Alexandra Pihet

Slavery has a long history filled with pain and suffering spanning thousands of years. Embedded within every society, it has been the result and the cause of numerous wars. Its darkest chapter is probably the 400 years during which more than 15 million African men, women and children have been the victims of the atrocious transatlantic slave trade also known as the Middle Passage. The International Day of Remembrance of the victims of slavery on 25th March each year gives the opportunity to honor and remember but also to realize that scourge is still strongly widespread around the world. According to the Global Slavery Index, nearly 46 million people are enslaved, generating an estimated 150 billion dollars in illegal profits every year making modern slavery the second largest international crime. Contemporary slavery takes different forms: bonded labour (or debt bondage), forced labour, child slavery, migrant domestic workers, child marriage amongst others.

Bonded labour is when a worker is supposed to repay loan. In fact, the debt is very often passed to the next generation and so condemns for life individuals of a same family. As stated by the International Labour Organization, more than 21 million people are forced to work against their will. The products of slavery are all around us because linked to supply chains of many everyday goods ranging from shoes to smartphones to chocolate to cotton shirts. For example, the coltan, a mineral present in almost electronic devices, comes very often from illegal mines in Republic Democratic of Congo where people are forced to work generating profit for rebel groups. The gain is then spent on weapons and ammunition hence the name of conflict mineral.

Among the enslaved workforce, 5.5 million children are exploited in many jobs including physical labor and domestic slavery but also as commercial sexual abuse and other enlisted activities as well as fighters in armed conflicts. UNICEF reported that 300,000 child soldiers were involved in over 30 conflicts including some younger than 10 years old.

Live-in migrant domestic workers, confined to a private home and thus isolated from protections offered in a regular workplace, are coerced into working without rest and prevented from leaving the house. It is common practice for the employers to threaten them with denunciation at immigration authorities or even to commit assault. In many cases, their pay is withheld and their identity documents confiscated. When they manage to escape, they are often took back to their torturers or detained. Since 2012, only 23 out of the 187 International Labour Organization member countries have ratified the convention 189 which protects domestic workers.

Child marriage can be seen as slavery when the child doesn’t give her free consent, is subjected to control and cannot end marriage. Over 700 million women alive today were married as children because of traditions or beliefs related to the so-called protection that can be offered by an older man. A huge number of them has to face physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The figure of 27 minors forced to get married each minute in the world is creepy.

Human trafficking remains unfortunately a low risk and a profitable crime since out of the 196 countries in the world, only 136 have criminalized it. For more information about the slavery issues, go on the website of the international NGO Freedom United which fights to eradicate modern slavery.

Alexandra Pihet

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.