The Question of Slave Labour

Political Economy of Human Trafficking

Smarajit Jana

This is perhaps the era of Anti-trafficking 'Jihad'. There are Ministry of home affairs, scores of NGOs, both National and International, the ministry of women and child welfare in majority of countries, Women activists, civil society organisations and who are not in this campaign? Certainly no one supports trafficking of human beings and everyone will be interested to lend their voices in support of the trafficked men with special focus to women and children. But why this level of hype created globally centering trafficking? All sorts of media including social media now-a-days appeared to be super active in campaigning against trafficking. One may come across several sensational stories focusing victims of trafficking and or dear devil rescue operations which are published in reputed journals. Even the left leaning publication houses are no exception. They also have joined the band wagon without questioning or going deeper into the issues. There are serious questions which are many and multiple in nature. Why some individuals are trafficked and in which occupations? Why trafficking business continues its rein even in the modern era and what factors fuel trafficking and what sort of social and political system promote trafficking and why? These are remained unanswered in those signed articles and in many such publications. All different stories published in these media are designed to draw the readers' sympathy towards the victims and to raise their anger against some 'invisible' individuals or groups who are termed as traffickers. As if it is a plain and simple battle between good and bad people. There are no other factors, no social or structural barriers it is the greed of some demonic characters who should be put to the jail or be hanged.

The present days anti-trafficking campaign perhaps has taken the cue from the previous propaganda machineries of US and its allies and the way they succeeded in influencing the minds of people in general and policy makers in different countries focusing 'weapon of mass destruction' to justify US's invasion of Iraq. Perhaps in the same manner the USA Govt and their allies are now in the helm of steering global campaign on trafficking. Although it took relatively longer period of time to develop appropriate strategies and system to ignite the machinery so as to get it accepted by the people in general and policy makers in particular. So far they have succeeded in establishing human trafficking as an important global agenda and why not? Who wants to accept trafficking of human being anywhere in the world? Moreover, it is a very sensitive issue which has a 'humane face' unlike many other issues like food, shelter, inflation, unemployment etc of poorer countries which are age old issues and monotonous in nature and are less appealing to masses.

Just saying that trafficking is a global issue is not enough. One need to come up with numbers what could bring shivers in the minds of people. At present the global campaign against trafficking is much more systematised one than what it was few years before. Primarily three organisations namely IOM [International organisation of migration] ILO [International Labour Organisation] and Walk Free Foundation [WFF] which is an International NGO with significant clout have taken the responsibility to collect, collate and reflect on the findings of research activities undertaken by them followed by its dissemination. As the number is important to push this global agenda of rich countries; during the past couple of years a lot of effort has been made to develop a system to project numbers so as to make other believe how big the problem is.

However it would be interesting to follow the 'number crunching exercise' of these agencies going through their projection in the last three successive years. The report of the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery (GEMS) released by ILO & IOM in partnership with the Walk Free Foundation (WFF) in the year 2017 estimated 40.3 million cases of trafficking of human beings globally out of which it claimed that 24.9 million are in forced labour and 15.4 millions are the victims of forced marriage and 73% of them are female and rest are male. As per their calculation Asia and the Pacific contributes around 62% of global estimates of modern slaves... In the previous year's (2016) report there were 45.8 million modern slaves globally and out of which India contributed 40% [i.e. 18.32 million of cases] of those who are trapped in modern slavery. As a result of which India earned the notoriety of the 'capital of modern slaves'. The same agency in their recently published [2018] document projected the number of modern slaves around 40 million globally but the figure has come down to 8 million in case of India. If this is the fact then one has to accept that India succeeded in curbing trafficking cases to less than half by two years of time. Whether this change is due to the protest registered by the National Govt of India in the previous year or there are some other hidden 'political agenda' behind it could be anyone's guess. How far these figures are reliable or closer to the truth is a big question. The reporting agency however put their explanation that these changes in numbers are due to use of different tools and technique in projecting numbers in 2018. Their explanation has thrown further questions, so which methodology is better or worse than the other and why?

There is no denial of the fact that there are cases of trafficking in India which is a heinous crime and should be stopped by all possible means. It is also assumed that the true reported cases of human trafficking are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many undocumented cases of trafficking and so on so forth.

The economy of trafficking is based on the market demand for cheapest labour and it requires a support system to fulfil this requirement. Undoubtedly the unregulated labour market particularly the informal labour sector fuels the trafficking business in the country or abroad. For all obvious reasons trafficking hardly takes place in formal labour sector. The development policy and programmes [or the lack there off] in most of the countries create a situation what overtly or covertly pushes poor and socially marginalised men and women to migrate in a unsafe environment and out of which some of them became the victims of trafficking. The unregulated labour market what creates a fault line in the process of transport and recruitment of job aspirants particularly in the informal sector what constitute 93% of working masses in India is the hotbed of trafficking. Vulnerability of job seekers gets further amplified for those who belong to low socio-economic and caste background in India.

A significant section of labour working in this sector works in a state of extreme exploitative condition with having no minimum wage, no fixed working hours, no leave, no social security etc. Some of them having no other alternative choices carry out work in a slavery like condition. A few of them get trafficked who lost control over their life and freedom of movement. This could be seen as part of an exploitative system in continuum where trafficking occupies one extreme end of the scale. The very development policy and politics of these countries in question which overtly or covertly 'maintain' this exploitative systems and mechanism are equally responsible for 'maintaining' trafficking business.But why the usual anti- trafficking discourses avoid this basic tenets? The 'global leadership' [one may read as USA] does not want to bring to the fore all these underlying and very relevant issues of development, labour, safe migration, etc as it would question the broader politics of development and its control over market and labour even though they knew that all these are intricately linked to trafficking.

Major factors
1.   Lack of livelihood options
Lack of livelihood options particularly in villages hardly offer decent living for those who belong to low socio-economic and caste background. This is true for both men and women. Women those who are separated or left out by their husbands are one of the major categories of women who migrate to cities to maintain their families or to feed their children as single mother. Research findings of Durbar Mahila Samanwya Committee (DMSC) suggest that 63% of women who are engaged in sex work were 'ever married' but joined in sex work as single women. Women migrated to cities with little or no education and without having any marketable skill could try out jobs out of three or four possible options available to them. Most of these women either joined as domestic worker or as a supportive hand [called Jogarde] in construction work. Some of them try out in sex work too. In the process of migration and while they are in search of a livelihood options in cities few of them get trafficked either in sex work or in domestic work in addition to construction and agriculture. As per the calculation of WFF around 70% of forced labour could be traced in these occupations excluding sex work.

2.   Trafficking is a Labour Issue
Trafficking mostly takes place in informal labour sector where there is no legislation or implementation of rules and regulations which are extremely lax in most of the countries. There is hardly any system to monitor huge informal labour sector in our country. A section of women having little or no marketable knowledge and skill and who are not exposed to both urban and job environment became the victim of trafficking. Michelle De Cock, a representative of ILO in response to prevention of trafficking articulate his views candidly ''there is need for labour and social rights in the informal labour and the social rights in the informal economy and a need for collective bargaining and workers organisation''.

      The underlying illustration explains the lack of appropriate development initiatives on the part of the Government and lack of labour policies and programmes particularly in informal sector what enhances vulnerability of individuals in one hand, on the other hand absence of systems and mechanism to promote safe migration in creating an favourable 'environment' for trafficking.

3.   Safe Migration
Migration per se is not the cause of trafficking but rather the underlying socio-economic factors in addition to gender norms and practices in families and in the society at large directly or indirectly pushes a section of women to migrate from villages to cities. However there are other reasons behind migration too. In India, a faster economic growth has fueled migration of men and women from villages to cities and from one state to other. This is a rising trend where more and more women, who traditionally had to remain confined, are now moving out of homes, looking for better livelihood options or a preferred way of life. This could be seen as a positive and potentially revolutionary development which has opened up a window of opportunity for a section of women who are challenging the existing gender inequalities. What is required is not to put barrier in their migration but to facilitate migration of labour across geographies.

4.   Trafficking and development agenda
If the trafficking process is followed in its totality one can find that it originates in a milieu where people have less or limited livelihood opportunities [which is true for a section of men and women in the country or similar other countries] who migrate to cities, to other states or to foreign countries in search of job which is primarily a development issue, till and until an individual gets trafficked and forced to work somewhere against his/her will; the issue transformed into a 'criminal case'. It does not require much explanation that just focusing only on the criminal aspect of the trafficking it is not possible to address real challenges of trafficking?

That is why trafficking has been incorporated in the sustainable development goal [SDG].India being a signatory of the SDG is committed to address human trafficking. To achieve the goal of SDG 8 in general and SDG 8.7 which is specifically linked to forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking including child labour. India should have pursued a more holistic approach to deal with trafficking looking from the standpoint of inclusive socio-economic growth and development. However rulers of this country find it more comfortable to bury those issues under the carpet and follow a straitjacketed approach to address slavery as a standalone criminal issue.

Politics of Trafficking
The global response to trafficking is limited to the enactment of more and more stringent criminal laws with a view to catch hold of traffickers. The mighty American lobby is pushing it hard and countries after countries [India is no exception] obeying their 'diktat' legislating anti- trafficker laws as if that is the only solution to prevent trafficking.

Here lies the global politics of setting up an anti-trafficking agenda and its one track discourse.Following the US lobby has succeeded in depoliticising trafficking through vulgarising the discourse of trafficking as a battle between 'good' and 'bad guys'. The very strategy has helped to refrained us from all other real and relevant underlying causes of trafficking e.g. not having livelihood opportunities, exploitative labour market, and unsafe migration and so on so forth.

As a result of which almost all criminal laws so far enacted by the poorer countries under the indirect pressure of US lobby is characterised by its 'inherent' anti poor and 'anti labour' stance though apparently it talks about sufferings of trafficked victims. Most of these laws have created more barriers to safe migration with special focus to women who wished to improve their quality of life through getting engaged in the labour market. Anti trafficking laws in Bangladesh and many other countries have essentially limited women's rights to migration. The Indian Govt has recently passed a law in the lower house and waiting to be cleared by the upper house is equally problematic which is not going to provide solace to bonded labour rather put them in a jobless condition in remand houses. Though we have much better labour laws like Bonded Labour act,1976 and the Contract Labour Act 1970 to deal this issue. Like many such acts the Indian Anti-trafficking act is designed to promote raid and rescue operation as the mainstay of prevention activity. Raid and rescue model has proved to be an failure not only in India but in all other countries. Moreover, a criminal law is unlikely to address underlying issues of trafficking, which is primarily a development and labour issue.

There is another undercurrent which is submerged in the global politics of trafficking. Christian evangelist and some other religious outfits in developed countries were hell-bent to abolish prostitution from their standpoint' of moral cleansing'. They are now taking this opportunity in piggybacking the anti-trafficking Jihad to fulfil their objective. These groups of people and their National allies are not much bothered about other kinds of trafficking even though as per the projected figure of ILO and WFF forced sexual exploitation out of 40 million cases of modern slavery constitute 12%only. This is even more debatable as sex work and trafficking are two different things which are often mixed up in these projections. There are women [and men too] who are in sex work but are not trafficked. Women who have chosen sex work should not be dragged under the anti trafficking programme. However major sections of International NGOs who pumped resources to local NGOs pushes their boss's agenda to implement raid and rescue operation in sex work sites and forcibly remove sex workers and put them in so called rehabilitation centres.

Trafficking and Sex Work
Without having much supportive evidence to distinguish between volitional sex worker from the trafficked one some do believe that no one can opt to sex work out of choices. Without going into this debate it is better to focus on the findings of Self-regulatory boards which are in operation in red light districts of Kolkata since 2001 onwards. Self-Regulatory Board (SRB) is a forum of multiple stakeholders and is presided over by the local councilor or MLA with representation from Medical and legal fraternity in addition to sex workers' representatives. SRBs rigorously monitor entry of minor girls or forced entry of women into the sex trade with the help of Peer workers [sex worker trained as health worker who operates in red light areas as part of HIV intervention programme] in addition to volunteers of DMSC who are best suited to identify any new entrants at the earliest opportunity.

All new entrants are brought before the SRB followed by counseling and age is determined through verifying all available documents and carrying out x-ray of specific joints. SRB operating in sex work sites proved to be a successful venture in curtailing entry of minor and trafficked victims in the sex work. In recognition of the effectiveness of this strategy, the Supreme Court constituted panel [2012-2016] recommended creation of similar kinds of multiparty Board to address trafficking in sex work in all major cities in the country. The findings of SRB shows that in each and every year more than one thousand women enter into the sex work in various brothels in Kolkata.Out of which barely 3% of them are either trafficked or are minor. There were 1051, 1142, and 1030 new entrants in the year of 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively. Out of which trafficked women were 7, 3, and one. Number of minors identified during these years were 30, 23 and 14 respectively. This is not all, The major challenges what SRB boards are facing is to pursue and convince minors to leave the sex work and at points the board members have to apply soft force to send them back to their homes or some rehab centres.

One of the major gaps in India is that there is no appropriate system of surveillance either at National or at the state level to follow trafficking and allied incidents. Evidence based interventions hardly exist in the country. Regular collection, collation and dissemination of findings based on an effective monitoring mechanism of trafficking and on allied issues including the working environment in the informal labour sector what promotes trafficking does not exist. The only research report what is available on trafficking was undertaken by the NHRC in the year of 2001.No other published research report [barring published articles on SRB in lancet] could be seen from any of the stakeholders in the country. This perhaps speaks volumes of the 'state of affairs' of anti-trafficking programme in the country.

Why the US Govt has taken the self-imposed responsibility to monitor trafficking or the modern slavery for all the countries in the world? US now put countries based on their own classification of three Tiers which are reviewed annually. This is based on the performance of various countries in addressing trafficking, but de facto it is measured by the numbers of traffickers caught and penalised by the court. Forget about country specific data the total number of convicted cases in all the countries put together is less than six thousand [2013] which shows the ineffectiveness of the strategy of raid and rescue operation. It is not the fact that there are no cases of slavery in USA.. As per the same projection [2018] of ILO and WFF there are more than four lakhs and around one and half lakhs of modern slaves in US and UK respectively. The policing of US Govt was seen more as a political agenda of US Govt as in most circumstances countries like Iran, North Korea or Cuba or Iraq used to occupy the worst tier in their report.

But now their hidden objective has come out openly. It is more than a political threat but a real agenda of US to intervene trade. The reports which are presented annually by the WFF with colourful graphs and beautiful diagrams made it clear that it is not just projection of numbers of modern slaves but it is linked to export of goods including its value in dollars. They have put Asia pacific countries' export linked to modern slavery is equivalent to 556 Billion USD. Due to fall in numbers of modern slaves in India [2018] the projected vulnerable trade is equivalent to $10 Billion USD. In very near future one would likely to observe the new mode of 'trade invasion' by the US and its allies against the less developed and poorer countries.

Autumn Number 2018
Vol. 51, No.14 - 17, Oct 7 - Nov 3, 2018