International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

December 2nd marked the UN’s International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It’s a grim subject and can be a difficult conversation to have, but the fact is that today people all over the world, mostly women and children, remain in chains. Because of the seriousness of this enduring problem, we at DEPDC/GMS feel that this topic can’t be shied away from, so we’d like to take this chance to talk about the problem and what we’re doing to address it.

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While the cruel principles of slavery remain the same, it’s no longer the ostentatious business that it was in the past. Today, slavery takes place in the factories and shops that produce the goods we buy every day, and in the brothels and bathhouses to which many are driven in search of a way to survive. Many of us know that this goes on, we all deplore it, and we’re proud to say that 25 years ago our founder, Khun Sompop, realized the way to beat it and built DEPDC/GMS to do just that.

WORKING SESSION 2: Providing Real Choices: What works for at-risk adolescent girls and boys

Prevention is the key: getting to at-risk persons (mostly women and children, but also men) and giving them the tools and empowerment they need to lead independent lives before they become ensnared. At DEPDC/GMS, that means finding children from disadvantaged backgrounds and making sure that they have lessons to learn, skills to gain, meals to eat and safety to enjoy while they grow to be strong, self-sufficient people. We’re proud to say that over the last 25 years, the program begun by Khun Sompop and supported by the hard work of our staff and the generosity of people like you has enabled us to help thousands of kids and change their lives for the better.

Beyond that, we’ve had the privilege to work with dozens of young people from throughout the Greater Mekong Subregion who came to the HDS for the 5 years of the Mekong Youth Net program to be trained as youth leaders. Many have since returned to their homes in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, China, Cambodia and Vietnam to create their own programs and begin the next generation of slavery prevention programs in South-East Asia. Bit by bit, child by child, never giving up and always growing, that’s how we do it, that’s how we win, and we can do it if we work together.

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We’re proud of the children and the strength and courage they show every day. We’re proud of our staff for the tireless work that they do and the immeasurable benefit that it produces. And we’re deeply grateful to people like you, without whose solidarity, support and ongoing engagement we couldn’t have come this far nor done as much. Your help means more than you know.

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If you’d like to help us and the kids continue to grow and make a difference in the Greater Mekong Subregion, please visit our GlobalGiving donations page here to pick which of our programs you’d like to contribute to, like our sustainable agriculture project or our lunch program. Or if you’re even considering getting more directly involved and volunteering, please don’t hesitate to visit the volunteer information page on our blog and get in touch. We always love having more members in our international family. Thank you for reading and for keeping up with what’s going on at DEPDC/GMS.

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Posted on December 10, 2015, in General, UN Observance Days and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. It’s not always an easy task to critique someone’s writing, as one can quickly be perceived as condescending, so let me preface this by saying that I certainly do not mean to question DEPDC’s work or the commitment of its staff and volunteers. But in response to several posts on DEPDC’s social media profiles, incl. the above article, I would like to politely suggest to more carefully consider the terminology you use, or leave unchallenged, to describe contemporary exploitative labour situations.

    The “cruel principles” of slavery, which was a state-sanctioned, legal practice, have in fact not remained “the same”, as you suggested, and “[c]onflating trafficking and forced labour with the far more narrowly defined (and extreme) practice of ‘slavery’ — however rhetorically effective — is not only legally inaccurate, but it also risks undermining effective application of the relevant legal regimes. Legal definitions matter when it comes to providing a common basis for governments worldwide to collect and share data, to facilitate extradition of criminal suspects, and to pursue policy coordination with other governments. They also matter when it comes to individuals directly affected by the legal regimes designed to identify perpetrators and provide redress to victims of slavery, trafficking and forced labour practices.” [1]

    In addition, the sadly commonly used claim that “mostly women and children” are affected, or, as you wrote “remain in chains”, is problematic not only because it again uses emotive language likening exploitative labour situations to slavery ’— after all, trafficked persons on fishing boats, in garment factories or even in the sex industry are not usually in chains, but prevented from leaving through threats to themselves or their relatives, violence, deception, withholding of their ID etc. — but it also “closely associates women with children, who, … are designated as being de facto ‘vulnerable’. … Whereas children are made up of boys and girls … , women are designated as a stand-alone category to emphasize their vulnerability in accordance with the masculine norm of reference.” [2] Without suggesting that global estimates about forced labour are particularly useful, [3] if you take the 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour by the ILO as a yardstick, then you’ll find that “[w]omen and girls represent the greater share of total forced labour – 11.4 million victims (55%), as compared to 9.5 million (45%) men and boys” ’— the greater share, not most of those affected. In addition, “[a]dults are more affected than children; 74% (15.4 million) of victims fall in the age group of 18 years and above, whereas children aged 17 years and below represent 26% of all forced labour victims (or 5.5 million children).” [4]

    Those are just a few points to consider and a few sources I suggest reading. Again, it is not intended to criticise DEPDC’s work or the commitment of the people working there, incl. the author of the above article. But especially in light of DEPDC’s 25 year-long history and the many students, researchers, journalists and other people taking an interest in the organisation’s work, I would like to encourage you to help them to better understand these complex subject matters and be careful to not inadvertently contribute to the perpetuation of misconceptions surrounding exploitative labour situations.

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    Footnotes

    [1] J Chuang, ‘The Challenges and Perils of Reframing Trafficking as “Modern-Day Slavery”’, Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 5, 2015, pp. 146–149, URL http://www.antitraffickingreview.org/index.php/atrjournal/article/view/138/143

    [2] M Haeri and N Puechguirbal ‘From helplessness to agency: examining the plurality of women’s experiences in armed conflict’, International Review of the Red Cross International Review of the Red Cross / Volume 92 / Issue 877 / March 2010, pp 103-122 URL: https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/irrc-877-haeri-puechguirbal.pdf | There are also plenty of other sources discussing this subject, which I encourage reading more about.

    [3] R Weitzer ‘Miscounting human trafficking and slavery’ Beyond trafficking and slavery, Open Democracy (2014) URL: https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/ronald-weitzer/miscounting-human-trafficking-and-slavery

    [4] ILO ‘Global Estimate of Forced Labour: Results and methodology’ (2012) URL: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—declaration/documents/publication/wcms_182004.pdf

    • Hi, thanks for your comment Matthias. You’ve obviously put a lot of thought and research into it and we really appreciate you taking the time to engage with our post and with the issues more broadly. As we understand your comment, there seem to be four things about which we differ.

      (1) You said that the cruel principles of slavery haven’t remained the same, while we said they have. We totally take your point, since the methods of slavery have indeed changed since it was formally and legally practised during the 18th and 19th centuries, but it seems as though we’re talking about different things. We don’t dispute that point, but we’re not talking about the methods of slavery when we talk about the cruel principles of slavery. The cruel principles to which we’re referring are the fundamental principles involved in slavery – i.e., persons being used against their will for the profit of another person or other people. This is still the fundamental basis of slavery, which hasn’t changed since state-sanctioned slavery was abolished, though we completely agree that the methods of slavery have since changed a lot. In this way, we feel as though we’re talking about different things, which may be the cause of our disagreement on this first point.

      (2) Inaccuracy about the claim that mostly women and children are affected, particularly use of emotive language. About this, it seems that we’re again somewhat talking about different things. As you no doubt know, according to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) 2005 estimate of the worldwide human trafficking industry’s annual profits, as used in 2012 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it is estimated that the minimum worldwide number of human trafficking victims is between 2.4 and 2.5 million persons, 79% of whom are estimated to be victims of sexual exploitation and 18% victims of forced labour. Of these, 59% are estimated to be women, 27% children (17% girls, 10% boys) and 14% men. This means that roughly 76% of all trafficking victims are female, and that women and children comprise an estimated 86% of all victims of human trafficking. This is the basis for our claim that mostly women and children are affected by human trafficking. We respect your effort in finding those statistics about forced labour victims, and appreciate your work in researching your points, but we feel that the figures we used from the ILO and UNODC regarding human trafficking victims are the most valid ones to use. In saying that, however, we also recognise the fact that, as you correctly pointed out, legal definitions distinguish between human trafficking and slavery, which may beg the question why we discussed human trafficking in a post about the abolition of slavery. While we completely take your point on this, the blog isn’t really a forum for discussing technical legal definitions. Moreover, in principle, human trafficking no doubt involves many elements of slavery, as we discussed a little bit above. Because of those things, we consider it appropriate to refer to human trafficking as a type of slavery, which is why we discussed it and used statistics relevant to it in a post about the abolition of slavery. We feel that the use of different statistics and our approach to human trafficking as a type of slavery (while you stick to the strict legal definitions) is the source of our disagreement on this second point.

      (3) Use of the term “remain in chains” regarding victims of trafficking and slavery. Here, we again seem to be talking about different things. While you seem to have taken our turn of phrase literally, we meant it to be understood figuratively. Obviously, we didn’t mean to imply that every victim of human trafficking or modern-day slavery is chained up – that would not be a reasonable claim. But metaphorically they do indeed remain in chains, since, as you pointed out very correctly, they don’t need to be in chains in order to be just as constrained as if they were. Your examples of slaves on fishing boats and victims of sex trafficking who don’t have anywhere to go or any other way to survive than by complying with the crimes being committed against them are both great examples of your point. We feel that this misunderstanding is the source of our disagreement on this third point.

      (4) Use of correct legal terms. You raise a very good point here, and we’re definitely not insensible to the fact that legal definitions are important for effective application of laws related to human trafficking, such as with extradition of victims and prosecution of traffickers and other relevant criminals. Further, your point about slavery and human trafficking being very different things is a very good one that we also try to point out when we feel it is necessary and appropriate. In fact, it even somewhat ties into our 2nd misunderstanding, discussed above. However, while we feel that this sort of discussion is certainly appropriate for scholarly journals and other such professional, technical publications, our blog isn’t an appropriate platform for that kind of academic discussion. Its role is to provide our many daughters, sons, supporters, donors and former staff and volunteers with information about our centres and how they can help us to continue our activities. Further, while you’re definitely right to point out that the legal definitions used in more formal and legally-significant publications (such as those of the UN, ILO and scholarly journals) can be very important and highly consequential, those used on our blog are simply not the same. Our blog isn’t in any way legally binding and doesn’t have any legal ramifications. Because of this, combined with the fact that technical legal discussions aren’t really the blog’s purpose, we don’t feel that it’s really appropriate to use the blog to delve into complicated discussions about technical legal definitions and their consequences. So, although we totally take your point about the value of correct legal definitions and the need to be cautious in using them, we feel that we already exercise the level of caution required for the blog, while the level which you’re referring to is simply beyond the scope of what the blog is designed for. We feel that this is the source of our disagreement on this final point.

      Thank you again for taking time to engage with our post and with these important issues. We hope this was able to clear up our disagreements and we hope you keep following our posts. All the best, the International Department.

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