter of the world’s tantalum comes from the war ridden areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo and it is extracted both legally and illegally by who dig it out of the ground with picks, shovels, and even their bare hands. “The war economy has set the standard for working conditions in mines throughout the DRC. Children as young as six years old still make up an estimated 40 percent of the mining workforce,” the article stated.
The fact that Slavery exists at such a high scale is proof of failure by governments worldwide at implementing laws and adopting norms which prevent slavery and extreme exploitation of the world’s most vulnerable people. It thrives because of bad governance and rampant systematic corruption. Everything these days is for sale, even the people with power; all you need to know is what their price is for turning a blind eye.
If this wasn’t the case our borders wouldn’t be porous to traffickers, nor would there be thousands of forced labourers working in factories in South Asia and Europe, nor would there be red light districts in big cities of countries like India and in other parts of the world where children are openly working as sex slaves.
The war against slavery was long fought and apparently won, but even today modern day slavery is rampant in our societies and fighting it has become a daunting task because it means confronting the long established and powerful economic models, corruption, discrimination, and abusive power holders.
The Oslo Times International News Network