Stories past have been replaced by less visible but

Stories of modern slaveryBy Annie Kelly and Kate Hodal, The Guardian12/12/2017Word Count 3327Young women learning in a classroom in Tamil Nadu, India. They have been saved from forced labor. They had to do it to pay the debts of the family. Photo by: Forster via Getty ImagesEditor’s Note: This story discusses the sensitive issues of slavery and forced prostitution. It provides firsthand accounts of experiences that may be upsetting to the reader.When Elvira arrived at Heathrow Airport in London in 2014, she thought she had escaped the abuse she’d faced as a domestic worker in Qatar. Yet the exploitation the Filipino woman was about to suffer would surpass anything she experienced in the Middle East. The 50-year-old was taken to a luxury apartment in Kensington, where her boss, the sister of her “madam” in Qatar, made her work 20 hours a day, allowing her only one piece of bread and no wages. She was trapped in a life of servitude, while metres away central London bustled with shoppers.More than 200 years since it was abolished, slavery is thriving. The United Nations International Labour Organisation estimates that 21 million people around the world are trapped in some form of modern slavery, and in many cases, the physical shackles of the past have been replaced by less visible but equally effective forms of coercion and control. These include, for instance, a worker on a factory line crippled by recruitment debts he or she cannot pay back, a man on a construction site in a foreign country without his passport or wages, a woman selling drugs on a roadside threatened with beatings and rape if she doesn’t earn enough. Dig deep into the supply chain of the world’s major commodities, and you’ll find instances of slavery. From the food we eat to the phones we use and the clothes we wear, its influence is pervasive.Record numbers of people are fleeing violence and poverty, and traffickers are ready to exploit them. The International Office for Migration believes 70 percent of migrants arriving in Europe by boat have been victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking or exploitation. In the United Kingdom, the government estimates there are 13,000 people trapped in slavery, working in hotels, care homes, nail bars and car washes, or locked in private houses that have been turned into brothels.”As a business model, slavery is a no-brainer,” says Siddharth Kara, an economist and director of human trafficking and modern slavery at Harvard’s Kennedy School of government. “It’s a low-cost, low-risk business that generates huge profits. To be two or three centuries on from the first efforts to eradicate slavery and still to have it permeating every corner of our economy is a damning indictment of our failure to tackle this highly lucrative criminal industry.”In London, Elvira managed to make a bold escape, waiting until her “employer” was taking a nap before running to a nearby church for sanctuary. She is still waiting for justice. Much of the exploitation goes unpunished and unrecognized, as data from the U.S. State Department shows that in 2016 there were only 9,071 convictions globally for forced labour and trafficking offenses. To get a picture of what slavery looks like today, we talked to people all over the world who have experienced it firsthand. Their stories, which show how quickly one can become trapped and exploited, give an insight one of the biggest human rights challenges of our time.Elvira, 50, PhilippinesWhen my husband became very sick and couldn’t work, I used an employment agency to find me work abroad. I was sent to Qatar, but the family were cheating me, paying me less than agreed in my contract and refusing to give me a day off. I called the agency in the Philippines for help, but they never answered. I had to send money back home to pay for food, school fees and medicine. I fought with my employer about my salary, but he would say: “Your contract is just a piece of paper.”A year passed, and finally, they said they’d let me go home if I went to work for one of their sisters, who lived in London. My employer flew with me, and when we reached Heathrow, the immigration officer just asked my employer what I’d be doing and let us through. The sister lived in a flat near Harrods. I had to work all the time, without a day off, and I slept on the floor by her bed. She’d shout at me, saying I was stupid or calling me a “dog” in Arabic. I was rarely allowed outside the house, and only with her. I was given just a piece of bread and cup of tea for the whole day. I became emaciated. I felt like a slave, like I was in prison. I wanted to run away, but they had my passport.I had my phone, so I was able to get on Facebook, and a friend referred me to a federation of Filipino workers in London. One morning, after my employer went for a nap, I grabbed my phone, found the keys to the door and ran. I hid inside a nearby church and phoned the federation. I hope to get justice and go home soon.Ali, 24, BangladeshThis is my first time in Singapore, and it cost me $18,000 (£10,175) to get here. I was told I could earn $1,000 a month as a construction worker, but I had to pay S$9,000 to the training centre and another $9,000 in agent fees before I could arrive. My family had to sell land, borrow money and even take out a bank loan to pay for it all.We were contracted to build a social housing development in Sembawang. I was paid the promised $1,000 a month for the first five months, but didn’t get any payment for overtime, and then for three months we got no salary at all. We thought our boss would pay us eventually, but then we discovered he’d fled Singapore. There’s no way to get the money from him now. I have my parents, three sisters and a brother to look after, and now they have to depend on my brother, because I have no money to send home.All I’ve done is make problems for them. We weren’t able to make the monthly repayments, so now we’re in trouble. There’s a 20 percent fine on the loan, and men from the bank go to my parents’ house every day, shouting at them to pay it back. If we still can’t pay back the bank, they’re going to seize the deeds for my family’s land. The bank’s also lodged a police report against me, so when I do go back to Bangladesh, I might be detained. We don’t have a lawyer, and I don’t have any money left to pay the agent. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get back home.Anita, 15, KenyaI was out grazing the cows one day when my father said it was time to get married. He said I was getting older and there was a man interested in me. Then, two weeks later, the elders and circumcisers were called and a big celebration planned. I was woken up early the next morning and taken outside to be circumcised. The elders said I’d been given to a man and that he was to be my husband – he was 55.I was very confused because I was only 10. My mother tried to explain that I had to live like a woman now and not like a child. But what really worried me was knowing how my mother had suffered as a wife. She got beaten a lot in front of us, and I knew she wouldn’t be able to protect me from my new husband.He already had two wives, and as his third, I was expected to look after his goats and cows. A new hut was built for me, and nine months later, because I had still not given him a baby, he began tasking me with all the difficult jobs.I got the first beating after I lost one of his goats. The second was when he found me resting instead of grazing the cows. The third time was because I’d run away. The next morning, after I took his goats to graze, I decided I had to escape.I ran into the forest, but had no idea where I was going. There was nothing to eat, and at night I had to sleep in the trees to avoid the animals. After seven days, I found a homestead and was taken in by the Catholic sisters, where I met other girls who had been through the same thing.I started school in 2013. I have four brothers and four sisters, and none of them went to school and my parents never went to school, either. I hope to be a doctor and get a job to support my family, even though my father is still angry with me for leaving my husband – he had to return all the cows he’d been given as my dowry.Neeta, 16, NepalI live with my parents in Kathmandu, and life at home is hard. My father is always drunk and doesn’t have a job, so my mother has to work. She works in construction, carrying bricks all day long. I thought I should help her, and one day a friend told me I could get a job at a restaurant in another part of Kathmandu. When I got there, I was offered work as a waitress. The restaurant wasn’t nice – it was dark with lots of flashing lights. I was afraid, but they said I shouldn’t worry, because I wouldn’t have to do anything I didn’t like.But this wasn’t true. The clients arrived and the boss told me I had to be kind to them. Later, they told me my clothes weren’t good enough for this job, and they forced me to put on provocative clothes and then forced me to dance naked. I had to let them touch me. At first I told my mum that I was going to school, because they let me go home in the evening. But then one day everything changed: they told me I couldn’t leave and they forced me into prostitution.My mother got very worried that I had been trafficked, and she started looking for me. Finally, somebody told her about an NGO, Maiti Nepal, that helps victims of trafficking. She went to see them and they used their contacts to help find me. I was finally able to go home, and now I am studying at a school for trafficking survivors. In my class, all of the girls have been through similar experiences as me. One girl was sent to India and forced into prostitution when she was just 11 while others lost their organs after traffickers took their kidneys.I found out that the men at the restaurant had planned to sell me to a brothel in India. I was so lucky that my mother found me. If not, I don’t know where I would be now.Czar, 31, PhilippinesI’ve been boxing since I was 15. My dad died when I was young and my mum worked as a cleaner in the city, so we all had to help out putting food on the table. My mum always worried I’d get hurt, but I knew boxing paid well, and I loved it.I finished high school and decided to go pro. Soon, people started saying I was good enough to box in Australia. Then I met a Filipino man who said I could make $200 (£122) a round in Australia. He gave me all the promises, saying I could support my family, I’d get an extendable visa and the money would be great. That sounded good, because my son had just turned 2.I flew to Sydney with four other boxers. The first day there was a huge celebration for us with the man’s family, his son’s family and his daughter’s family.Then, out of nowhere, they made us hand over our passports and introduced us to our “duties.” I was told I was going to be the dishwasher and the others would be cleaners. We were going to box in the day and clean up after the three families in the morning and evening. They showed us our “room,” which was the garage. There were three bunk beds and no heating, and it was the start of winter.I wondered what was going on, but I couldn’t speak English too well and knew nothing about Australia. I had no money and no passport. We boxed and worked, but we didn’t get paid, so I couldn’t send any money home. My partner ended up having to get a job and we broke up as a result. Eventually, after six months, I got my first fight. I was paid $3,000, but he deducted all my expenses, visa and plane tickets, and I was left with $100.Finally, we decided to go to the police. We were very lucky that they helped us out. Now I live in Melbourne, and I make good money to send home. My son is turning 9 soon, and I want to bring him here. Australia gave me another chance in life, and I’m grateful for that.Mario, 26, PeruI was living with my aunt in Cusco when a school friend introduced me to Señor Carlos. He’d worked with him in the gold mines and said he was trustworthy. He said I could make good money fast and the work wasn’t that hard, all I needed to bring was my birth certificate. I packed a small bag and left. I was 16.We went to Puerto Maldonado, then left for La Pampa. To get good land and good gold, you need to try different sites, so that’s what we did. We worked from 5 a.m. to midnight and would eat while we worked. My pay was 1,500 soles (£372) a month, but I was new to the job and didn’t know where or how to keep my money safe, because miners are always drunk, and keeping money or gold around is dangerous. You can get killed if someone thinks you robbed them. Señor Carlos offered to keep my salary for me, and would give me 100 or 200 soles to buy clothes or shoes for work.I stayed for a year doing different jobs. At first, we’d get 20 or 30 grams a shift, but then they bought two motors and the shifts changed. I started working 24 hours straight and was getting tired and sick all the time, but they didn’t let us take any days off. People were dying inside the mines, but no one said anything about it, and nobody asked.One day, I asked Señor Carlos for all my cash at the end of my shift, but he refused, and said he wouldn’t give me my documents back, either. Then he beat me up and threatened to kill me. He drove me out to the middle of the jungle and dumped me in between the mine and the highway. Even now, all these years later, I’m terrified he’ll find me.These days I drive a mototaxi. It doesn’t pay great, but it lets me rent a room all to myself. If I could choose anything, I’d study to be a veterinarian. I like animals a lot, they’re kinder than humans.Young-soon, 80, North KoreaI met Seong Hye-rim at a school for North Korean elites. That was where I learned to dance. She was a singer, a very good one. Seong and I stayed friends long into our 30s. One day, she told me she was moving to “Residence Number 5” where the great leader Kim Jong-il’s family lived. She looked very happy. I asked what would happen to her existing family, but she didn’t answer and I never saw her again.A few months later, I was given orders by the Communist Party to go on a business trip. I left my 9-month-old son with my mother and went to the train station. A lieutenant colonel put me in a jeep and drove us down a pitch-dark road. I had no idea what was happening. That first night in captivity was the longest of my life. I was forced to write down the history of my entire existence, including who I had ever met and what I had ever said. It amounted to 200 pages.I spent the next two months in solitary confinement. Then they moved me, my parents and my four children to Yodok, an internment camp for political prisoners. We all lived in a cramped thatched hut with a mud floor, and were woken at 3.30 a.m. to work on the corn fields until sunset. The only food we were given was gruel. To survive, we found anything that grew or moved and ate it, quickly, so no one would catch us. On a lucky day, we would find a rat or a snake and share it.I was in that camp for nine years. My parents and my 8-year-old son died of malnutrition there, and the rest of my family were either shot dead or drowned. Later, after I was released, I was told we’d been imprisoned because I knew about Kim Jong-Il’s relationship with Seong.I managed to escape to South Korea, and the first thing I got here was a potato. I don’t know why, but I’ve kept it all these years in the fridge. When I look at it, I feel happy. I know I can get food here any time, anywhere.Nelson, 46, BrazilI was born here in Tanhaçu, where it hardly ever rains and the droughts are terrible. There’s no water, no food, and no point having land that you can’t grow anything on.Some friends told me there was work on a coffee farm down in Minas Gerais, about 1,200 km from here, so we decided to go. I called the farmer and arranged for us all to work on the coffee harvest. There was a group of us, it was me, my wife Leni, our niece Keila, who lives with us, and a couple of friends. We all traveled down together.As soon as we got there, we realized we were in trouble. Our “lodgings” were a decrepit house that had been left to rot by the farmer, which was close to collapse and totally unfit for living. There were no beds, no mattresses, no kitchen, no cupboards to store any food in or closets to hang any of our belongings, no toilets. It stank of something rotten, and the air was so humid that we had to line the floor with a black tarpaulin just to keep the moisture off of us as we slept. We had no bedding, so we just slept on the floor like that.The work was exhausting: 11 hours a day, seven days a week, without even a drop of water to drink – there was no drinking water on the farm. We became hostages, with no food or payment for any of the harvesting we were doing, and the owner just bullied and humiliated us.Three months went by like this. Then, one day, when I went into the city to find food, I called a local union for help. They complained to the ministry of labour, which eventually rescued us from that hell.Today we’re back on our own land, relieved that those moments of terror are behind us. Water is still scarce and even though I dug a well, the little trickle that comes out isn’t drinkable. A municipal truck delivers drinking water once a month, so we have to rely on that.While we wait for rain, I tend the watermelon plantation that I started, and Leni likes to look after the small garden beside the house. Life is still precarious, but we are back home and we are free.Take Quiz


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