International Day for the Abolition of Slavery: Modern Day Slavery

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The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December, marks the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317(IV) of 2 December 1949).

The focus of this day is on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, and the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term covering practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

In addition, more than 150 million children are subject to child labour, accounting for almost one in ten children around the world.

More than 45 million people are living in modern slavery, with Asia accounting for two thirds of the victims, a new report says.

The 2016 Global Slavery Index, from the Walk Free Foundation in Australia, defines slavery as "situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception".

With the end of America's Civil War and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution both in 1865, brought an end to slavery in the United States. And the British Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 ended slavery in the West Indies, Mauritius, and South Africa.

But many countries didn't outlaw slavery until the 20th century. In fact, it wasn't until 1981 that Mauritania finally abolished slavery becoming the last country on Earth to end this dehumanizing practice, though it wasn't made a crime there until 2007.

But tragically, slavery did not completely end. It continues to this very day under a new name: human trafficking.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is defined as "the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation."

Throughout the world, and in many of our own communities, there are victims of human trafficking, trapped in domestic servitude, agriculture work, fishing, manufacturing, hotel services, construction, hair and nail salons, and prostitution.

And of all the sad forms of human trafficking, the worst of the worst are those that enslave children.     

According to the International Labour Organization, the worst forms of child labour/trafficking that must be eliminated without delay include: the sale of children, debt bondage and serfdom, forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, child pornography, child prostitution, and the drug trade.

According to the anti-slavery/anti-trafficking organizations, 1.4 million children have been forced to work in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan.

An Associated Press investigation that brought to light the horrific conditions of poor fishermen- victims of human trafficking from several Southeast Asian nations, lead to the rescue of over 2,000 men who in many cases were conned, kidnapped, sold and forced to poach fish in far off waters.

To help end slave labour in the fishing industry, the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking has developed two Lenten postcards addressed to StarKist and Costco, asking these companies to do all in their power to guarantee that their supply chains are free from all forms of forced and abusive labour practices.

The modern slavery of human trafficking is not only occurring in far off corners of the world, it is happening in our cities, towns and often in our own neighbourhoods.

In her well-researched comprehensive book, How You Can Fight Human Trafficking, Susan Patterson expertly helps the reader to understand the full scope of trafficking- how to spot it, the pornography connection, fair trade, and what anyone can do to help end modern-day slavery.

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing and serious forms of transnational crime in the world today. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 4,000,000 people, mostly women and children are trafficked across international borders annually.

However, recent indicators show that the trafficking of adult males is underreported and that there has been an increase in the trafficking of adult males for forced labor. One major problem of human trafficking is that it constitutes a gross violation of human rights.

Some of the victims of human trafficking are used for sexual exploitation, domestic labor, forced labor or debt bondage, hence many view trafficking in persons as another form of modern day slavery. Most victims of human trafficking are recruited from the developing countries. It is widespread in countries undergoing civil war, or afflicted by political or economic instability.

The popular destinations of most victims of human trafficking are the rich countries of Western Europe and North America. Asia is both a destination and the origin of victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a very lucrative business. The annual revenue returns from human trafficking is estimated to be between $9 billion and $32 billion (Bales, 2005; Craig, et al, 2007). It is believed that the volume of human trafficking is likely to surpass that of drug and arms trafficking within the next ten years unless something urgently is done to arrest the situation.

Many, including world leaders are, increasingly perceiving transnational crime as a major threat to global peace and security and one that is capable of undermining the economic, social, political and cultural development of the international community. Kofi Annan, the immediate past Secretary General of the United Nations has observed that we are all vulnerable to transnational crime. According to him:

No nation can defend itself against these threats entirely on its own. Dealing with today's challenges -- from ensuring that deadly weapons do not fall into dangerous hands to combating global climate change, from preventing the trafficking of sex slaves by organized criminal gangs to holding war criminals to account before competent courts -- requires broad, deep, and sustained global cooperation. States working together can achieve things that are beyond what even the most powerful state can accomplish by itself (Annan, 2005 p.2).

The re-emergence of the slave trade that was officially banned in the 1880s is bothersome, and is viewed as one of the major challenges confronting many governments in the 21st century.

Modern forms of slavery can include debt bondage, where a person is forced to work for free to pay off a debt, child slavery, forced marriage, domestic servitude and forced labour, where victims are made to work through violence and intimidation. Few other existing form of slavery include:

The seafood industry

Becky Palmstrom investigated the murky world of human trafficking in Thailand's fishing industry.

Human rights groups say thousands of people are trafficked and forced to work on fishing boats, where they can be kept for years without ever seeing the shore. Victims say those who are caught trying to escape can be killed and thrown overboard.

Thailand, which is the third largest exporter of seafood in the world, has been accused of crewing fishing boats with Burmese and Cambodian men who have been sold and forced to work as slaves. The authorities are trying to crack down on people traffickers.

Many victims say they were tricked by brokers who promised them factory jobs, and then put them on fishing boats where they were forced to work.

One Burmese man who escaped his traffickers said he was forced on to a tiny boat in the open sea where he fished 20 hours a day, with no pay.

"People said, anyone who tried to escape had their legs broken, their hands broken or were even killed," he told the BBC.

Cannabis factories and nail bars

Figures suggest there could be between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery in the UK, trafficked from countries including Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam and Romania.

About 3,000 children from Vietnam alone are thought to be working in British cannabis farms and nail bars.

Many victims are told their families will be hurt if they leave.

One victim was 16 years old when he came to the UK, hoping to earn money to send home to his family. Instead, he was forced to work in a cannabis factory.

"I remember asking the man who took me there if I could leave because I didn't like it but he threatened to beat me or starve me to death," he said.

He was arrested when police raided the house, and charged with drug offences - but was eventually helped by the NSPCC child trafficking advice centre.

Sexual slavery

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 4.5 million victims of forced sexual exploitation.

Shandra Woworuntu, an activist against human trafficking, was forced into sexual slavery in the US in 2001.

She left Indonesia when she was promised work in the hospitality industry in the US, but the agents who met her at the airport passed her on to armed traffickers, who forced her to carry out sex work.

"They told me I owed them $30,000 and I would pay off the debt $100 at a time by serving men," she said.

She eventually managed to escape, and helped the FBI locate a brothel with other trafficking victims.

Forced begging

The report highlights that many children across Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East are forced to beg on the streets by criminals.

One victim told researchers: "Though I am begging I am not paid a single amount. I have to deposit all to them. I am deprived of food and good sleep. I am not paid my wages only working as a bonded labour."

Another said: "I can't say anything to you because I am in constant fear. I am threatened by my employer not to open my mouth to anybody otherwise I will be punished severely."

Behind closed doors

Much modern slavery isn't visible in public. It takes place in homes and private farms.

Last week, three men from the same family in the UK were jailed for forcing a man to do heavy labour for next to no money.

Michael Hughes, 46, was forced to work for the family for more than 20 years, doing building work and road laying.

He said he was made to live in a 1.2m (4ft) wide garden shed with no heating or running water for two years.

And last month, a UK man was jailed for two years in the first case of a man holding his wife in domestic servitude.

The wife was tortured, forced to do all the chores, and not allowed to leave home, prosecutors said.

About two thirds of those profits are made from exploitation- mainly of women and children in the sex and entertainment industry.

But slavery also brings profits to unscrupulous employers in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, mining, domestic work and other sectors which harbour the majority of those subjected to forced labour.

And it knows no geographical boundaries, touching lives in the North and South alike.

However, efforts have been made in the form of stronger laws and policies. Workers have joined forces and organized themselves in sectors where forced labour persists. Companies have taken action to eliminate forced labour from their supply chains. And there is a growing movement of citizens who call for an end to the suppression of and discrimination against their fellow-citizens.

Since the ILO called for a Global Alliance against Forced Labour in 2005, the worldwide movement against this inhuman practice has grown day by day. Leaders from governments, business, trade unions, the arts and the media have stood up and taken action.

We need to tackle the socio-economic root causes of modern slavery, such as traditional land tenancy systems, as well as unregulated labour sourcing and recruitment practices. We need to improve the lack of access to education and skills for people who live in poverty and suffer discrimination.

We must fight the oppression of workers who seek to join trade unions. And we must ensure stronger law enforcement to stop human trafficking once and for all.


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