Analysis: How to tackle slavery in AsiaBy Asia Sentinel Sep 29, 2013 5:07PM UTC
It isn’t going to be easy by any means
There was a time when slavery was synonymous with shackles, whips, cramped ships and white plantation owners. Today the face of bonded labor and forced migration is a lot more disparate. In Asia, it could be the teenage bride from Myanmar, smuggled across the border by a Chinese wedding broker; the 29-year-old Cambodian whose passport was confiscated and is forced to work on a Thai fishing boat; or a 10-year-old Bangladeshi boy born into bonded labor.
Whatever it looks like, there’s no doubt slavery in its contemporary manifestation not only exists, but thrives in every continent and almost every country.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), an estimated 21 million men, women and children are in forced labor around the world. Of those, 90 percent are in the private economy, exploited by individuals or enterprises. Most (68 percent) are forced to do manual labor in manufacturing, construction or agriculture, or as domestic workers. Around 22 percent work in the commercial sex industry.
Asia has by far the biggest share of slavery. The ILO estimates 11.7 million – 56 percent of those in bonded or forced labor – are in the Asia-Pacific region. By way of comparison, the next worst region is Africa, with 18 percent. The numbers are shocking, but they’re not new, experts note.
In the last few decades the move to eradicate slavery has shifted into public consciousness and helped drive parts of the global development agenda. Countries where the problem is most prevalent have signed international agreements promising to work with humanitarian agencies and activists to tackle the issue.
International criminal networks responsible for trafficking people are better monitored and more frequently intercepted now than in the past, while corporations and consumers are more aware of the potential impact of encouraging cheap abusive labor, thanks in part to several high profile investigations in the international media.
For many governmental agencies and crime watchdogs working to eradicate slavery, there’s genuine reason to be optimistic. Yet there’s also a feeling among activists and those on the ground with firsthand experience of the trauma and abuse trafficked and enslaved people experience every day that still more could be done.
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