Razwan Hussain discusses the global prevalence of modern-day slavery.
Slavery is a grotesque and shameful stain upon human history, and we are still grappling with the consequences of this horrific practice. However, slavery is not a practice that has yet been confined to the dustbin of history. An estimated 40 million people remain trapped in modern slavery today, and 1 in 4 of them are children.
Modern-day slavery can come in many forms and this includes human trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour, slavery of children, descent-based slavery and forced/early marriage. The bustling human trafficking industry operates all over the world, trafficking people to places like Saudi Arabia, Italy, Libya with the intention of subjugating victims into a life of slavery. Furthermore, the existence of modern-day slave markets been well documented within the past three years, in 2017, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, called Libya “a marketplace for the trafficking of human beings”. That same year, CNN journalists went undercover, and filmed migrants being auctioned as slaves for as little as $400.
Victims are lured by the promise of jobs and salaries, only to find themselves quickly trapped into bondage which they cannot escape without pain of death or injury. Heartbreakingly, refugees and migrants who are fleeing wars, dictatorships, corruption and crushing poverty across Africa, are often exploited by smugglers and are being forced into a system where they can be exploited for purposes such as forced prostitution, labour, criminality, marriage or organ removal.
However, this is not just a humanitarian issue confined to the developing world. Modern-day slavery is a practice that is more uncomfortably close to home than one might first think. An estimated 13,000 people are subject to modern-day slavery in the UK today. In Leicester, textile factories, that supply to online fashion giant Boohoo, are under investigation for modern slavery which stems from appalling practices that severely underpay workers and force them to work in unsafe conditions.
Another example is around 3,000 Vietnamese children are used for forced labour in the UK today, by criminal gangs running cannabis factories, nail bars, garment factories, brothels and private homes. According to a report by the NGO AntiSlavery International, almost all victims of trafficking linked to cannabis are Vietnamese, and more than 80% are children. Many of these children are then prosecuted by the UK justice system, despite many being identified as potential victims of trafficking. This has led to Vietnamese children becoming the second-largest ethnic group held in youth detention centres across the UK.
“Slavery is illegal in every country in the world” is an oft repeated statement, from the New York Times to the World Economic Forum. Yet new research reveals that almost half of all countries in the world have yet to actually make it a crime to enslave another human being. In almost half of the world’s countries, there is no criminal law penalising either slavery or the slave trade. In 94 countries, you cannot be prosecuted and punished in a criminal court for enslaving another human being. This is despite, in 2018, more than 170 countries had made public commitments to eradicating slavery. The US, Scandinavia and Europe are rated as the top 10 governments responding to slavery, yet convictions are low – in fact, convictions in Europe fell 25% in 2016 from 2011 levels, despite an increase in the number of victims. The low conviction rates reflect a failure to recognise victims as well as the difficulties authorities have in building cases under new trafficking and modern slavery laws. Slavery continues to be a booming global industry, generating as much as $150bn (£116bn) in profits every year, more than one third of which ($46.9bn) is generated in developed countries, including the EU.
In the wake of BLM protests that erupted across the globe in wake of the George Floyd killings, people across the world have been demanding equality and justice for all. BLM was a global call for change, and we cannot be silent whilst these barbaric practices continue in some parts of the world. It is time for a reckoning.
We can take action through education, raising awareness through social media, informed and conscious shopping, supporting anti-slavery organisations, such as Anti-Slavery International, Unseen UK and HopeforJustice, child sponsorship, lobbying MP’s and the Government for stronger legislation. We all have a shared moral responsibility to take action to end this scourge and champion freedom, safety and equality for all.
In the words of Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
Razwan Hussain is a recent LLM and LPC graduate and is a passionate campaigner for democracy and human rights across the world. He writes in a personal capacity.
He tweets at @RazHussain15.