Slaves of the XXI Century

Foto de Andreas ThellFoto de Andreas Thell

Have you seen ‘12 Years a Slave’? When I saw it I was happy to live in a modern society that would not allow for a human to be sent to a plantation like that. In our times people would not just stand aside and let things like this happen, right? Wrong! I have lost my innocence. And I hope by the end of this post you will have too.

In the movie, a violin player accepts a job and travels to another city to play music. He ends up drugged and is sold as a slave. In real life millions of people have gone that exact way. They were searching for a job, travelled full of hope to another country and ended up slaves, sexually exploited or retained for forced labor.

It is hard to say how many. Different organizations give numbers that range from 20 to 30 million people. They all agree that these numbers are probably higher. The number isn’t small, we are talking here of something that comes close to the population of Tokyo! And what about New York? There are more slaves worldwide than people living there. How can this be? Because we are all turning a blind eye and there is a huge profit. How big? Brace yourself: 150 billion dollars per year, says the International Labor Organization (ILO). Do you feel this is a problem that affects mainly poor countries? Have a look at this chart from the ILO report:

Source: ILO

Source: ILO

Yes, that’s where the money rolls and that second bar includes the EU and the US. Scary.

Yet another problem, this does not affect only the poor and undereducated. It is true that those are risk factors, but talking to organizations that work in this area we found university students that fell in the trap. Actually, now that I think about it, the violin player in the movie was an educated man…

Then what can we do? The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) proposes a ‘3 Ps’: approach: prevention, protection and persecution. To help them, let’s try and share information and thus prevent this horrible crime while we ourselves stay safe.

First: when looking for a job, start looking in certified employment services. Many governments and the private sector have Public Employment services. NGOs and foundations do too. Look for those that are known and legit. You will find a better job. When in doubt ask the authorities, especially if you see something weird. And remember if it is too good to be true, it probably is, so check and double-check.

Second: when you see a job offer that looks too good, double-check. I am not telling you to say no right away, you might miss an opportunity, but check. Try and learn more about it and the company. Read what they are asking you, the information you have and read between lines. Recently someone I know mentioned that he had an offer that required him to be tall and have a good body mass. The forms also asked if he had friends or relatives in the police or other law agencies… weird, right?

Third: be mindful of what is happening. Most victims are adults (75%) and are male (45%). Criminals will lie and deceive. If you are going to move to another country, contact your consulate or any migrant organization you can find. Tell your prospective employer, given that those organizations help even those that travel illegally, their reaction will tell you a lot. There is no reason for your prospective employer to be against this. Very important: tell your family and friends where you are going and who is taking you there. Make sure you maintain contact with your family and have code words to confirm you are ok or tell them you are at risk. If you end up trapped, you want people to know it and act fast.

Ignorance is not bliss. Information available needs to be shared. Youtube has ILO videos and organizations like Insight crime have news and videos to help awareness. So does UNODC. Let’s try and share it so that people know what is really happening and, maybe, that way we will finally abolish slavery worldwide.

Photo: Andreas Thell

About the Author

Manuel Urquidi
Manuel Urquidi es especialista sénior en operaciones en la División de Mercados Laborales del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID) en Bolivia. Antes de unirse al BID en 2011, Manuel ocupó cargos de asesoría en importantes agencias del gobierno boliviano. Asimismo, coordinó actividades académicas dentro del Programa de Especialización en Desarrollo Económico Comunitario de la Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar. Manuel cuenta con una Maestría en Gerencia de Proyectos de Desarrollo en la Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar de Bolivia, además de Diplomados en Educación Superior, Gobierno y Gestión Pública.

4 Comments on "Slaves of the XXI Century"

  1. I know of a girl from Canada that went to the Netherlands to be a nanny, she was paid so not forced labour but she had a terrible experience, so much so that she is now in therapy and will take years to get over it.

    • Manuel Urquidi Manuel Urquidi | 26 junio 2014 at 4:18 pm | Responder

      Been paid does not necessarily mean it was not human trafficking or slavery, if she was treated inadequately it probably qualifies. Sadly many people think that payment is enough for it not to be something illegal, so they don’t press charges when they should!

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