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Slavery behind my door

21 December 2011
Published in Politics, Primo Piano
by Eleonora Corsini

The word ‘slavery’ may make us think about past history or distant societies, ampoule but the contemporary realities are little different.

When asked by a researcher working on the subject, Xavier, 44, a modern day slave in Amazonia, Brazil reported: “They thrashed me with a whip. I treated the cuts with oil from a tree. But when the overseer saw that they were healing, he threw gasoline over them, and then I saw stars.”

Going further in investigating such realities,  it soon becomes apparent that the majority of workers in India and Pakistan are in bonded labour, that child labour in sub-Saharan countries is considered “normal”, and that coerced female prostitution is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Thailand.

The list continues dramatically, when looking at the working conditions of eastern and southern countries: forced labour  is not only still alive, but often takes place in broad daylight.

The problem is far reaching: slavery is a plague that affects even the United Kingdom. The only difference is that we hide it, and people generally ignore the underbelly of what is labelled the “informal economy”.

Talking with activists of the non-profit organization Anti-slavery International (ASI), based in London,  they reported the words of a domestic worker, who didn’t wish to be named,  and who used to work for a couple in their twenties in London: “I would get up at 6am and work all day until after midnight. I never had any breaks, or the time to take a bath or sometimes even to go to the toilet. I was only allowed one day off a month and I wasn’t ever allowed to leave the house”  (M/F) Her example is just one of thousands estimated.

Ironically the United Kingdom is one of the leading states fighting slavery, since its elimination from the colonies in 1807. The British government has also institutionalized a national “Anti-Slavery Day” on every 18th of October, which was commemorated for the second time this year.

“The day was thought to increase awareness among people.” explained Paul Donohoe who works at ASI: ”We went out doing education in schools and we launched new campaigns against trafficking.”

More than 4,000 labourer are trafficked in the UK every year, to be coerced into work such as domestic labour or prostitution. Given that enslavement is illegal, the entire trade of slavery is hidden in the hands of a few traffickers, working as the missing link between entrepreneurs and slaves, and who are often settled in developed countries.

According to the International Labour Organization the market in trafficking produces $32 million of profit. “Making use of the Antislavery Day,” continued Mr. Donohoe, “we called on people to sign a document asking the UK Government to incorporate a proposed EU directive designed to protect victims of trafficking and increase prosecutions of traffickers.”

Organizations that work to protect human rights and labour freedoms strongly believe in the necessity of an international governmental coalition in eradicating forced labour. To date 27 million people live under conditions of slavery, producing only $13 million of extra profit (less than what the United States spends on Valentine’s Day). (M/F)

Though the new Antislavery Day may succeed in raising awareness among some Britons, these are the real images of deep economic exploitation across several different countries and cultures.

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