Slavery is far from over
Last December multinational internet and software corporation Google donated 11.5 million dollars to several groups fighting modern-day slavery. This timely gesture constituted a new reminder of the fact that various types of human bondage continue to exist and proliferate in different parts of our planet, sometimes much closer to us than we imagine.
Among the organisations chosen by Google were International Justice Mission, a human rights agency working in 13 countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America; Polaris Project, one of the largest anti-slavery organisations in the United States and Japan; and Slavery Footprint, another US-based body focusing on the supply lines of 400 consumer products with the aim of identifying whether slave labour is used in the production of any of them.
Google’s donation not only will endow the above mentioned groups with much needed financial support, but will also help raise awareness for the need for new legislation in order to stop all types of slavery across the world.
Although slavery is often referred to as a past evil consigned to history books, nothing could be farther from the truth. Slavery persists today in both the developing and developed worlds, and in spite of the efforts of organisations like International Justice Mission or the London-based Anti-Slavery International, the malady seems to be getting worse by the day.
In this respect New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, recently noted that “at least 10 times as many girls are now trafficked into brothels annually as African slaves were transported to the New World in the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade”.
Sadly, Kristof is not exaggerating.
The CNN Freedom Project has also recently revealed the extent to which slavery-associated violence is still prevalent in parts of the world by conducting interviews, often undercover, in places like Mauritania, where chattel slavery survives very much as it did back in the nineteenth century.
Other corporations, organisations and media outlets have joined forces to denounce modern-day forms of slavery worldwide. From the predicaments of Nepali migrants in the Middle East to child labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, more and more information is made freely available, and those responsible are named and shamed.
The challenge, however, is daunting. Professor Joel Quirk from Witwatersrand University in South Africa explains “There is no longer one readily identifiable solution, but many overlapping strategies, which tend to be geared towards harm minimization, regulation and alleviation.”
Finding an actual solution is indeed quite difficult, to a large extent because the roots of modern-day forms of slavery are to be found in social problems like poverty and hunger, especially in the developing world. The lack of opportunities to improve basic conditions of existence leave people with no alternative but to fall into slavery in their homeland, or to migrate to the developed world in search for a better future.
It is there that they become easy prey for a range of people willing to profit from their misfortunes. Networks of prostitution and sex trafficking are a lucrative business from Amsterdam to New York. An example of how entrenched and well-disguised modern forms of slavery are in the developed world was recently highlighted by Goldman Sachs’ decision to sell its stake in the company which owns the backpage.com website, after the site was accused in 2010 of aiding and abetting forced prostitution and the exploitation of children and child pornography by carrying ‘adult’ classified advertising.
Beyond backstreet brothels, apparently innocuous websites, and fancy escort services, there are other ways of reinstating forced bondage. For a new, creative, and legal way of exploiting migrant labour we only need to look at the US state of Alabama and their new draconian anti-immigration law (HB 56). As reported by Axel Caballero in The Guardian, new illegal migrants who arrive in the state are now being detained and turned into a source of forced agricultural labour for the region and profit for the two major corporations that house the inmates and run the US private prison system, CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO group.
The convenient silence of those with the resources to tackle the problem should not be tolerated any longer, because as Bishop Desmond Tutu put it, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”Tagged in: backpage.com, child pornography, CNN Freedom Project, goldman sachs, google, human rights, International Justice Mission, Mauritania, Nicholas D. Kristof, Polaris Project, slave labour, slavery, Slavery Footprint, trafficking
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