SEATTLE, Washington — Modern-day slavery is a widespread problem that “exists in every single country around the world,” according to Houtan Homayounpour, a senior officer for the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) special action program against forced labor. This is not only a moral outrage but a global security threat and a glaring missed opportunity to involve victims in their economies and communities.
Speaking on the causes of modern-day slavery, Homayounpour said that poverty and a lack of education were the main factors. The U.S. State Department lists practices that constitute modern-day slavery, including sex trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, domestic servitude and child soldiering. “At the heart of this phenomenon is the traffickers’ goal of exploiting and enslaving their victims and the myriad coercive and deceptive practices they use to do so.”
The modern-day slavery economy generates more than $150 billion annually. Developed economies, like that of the United States and European Union, represent nearly a third of those profits, according to the ILO. As of December 2016, nearly 21 million people worldwide were victims of this system.
Stories of modern-day slavery abound. A 2015 Associated Press (AP) investigation discovered thousands of poor, uneducated men from across Southeast Asia enslaved for years in a scheme that sold fish the men caught to U.S. and European markets.
Another AP investigation found men lured to U.S. fishing businesses in Hawaii and San Francisco with promises of good pay and worker rights reserved for Americans. Those men were often held in squalid conditions and given little to no pay. The workers on U.S. vessels never technically reached the shore, and federal agencies overseeing the industry had no authority to force the vessel owners to honor contracts for non-American workers.
In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) highlighted its plans to redouble efforts to enforce existing laws concerning human trafficking. The FBI touts its creation of task forces designed to combat human trafficking, which has produced thousands of arrests of traffickers and countless victims saved. The FBI and the State Department have urged that education is required for recognizing trafficking victims and subsequently reporting such situations to authorities.
The ILO argues for more long-term efforts that involve targeting the root causes of modern-day slavery: poor education and poverty. Homayounpour argues that reducing the modern-day slavery problem must entail increased funding for education and poverty-reduction efforts to prevent exploitative conditions from ever forming, as well as preventing re-victimization of those who do manage to escape this life of servitude.
– James Collins