When Vincentians think of forced labor, the image may come to mind of our Co-Founder relieving a debilitated galley slave in the 1947 movie, “Monsieur Vincent.” Centuries later, the plight of forced laborers calls us not only to come to their aid, but also to end forced labor all together.
The statistics are sobering. Over 21 million persons are involved in forced labor annually, according to Kevin Cassidy, the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) Communication and External Relations Officer. (That could be a conservative figure…) Cassidy offered an update on forced labor to UN NGOs recently. Forced labor in the private economy generates $150 billion in illegal profits each year, Cassidy said. “It’s a violent situation because the profits are so high.” More money is made in forced labor than in the tobacco industry, he pointed out. Consider the 7 billion dollar a year Thai fishing industry. The Associated Press reported December 14 that poor migrants and children are being sold to factories in Thailand and forced to peel shrimp for export. The New York Times has portrayed crime and violence at sea in a series called The Outlaw Ocean. Trafficking and forced labor involving fishing industry workers is spotlighted by part of that series.
According to the ILO, forced labor refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle methods, such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities. Migrant workers and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable.
The scenarios sound like a workplace “bait and switch.” People are offered appealing jobs, such as secretarial work or construction, only to discover at the employment site that the job is totally different and sometimes involves sex work. Passports are confiscated by employers to keep forced laborers from escaping poor conditions. Other times workers are threatened with deportation.
Children are not immune. It’s one thing for a child to have a job babysitting, raking leaves, or delivering papers, Cassidy said. Those experiences build character, do not interfere with important developmental experiences such as education, and do not jeopardize health. It’s a totally different matter when children are placed in dangerous or unsuitable situations. Examples might be drug trafficking, organized begging, mining, manufacturing, domestic services, or commercial sexual exploitation. “Forced labor of children is the worst form of labor trafficking,” commented Cassidy.
What Can Vincentian Family members Do? Keep reading and find out!
It is obviously very dangerous on multiple levels for children trafficked into armed conflict. A child soldier who loses a hand, well, “they just want to get rid of him,” said Cassidy. Cassidy has seen the real faces behind forced labor. Take the cattle farm worker living in a remote area with fetid water, an occasional piece of old meat, and bearing scars from being beaten by the manager. Or the case of the 9-year-old who was sold for domestic work and wound up in prostitution. He also mentioned prisoners paid $1.40 an hour. “That should not be allowed,” he said.
Sometimes, victims of forced labor and/or human trafficking are again victimized when picked up by law enforcement agencies. After being passed into forced labor they are thrown into jail, according to Cassidy. “The person is not illegal,” said Cassidy. “Maybe what they do is, but they don’t want to be there!”
There ought to be a law!
There is! From 1815 to 1987, there were 300 International Agreements on eliminating slavery, but they have not stopped the practice of forced labor, according to Cassidy. “We always have to update our work because clever people exploit gaps in the law to get around them.”
What is the ILO doing?
A recent and important anti-forced-labor initiative is “50 for Freedom.” The ILO is trying to get at least 50 countries to ratify the Protocol on Forced Labour by 2018.The Protocol, according to the ILO, is a legally-binding treaty that requires governments to take new measures to tackle modern slavery in all its forms. It works on three main levels: protection, prevention and compensation. The Protocol requires countries to ensure the release, recovery and rehabilitation of people living in modern slavery. It also protects trafficked persons from prosecution for any laws they were made to break while they were in slavery. So far, two countries—Niger and Norway—have ratified the Protocol.
The ILO also hosted a symposium on global supply chains December 15 to 17 in Geneva. About one in five workers is engaged in a Global Supply Chain. The ideal is to totally eliminate forced labor from those chains. “Procurement contracts,” Cassidy said, “should have language that says if the contractor does not adhere to anti-trafficking language, they cannot participate in the given programs.”
On another front, the ILO is also engaged in research and building its knowledge base about forced labor. That information could be very helpful as the world works on Sustainable Development Goal 8.7, which reads: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”
The UN must set indicators which reflect whether countries are progressing towards Goal 8.7. Data gathering will be important. “If there’s no good data, there’s no good policy,” said Cassidy.
The ILO also works with Governments and Businesses to encourage fair recruitment. (Appalling practices were mentioned in the Times’ fishing-industry expose…) Cassidy said they have found many businesses want to support fair recruitment. They find that if you get rid of the “bad actors” (the ones with exploitative recruitment practices), business gets better for them.
But the entire anti-forced-labor effort must be collaborative, said Cassidy.” Unless you’re working in partnership you’re not going to address issues world-wide.”
What Can Vincentian Family members Do?
We as Vincentians can consider the challenge of getting at the root causes of forced labor: poverty, insufficient government protection, lack of education, gender inequality, conflict, lack of awareness of human rights, global competition, a more fragmented work world, lack of adequate social protections, and more (US Department of Labor).
- Call on world leaders to ratify the protocol at http://50forfreedom.org/
- Educate yourself about forced labor practices.
- Educate children and monitor their activities so that they do not fall prey to on-line efforts to traffic and exploit them.
- Make sure companies have no-discrimination and no child labor language in their policies