Slavery is not a thing of the past

We think of slavery as a thing of the past, but it isn’t.  The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 21 million people around the world in different kinds of forced labor.  And it isn’t just backward countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

The U.S. State Department issued its annual report on forced labor and human trafficking on Wednesday.  The Guardian reported

China is criticized for perpetuating human trafficking in 320 state-run institutions and the widespread domestic trafficking of girls and women into forced prostitution. In Russia, an estimated 1 million people are exposed to exploitative labor, including forced labor used in the construction of the Winter Olympic park in Sochi, according to the report.

The government of Uzbekistan continues to force older children and adults into slave labor in its cotton industry, the US state department says, and the country “remains one of only a handful of governments around the world that subjects its citizens to forced labor through the implementation of state policy”.

via The Guardian.

Uzbekistan is noteworthy because coerced labor for production of cotton is government policy.  Uzbekistan has been dependent on its cotton industry since the days of the old Soviet Union.  Here is a report from a human rights organization.

Child cotton pickers in Uzbekistan

Photo by Thomas Grabka

In 2012, the Uzbek government mobilized the forced labor of over a million children and adults. Regional authorities enforced state cotton quotas on farmers, under threat of taking their land.  While there was not the nationwide shut-down of primary schools, authorities mobilized children ages 15 to 17 nationwide and younger children sporadically.

Children forced to pick cotton worked excessive hours, conducted arduous physical work in hazardous conditions and under threat of punishment, including expulsion from school.  Government employees – including teachers, doctors, nurses, and soldiers – and private business employees were forced to pick cotton under threat of dismissal from work, the loss of salary, pensions and welfare benefits.  Authorities extracted fines from those who failed to meet their cotton quotas.

This spring, the Uzbek government is again mobilizing children as young as age 10 and adults to plow and weed cotton fields.  On April 19, the deputy governor of Namangan region beat seven farmers for planting onions instead of cotton.  As is the case each year during the fall cotton harvest, the forced labor of government employees is once again disrupting the delivery of essential public services, including health care and education.

via Cotton Campaign.

Secretary of State John Kerry should be commended for allowing the report to go out, even though it embarrasses powerful countries such as Russia and China and U.S. allies such as Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia.

Congressional law allows for targeted economic sanctions against countries that practice or tolerate slavery, forced labor and human trafficking.   I don’t think this is likely anytime soon, but to name them and shame them is more than nothing.

Click on US condemns China, Russia and Uzbekistan for human trafficking for the full Guardian article.

Click on Trafficking in Persons Report 2013 for the full State Department report.   The report has a section on the United States itself.  Forced labor, debt bondage and sex trafficking do exist in the USA to a certain extent, especially among unauthorized immigrants who are outside the protection of the U.S. legal system and by foreign diplomats who are immune from prosecution under U.S. law.   Few if any countries have a completely clean record, but this should not be an excuse for doing nothing.

Click on Cotton Campaign: Stop Forced and Child Labor in Uzbekistan for a report on Uzbekistan’s cotton industry.   The State Department report says the same, but in more bureaucratic language.

Click on Disturbing Video Reveals Child Laborers Picking Cotton in Uzbekistan for more about child labor in Uzbekistan. Sorry, I wasn’t able to embed the video or find a YouTube or Vimeo version, so you would have to use the link.

Click on The Cost of Uzbek White Gold for a report by Thomas Grabka for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.  Written in 2004, but unfortunately still relevant.  [Added 7/25/2015]

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5 Responses to “Slavery is not a thing of the past”

  1. History of Capitalism Says:

    There are still chattel slaves, pure and simple, without any euphemism, the practice has never been successfully stamped out. Also, selling of poor people or refugees into debt slavery or indenture is an important practice throughout the world.


  2. Anne Tanner Says:

    In Iowa we’ve had teen-aged girls kidnapped and I suspect at least two were sold into sexual slavery before they were murdered. A huge truck stop on the east end of Iowa’s section of I-80 seems to be the local headquarters. I’ve been told if you go there and gather evidence, police will arrive and ask you to leave. An organization named Truckers Against Trafficking is fighting it and seems to be having a positive effect. At least, I hope so.


  3. rhetorics inflator Says:

    In the Netherlands you lose welfare benefits if you don’t participate in forced labor when unemployed.

    Of course it’s disguised as reintegration into the workforce, but when you condemn even unemployed academics to fixing wooden transport-pallets it’s hard to see how such a thing contributes to reintegrating in the workforce.


  4. Thomas Grabka Says:

    Hey Phil, the image of the boy, picking cotton in Uzbekistan in your post is part of my reportage about child labour in cotton harvest. Was a hard work, see: image nr. 30. Please make a correct credit to the picture. Cotton Campaign never paid for using the image and many many people in the world published the photo wis no or with wrong credit.


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