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EDITORIAL: Traditional slavery may be a thing of the past, but is rampant in new forms. According to a study report by two UN agencies and the Walk Free Foundation, published the other day, some 50 million people are trapped in modern slavery.

Till the end of last year, 28 million of them were in forced labour while 22 million were living in forced marriages. Of those in former group one in eight were children.

Unsurprisingly, child and forces marriages are most common in countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Egypt, Yemen, Congo, and Uganda, though not named, in Pakistan as well.

The reason, as the report so correctly points out, is closely tied to “long-established patriarchal attitudes and practices” while 85 percent are driven by “family pressure”.

These attitudes can change as more and more girls and women acquire education and attain economic independence. But forced labour is more widespread, and on the rise during the recent years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, armed conflicts and effects of climate change.

People working against their will can be seen in agriculture, fishing industry, construction and manufacturing sectors, and in domestic servitude. Although modern slavery thrives mostly in developing countries, the developed nations are not immune to it, either.

In fact, it is no secret that migrant workers in developed countries are vastly exploited as cheap labour. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which contributed to the UN report, more than half of all forced labour occurred in upper-middle income or high income countries, with migrant workers more than three times as likely as locals to be affected. No less disturbing is the situation of female migrants.

Lured with promises of bright future in the fashion industry they usually find themselves pushed into slavery as sex workers, unable to leave because of intimidation, violence, and coercion.

Head of the International Organisation for Migration, Antonio Vitorino, has called for ensuring that all migration is safe and orderly. That though may not be easy considering what a report that appeared in British newspaper, The Guardian, had to say on the subject: Slavery is big business.

Globally, it generates as much as $150 billion in profits every year, more than one-third of which is generated in developed countries, including the EU.

Such blatant abuse of human rights cannot, must not, go on with impunity. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder has suggested some measures such as a ban on import of products made with slave labour. That could help, but to a limited extent.

Given the high prevalence of forced labour everywhere, greater responsibility falls on governments both in developing and developed countries. It is not enough for them to enact laws providing legal protection to those in need; implementation of the laws must also be ensured.

Majority of those forced to work against their will are poor and vulnerable sections of society ignorant of their rights and also too weak to speak out against their powerful exploiters. It is imperative therefore for civil society to inform them of their rights and also make governments take effective action.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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