Slavery must be recognised in all its guises

Sex trafficking is the only human rights abuse that gets proper attention – yet slavery is slavery, no matter what form it takes

MDG slavery in all its guises

A jewellery exhibition in Kolkata, India, 2010. From bracelets to biofuels, it is almost impossible for consumers not to be complicit in slavery. Photograph: Parth Sanyal/Reuters

Five years ago, I became the UN’s first special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. Since then, I have been asked time and again by government officials, businesspeople and NGOs not to use the word “slavery” at all. I have been asked to change the name of my mandate and not speak out about what I have seen. They have asked me to use other words instead – ones that don’t carry the same meanings or implications.

Yet what other word describes people who have been beaten mercilessly, shut indoors, made to work without pay, sexually abused, poorly fed and threatened with more abuse against themselves and their family if they attempt to leave? This is not just violence or exploitation. What describes the situation in which a mother has no right over her child, or a father is forced to put down his own life – and those of his family – as collateral, working for nothing to try to repay a debt that will never go away? These are the forms of slavery that exist today.

Millions of people live in some form of enslavement. The exact numbers are impossible to calculate. Modern slavery is one of the most powerful criminal industries (pdf), and it is because of our collective silence and refusal to acknowledge its existence that it thrives and transforms itself into new forms year after year. By not speaking out, we are helping to perpetuate an industry that strips millions of their humanity and rights.

Slavery did not end when it was legally abolished. Instead, it is flourishing, extending its tentacles into every corner of the planet.



Let's discuss!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s