The objective of the paper is to bring to light that the nexus between social shortcomings like poverty, marginalization and vulnerability act as a catalyst for human rights violation in the form of forced labor and human trafficking. The definitions and basic understanding of forced labor and human trafficking are covered. The paper will further delve into some case studies and show how forced labor and human trafficking have adverse effects on the efficiency and productive capacity of victims which serve as obstacles to development.
As quoted by Aidan McQuade, slavery emerges at the conjunction of individual vulnerability, social exclusion and failure of rule of law. So it should be no surprise that those countries that tolerate systemic and often institutional discrimination against their citizens on spurious grounds such as caste should also be the ones with the most extensive enslavement of their citizens. Slavery is one of the cruelest manifestations of caste discrimination.
Every human being has the right to protected from any kind of exploitation, forced labor and human trafficking, both deprive the individual subjected to them of their basic right like right to live with dignity and various freedoms. Thus, these exploitations are a violation of human rights. Forced labor can be defined as the work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty. In simple words, it refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or subtle means like detention through immigration authorities. Forced labor is everywhere, it is modern slavery in the 21st century. It is observed in all kinds of economic activities such as domestic work, construction, agriculture, manufacturing, sexual exploitation and forced begging to name a few. Human trafficking does not always mean sexual exploitation; it also includes labor trafficking. Human Trafficking is the transportation, transfer or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. There will be emphasis on labor-based trafficking in this paper.
Forced labor is a simple term but it exists in different forms. Slavery being one of the most common forms of forced labor where people are abducted for forced labor purposes. When citizens are required by the law to participate in building of national infrastructure facilities or to provide other forms of community service, it is known as community public work. There is farm and rural debt bondage where workers get offered financial assistance for food and other necessities only to later find out that they are giving away all their wages for a debt that never diminishes. Domestic servitude is very common today, it involves domestic workers being sold to their employers and are deprived of their legal documents so that they cannot leave. Bonded labor is when a worker agrees to provide labor in exchange of loan. This then extends to become debt bondage as the creditor keeps increasing the amount owed to him. When civilians are forced to work for the benefit of the government or the military, it is known as forced labor exacted by the military. Last but not the least, there is existence of prison-linked labor where prisoners are forced to work for profit making organisations.
Article 4 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) entitles every human with freedom from slavery and forced labor. It protects your right not to be held in slavery or servitude or made to do forced labor. It entails that the slave trade shall be prohibited in all forms.
According to the Global Survey Index 2016, an estimated 45 million people are in slavery including 24.9 million in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage. It means there are approximately 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1000 people in the world. 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children. Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, agriculture or construction; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation and 4 million people in forced labor imposed by state authorities. Unfortunately, the existence of the patriarchal framework, makes women and girls being affected disproportionately and accounting for 99% victims of the commercial sex industry. Countries with modern slavery suffer from inequality, discrimination, classism and entrenched corruption. The top 10 countries on the Global Slavery Index include Indonesia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, North Korea, Russia, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China with India leading the list.
The reason why this human rights violation cannot be resolved is because it is pervasive and intertwined in our daily lives. For instance, it shows up in the supply chains of numerous products from automobiles to food products. The question that arises is that why do victims give in. There is a need to highlight the fact that the exploiters and traffickers target the vulnerable population. The different indicators of vulnerability include poverty, unemployment, job insecurity, marginalization and belonging to the minority sections of the society. There are two scenarios that take place, one of them has a positive approach and the other has a negative approach to trap people in the vicious cycle of forced labor. Under the positive approach the labor traffickers make false promises of high paying jobs, exciting education opportunities, travel opportunities and better quality and standard of lives to lure people into horrendous working conditions. The individuals who are targeted already lead a vulnerable life that even a small hope of a better life makes them submit to the trap. However, the reality turns out to be very different. Laborers are trafficked from countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan to middle eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as construction workers. They are promised high salaries and good working and living conditions. In reality, 8-9 people are made to share a room, they are made to work overtime with no extra pay and the working conditions are inhumane. Workers who wish to return to their native countries are not able to do so because their passports are detained by the employers binding them to work for a certain number of years. Under the negative approach, employers and traffickers exert control instead of giving incentives and luring the targets. Control is usually displayed in the form of coercion like use of force, blackmailing, compulsion, threats, harassment, pressure, duress and intimidation. Power plays a very important role. The victims are left with no other choice but to work for the employer. The example of domestic labor can be given, servants are compelled and forced to work even if they wish to quit the job by giving threats of not paying their outstanding salary of the previous months.
India has the highest number of forced labor in the world. While economic growth has greatly reduced the percentage of people living in poverty, the country’s size still results in more then 270 million Indians living on less than $2/day. With the prevalence of poverty, marginalization, corruption, discrimination and classism; it is not surprising that inter-generational bonded labor, forced child labor, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into non-state armed groups and forced marriage all exist in India. More than 300,000 children are trapped in India’s carpet industry. Most of India’s carpets are woven in Uttar Pradesh, where the majority of the workers are low caste Hindu boys. Ravi Shanker was one of them. His parents agreed to receive a lump sum amount in exchange of Ravi working at the loom. He used to work for twelve to fifteen hours a day throughout the week with no pay. He was beaten, tortured and not given proper food. In 2004, he was liberated by a not for profit organization called Bal Vikas Ashram. This case brings to light how poverty compelled Ravi’s parents to succumb to the offer. He was made to live in inhumane working conditions which is a violation of his human right. The physical and mental trauma faced by Ravi cannot be easily recovered. As result, people who are subjected to such conditions and whose rights are violated in a similar manner face trauma which further reduces their efficiency and productive capacity to contribute towards development of the nation.
Located in western Uttar Pradesh, there is a small town called Firozabad, that is also called ‘Suhag Nagri’. It is the hub of the bangle making industry. Beyond the colourful sight of the bangles, look closer and you will be petrified by the visible horror. It is infamous for the slave trade that still exists there in the form of child laborers. Consider the case of Vipun who wished to become a doctor but was forced to sit near the stove in sweltering heat, making bangles due to lack of emotional and financial support. Gradually, his eyesight became bad as a result of working in front of bright light of the fire for more than eight hours a day. Vipun’s efficiency reduced due to working in the hazardous industry that took away his sight. Both the cases show how aspects like poverty, human rights violation and development are inter-linked. Poverty leads to vulnerability that makes the targets give into forced labor where they get meagre pay and face unhealthy working conditions. This has an impact on their physical and mental health, affecting their effectiveness and efficiency. Instead of contributing towards development and being an asset, they become a liability for the nation. Vulnerability is the root cause of the problem. In 2001, Flor Molina became a victim of slavery in the garment industry in Los Angeles. She was an easy target as she was a desperate mother who had just lost one of her children as she did not have enough money to hospitalize the sick child.
In October, 2017, the police of Hyderabad busted a racket lead by a man named Haji Khan who used to to sell child brides to older men visiting from the Gulf states. He made $150 for each girl. There were two kinds of deals, ‘pucca’ that meant long term marriage and ‘time-pass’ that meant it will last for the man’s stay in India. The men came with old used bridal clothes for the girl they would marry. Usually, these men from Oman and other Gulf states chose ‘time-pass’ marriages. At the time of the marriage, they would sign post-dated divorce documents to be delivered to the brides after their husbands left the country as they used to come on tourist visas. In the few cases, when the brides accompanied the man to his home country, they were forced into domestic servitude or sexual slavery. This became an international trade involving agents and various other middlemen like the qazis who performed the marriage. Again vulnerability was the reason why these girls entered the marriages. A girl victim, aged 14 years when interviewed that she shared her room with five other siblings and her parents, the offer to marry a rich man seemed like a perfect escape from the drudgery of the life she was leading. The broker convinced her that her life will change, promised gold and a house to her parents. At the time of the marriage, the old Arab man gave her mother $460. She was divorced few days later after sexual slavery. It is a situation of shame that girls as young as 12 years were sold as package deals to the older foreign men.
It is shocking, that terrorist group, Boko Haram gets overshadowed by ISIS, although it kills more people. Boko Haram, a brutal Islamist insurgency kills people all over the region, not only in Nigeria but also in Cameron, Niger and Chad. They frequently target young women for abduction, evident from the recent event when more than 100 teenage girls were seized by them in Dapchi in Nigeria in early 2018. The young women who are kidnapped are married to Boko haram insurgents and have forced to have sexual intercourse with them. Here a parallel can be drawn with sexual enslavement. They forced to be converted from their respective religion to Islam. Captured women are also given rewards to footsoldiers. Their actions of selling women can be equated to those of slave-raiders. There are certain women who marry the insurgents willingly. Women who have been kidnapped by Boko Haram are forced to do menial labor and they do not have the same high status as the women who marry the insurgents willingly. The difference between upper class Muslim free women and enslaved women doing physical labor is being reproduced by the Boko Haram today. In this case, the force and control exerted by the insurgents leaves with the victims with no other option but to comply with their demands of forced labor and enslavements.
Indonesia’s islands are home to many enslaved fishermen trafficked from poor countries like Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia where there is easy availability of cheap labor. 55% of the slaves in Russia trafficked from Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan work in construction. North Korea is the world’s largest single slave holder. It forces more than a million people to toil in the labor camps. The North Korean government also loans out citizens to work in Chin and Russia, and pockets most of their wages, generating about $2.3 Billion each year for Kim Jong-Un regime. Uzbekistan benefits from exploitation as it puts more than one million people to work using threats of heavy fines, police intimidation and debt bondage. Slave recruiters in Bangladesh promise families that their boys will be given well paid jobs but in fact they are taken to faraway islands where they are beaten to clean fish for straight twenty-four hours. In Pakistan, through decades of conflict, terrorism and displacement; girls are forced into marriages and child wedding. In China, with urbanization most people migrate to the booming cities of the country leaving their children behind. These children then become prey to forced begging, illegal adoption and sex slavery.
The International Labor Organization has played a vital role in taking steps to combat the problem of forced labor and trafficking. The Forced Labor Convention, 1930 and The Abolition of Forced Labor Convention enjoy universal ratification. Almost all countries are obliged to respect and obey the provisions of the conventions and regularly report on them to the supervisory bodies appointed by the International Labor Organisation. The fundamental human right of not being subjected to forced labor needs to be respected by all ILO member states irrespective of ratification. In 2014, employers and workers at ILO International Labor Conference (ILC) decided to give impetus to the fight against forced labor, trafficking and slavery. Certain protocols and supplementary measures were adopted that complemented the existing international instruments providing specific guidance on effective measures to be taken regarding protection, prevention and remedy to eliminate all forms of forced labor.
Despite the existence of these laws, forced labor and human trafficking is still a challenge that needs to be dealt with. Criminalization of certain practices is no solution to the problem. The enactment of laws prohibiting these practices is a starting point taken by the International Labor Organisation. Normative standards are not enough; they need to be implemented. Sometimes, external pressure is required before ILO can show its effectiveness. There is a need for workers’, employers’, and not for profit organisations to play key role by spreading awareness and raising consciousness of the people about the conventions that exist. The political framework is such that governments tend to ignore such problems and if not ignore, much importance is not given to their resolution. However, when workers’ unions take action, the government cannot remain silent. It takes years and sometimes decades before deeply rooted practices change. The fact of issue is that the goal of ending forced labor can be only achieved if it aligns with the political and economic interests of the nation. The requirement is technical cooperation and maintaining positive and negative incentives to stimulate change. The exploitation of the marginalized, poor and the vulnerable for economic benefit is part and parcel of a capitalist society. Seeing from the economic perspective, human rights violation has an impact on the development of the nation but at the same time to achieve development, there needs to be maximum output with minimum cost and input. This economization is achieved through cutting costs like paying lesser wages, increased working hours etc. It is a vicious cycle. An over-supply of desperate and vulnerable people seeking employment at home or abroad brings opportunities for traffickers and labor brokers.
Human rights violation is a grave offence because every individual has a right to lead a life with dignity and respect. All nations of the world should come together to resolve the issue at hand as it is no more an independent problem of every nation. It needs to be dealt with on an international platform. More organisations and committees like ILO need to set up to combat this problem. Also, NGOs should be set up to spread awareness which should reach the probable targets or people prone to be vulnerable, explaining to them not to fall for the traps instead should be asked to approach such organisations for help. There should be recovery set ups where the surviving victims can be conditioned to lead back a normal life. Authorities should make it imperative to keep a check on the application and implementation of the standards and laws set out to prevent and prohibit forced labor and human trafficking.