With a history of engrained widespread criminality, gang culture and drug trafficking, Latin America and the Caribbean has the framework in place for serious human trafficking cases that feed into the wider crime networks.
Modern slavery is perpetrated through a variety of instances in the region. Victims were rescued from work in inhumane conditions, from markets, mines, farms, to night clubs. Reports suggest some cases of forced labour were of gruelling nature, particularly in the sex trade. For example in Guyana prostitutes are forced to work on isolated goldmines, completely vulnerable, no change to escape and difficult to track. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was a hotspot for Asian trafficking victims working in factories having their passports held and forcing them into ‘complete dependence’.
On analysis of these cases, in these region victims are most commonly recruited when they are immigrating or moving out of economic necessity, both internationally and domestically. Some however remain ignorant to the fact they are being exploited, as they come from situations of desperation. Once they have been rescued, NGOs play a significant role in victim care, psychological rehabilitation, and assisting in cooperating with law enforcement. This also illiterates how multi jurisdiction collaboration between law enforcement organisations is key to infiltrating criminal networks.
In particular, effective law enforcement requires tackling the ownership of front businesses, which feed into larger organised crime networks. Not having the sufficient information contributes to a pattern of victim arrests during police raids, where owners are rarely on premises and usually untraceable. In order for enforcement operations to be effective, there is a demand for a policy shift that tightens the means to start an ‘official’ business, and the legal identification of owners to be essential for corporate transparency.
The trafficking of young girls between Myanmar and Singapore is again brought to international attention, as the media exposure in 2016 failed to prevent the on going practices which were perpetrated through Myanmar government employees.
Since 2014 Myanmar made illegal female domestic work abroad, however reports suggest that recruiters are still practicing in rural areas. They promise families better opportunities if their daughters are sent to be maids in Singapore, ignorant to the illegality and risks involved.
This victim reported to officials the identity of the recruiter who was a member of Myanmar’s parliament and director of company Myanmar Global Manpower Link which continued operation of maid recruitment at least two years after it became illegal in 2014. Reports suggest he was involved in trafficking over 60 underage girls from Myanmar to Singapore. Corruption on Myanmar boarders means age documentation is altered to meet the Singaporean legal age of 23, in which the defendant Louis Zung admitted. However he denied any wrong doing by trafficking and according to the Myanmar community, agents who recruit girls for domestic service are seen as ‘benefactors’ assisting in lifting poverty, rather than being blamed for tragedies.
However the economic desperation of the victims’ families conceals the deep rooted issue of rights violations through trafficking and and unjust labour. Due to the corruption linked to the government of Myanmar, it seems exposure and criminalisation is not enough to stop this practice. The trade policies between Myanmar and Singapore need to be internationally regulated and sanctioned to address this.
Recent investigations have suggested that over 150,000 North Korean citizens are sent to work abroad in Poland, Russia and China in conditions alluding to ‘slavery’. The revenue produced is estimated over $1 Billion USD per year, the majority of which is funnelled back to North Korea to finance the dictatorship regime of Kim Jong-un.
In Russia, a worker anonymously reported that they are ‘treated like dogs here’ and they have to ‘give up being human’. They are paid over just $500 per month, of which almost all is paid to their North Korean ‘captain’, which is sent directly back to North Korea as ‘Party Duty’ or ‘Revolutionary Duty’. In Poland, around 800 North Korean labourers work primarily on shipyards, with extremely limited rights and substandard conditions. Although the company JMA denies having North Korean slave labourers, reporters were shown around the workplace and the ‘hotel’ in which the workers live on-site so they have no reason to leave. Furthermore, the Polish government suggests that all workers are under EU slavery regulations and there is no evidence of money being sent back to North Korea.
Defended in some respects as a positive system as workers are given the opportunity to have a ‘glimpse of the world’ when sent abroad to work, the conditions in which they are working is undoubtedly modern slavery. In December 2017, the UN sanctioned North Koreans working abroad with host nations having 2 years to comply, to prevent the finances fuelling the North Korean army, nuclear program and the luxurious living of Kim Jong-un.
With a hereditary system of servitude, Mauritania has previously demonstrated significantly low slavery prosecution rates. In 1981 slavery was deemed illegal, but the sanctions were increased in 2015 with punishment of 20 years imprisonment recognising slavery as a ‘crime against humanity’.
Two recent ground breaking cases in the country have led to the sentence of two guilty of enslavement to 20 years. The primary victim of this case died before the case conclusion, who alongside his son, were reduced to slavery.
Another defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison for keeping three women as domestic servants a without pay. Although the defence put forward the argument of treating the servants ‘like family’, the court ruled that slavery is a crime no matter how ‘gentle’.
These verdicts mark significant progress in the slavery case law of Mauritania, marking the success of the legislation and the three tribunals to address modern slavery established in the country. Similar cases that have been pending for several years will be reactivated according to authorities, signifying the normalisation of human rights issues being upheld by law.
Issues of slavery, sexual servitude and trafficking are embedded as financing means in wider terror networks. The revenue produced by these means is used to sustain terrorist organisations, including the likes of Da’esh, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Such financing means are being used to replace traditional fund raising. Instead slavery, weapon trafficking, sexual violence are increasingly used for money laundering to finance terror measures. This is engrained further due to the ideological justifications of sexual violence.
The primary cause of these new figures points to the previous underestimation of labour exploitation against sexual exploitation rates, as there is relatively less targeted legislation, and there have been few successful prosecutions and convictions. With both forms of exploitation, victims fear reprisals from traffickers, which makes data collection difficult, as well as impacting on low conviction rates.
More than 15 million people were enslaved in Africa and sold during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which constitutes the largest legally sanctioned forced movement of people in history. Spread over 400 years, 96% of those enslaved arrived in the Americas and remain a prominent foothold in the demographic. This year being its 70th anniversary, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains a foundation document in international law and slavery legislation:
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledges this and makes a tribute to International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade this week on 25th March. Denoting this period as one of the most brutal and shameful eras in human history and remembering those who died and suffered, he aims to spread the message of equality and remind of the ‘dangers of racism and prejudice’ in social thought. Although modern slavery has changed form and means, much of our understanding is grounded in the history of the Transatlantic slavery era.
Climate change increases the likelihood of natural disasters, forces groups of people into migration or resettlement from their original territory, and leaves people homeless, which are all high risk circumstances for trafficking. Environmental conditions should be a key factor in assessing socio economic wellbeing and security of a group of people against displacement, and in turn exploitation.
Women, men and children all face different risks to environment induced migration. If hit by disaster, children may be orphaned and at high-risk without the care of their parents, as seen after the 2004 Ocean Tsunami in South East Asia as records of child ‘abductions’ in Indonesia were much higher. Women are most often recruited for domestic work or sexual exploitation whereas men are most often forced into labour in inhumane and exploitative conditions. Such work is often in poor environmental conditions, including recourse extraction and dealing with toxic substances, for example palm oil extraction in south East Asia. This constitutes an abuse of their human rights and furthermore contributes to the supply chain of industry pollutants that cause climate change.
There has been significant movement in Australia this week around the introduction to the Modern Slavery Act for Australia in 2018. This is being viewed as “historic legislation” as it pushes for nuanced supply chain based solutions involving individuals, business and public sector commitment, rather than the previous criminal justice perspective.
The major issues businesses have faced are in allocating resources and having limited education on addressing modern slavery in their supply chains. The new regulations are designed to avoid profit loss, but businesses will be accountable and at the forefront of addressing this issue. To comply with the new legislation, they will have to report on their efforts to eliminate modern slavery. Slavery will become an issue discussed by top management or Board Members of businesses rather than simply CSR efforts.
Technology is being developed to assist in these processes, including the block-chain systems, which document every valid contract in a supply chain. However, active commitment from the top-tier stakeholders is ultimately essential to address modern slavery through on going enforcement.
Modern slavery is a severe national issue with 4,300 living in this condition according to the Global Slavery Index, and a widespread issue amongst Asia-Pacific. Experts including Luis C deBaca, are viewing this as the opportunity for the Australian government to be a regional policy leader in addressing the on going problem.