How Bad is Human Slavery in Asia?

While others debate on whether or not we live in peaceful times, for people living in modern slavery, there is no debate to be had.

What Is Modern Slavery?

Although not defined by law, modern slavery is an umbrella term for a group of exploitative practices which abuse and infringe upon basic human rights.

Forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage and human trafficking are all examples of modern slavery.

The defining aspect of modern slavery is the exploitation of people through violence, threats, coercion and/or abuse of power, which leaves the victims no choice but to accept the conditions they are in.

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, approximately 40.3 million people worldwide are being forcibly kept in modern slavery.

Women and children are especially at risk. One in four people suffering in modern slavery are children, an extremely troubling statistic.

Women and girls account for a shocking 71% of all victims of modern slavery, and 99% of all victims in the commercial sex trade. Human trafficking and forced prostitution are of course intrinsically linked.

Slavery in Asia

Modern slavery is a global issue. Those of us who live safe and secure lives of free choice are probably only aware of it through Western cop shows that uncover human trafficking gangs. But in fact, it is in Asia that the greatest disproportion in the percentage of modern slavery relative to population occurs.

This year’s Global Slavery Index estimates the Asia–Pacific region alone accounts for 54% of the world’s total population and a shocking 62% of the world’s slave population are in our region.

Approximately 24.9 million men, women and children suffer under various forms of modern slavery throughout Asia, from the Middle East to North Korea.

In all of Asia there are 66% of the world’s modern slaves. Put another way: Asian countries are responsible for two out of three modern slaves, while Europe, North America, South American and Africa combined are responsible for one in three people forced into slavery

Forced labour is the most prevalent form of slavery in the region. For every 1,000 people in Asia, four are victims of forced labour, two are in forced marriages.

Forced labour itself is an umbrella term and runs the gamut of possibilities, for example a child forced to beg by criminal gangs in Afghanistan is as much a forced labourer as bonded workers in the textile industry.

Million-dollar Slavery

Asia is a cornerstone of the global supply chain. Cheap labour means low-cost products and high profit margins – the exploitation of vulnerable people becomes an economic incentive that the unscrupulous amongst us act on.

In 2015 a multimillion-dollar Thai–Indonesian fishing business was shut down after Indonesian authorities discovered they kept 2,000 men as slaves to work on their fishing vessels.

The men, migrant workers from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, were lured by the promise of jobs. They hoped to work hard and send their earnings back to their villages. Instead they were sold into slavery, viciously beaten and kept in cages.

Needless to say, the working conditions did not account for safety. There were instances of men falling overboard and being left to drown. Others were maimed while enslaved, leaving them with missing limbs.

Meanwhile the company they worked for sold their fish to Japan and the US, where they made their way to supermarkets, restaurants, passing through the hands of multinational corporations.

This is just one example in one industry. Slavery is present almost everywhere and in many different industries, even electronics.

The tainted products of slave labour also end up boosting the quarterly financial reports of multinationals. Huge corporations such as Mars, Proctor & Gamble, Costco and Nestlé have seen lawsuits filed against them in recent years, accusing them of having supply chains powered by enslaved human beings.

How You Can Help

End Slavery Now is a US anti-slavery organisation with global partners united in the fight to end slavery.

Some steps you can take:

  • Education – Learn about modern slavery in-depth through books and documentaries. Spread the word and increase awareness of slavery while publicly supporting policies to combat it.
  • Buy Slave Free – Slave labour is a big part of global supply chains. If we stop buying products produced by slave labour it will force corporations to address the issue. Check your ‘slavery footprint’ and see what products you use that are connected to the slave trade. Support companies that have transparent supply chains.
  • Volunteer – End Slavery Now has a searchable database of anti-slavery organisations around the world that you can get involved with. Many Southeast Asian countries are represented, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.




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