Slavery, which is thought to be legally abolished hundreds of years ago, still persists in the form of modern day slavery across the border. While millions of people are enslaved today, collective actions are required to end slavery that is deeply entrenched in the society.
Modern slavery, also known as contemporary slavery, refers to the prevalence of slavery that continue to exist in the present day in the forms of forced labour in various forms. Someone is considered to be in slavery if they are forced to work through mental or physical threat; owned or controlled by an ’employer’, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’ and have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement.
To identify the potential areas for action in modern slavery, IID in collaboration with the British Council hosted a consultation meeting as a part of PROKAS (Promoting Knowledge and Accountable Systems) project with the support from UKAid on January 31, 2018.
A stakeholder mapping was done to identify the organizations that are working in the domain of modern slavery, namely child labour, child marriage and trafficking. As a next step of the mapping, the consultation meeting was organized with the objective to report to DFID-Bangladesh about the nature and scale of modern slavery in Bangladesh, the existing efforts to tackle the issues, the key stakeholders, and the opportunities available for DFID to do more through targeted actions and resources.
The discussion started with DFID’s approach to modern slavery and then divided the stakeholders into four groups according to their working area and interest. Group discussion was focused on the three key issues; current activities in the domain of modern slavery, assumptions, drivers of modern slavery, and capacity and barriers to change in the four major sectors where modern slavery is in most critical condition- agriculture, hazardous industries, domestic labour and street children, and migration and trafficking.
Participants pointed out that people who are most vulnerable to modern slavery in agriculture sector mostly belong from the poverty line or below the poverty line cluster of the society. There is a dearth of labour polices in agriculture sector apart from few advocacy from the leftist political parties.
While the Government of Bangladesh recognizes 38 industrial sectors as hazardous including ship-breaking, fireworks manufacturing and match factories, very few steps has been taken by the policy makers to improve the hazardous working condition of these industries. Although the government has committed to eliminate modern slavery from heavy-industrial sectors by 2025, lack of budget and resources is a major concern in keeping that promise. Hence public private-partnership has come through the discussion as a solution.
The government has adopted Child Policy, Trafficking Act 2012, and Migration Act 2013. However, there have been little implementation and follow up of these policies and acts. As migration is still contolled by middlemen so women, disabled people and children are more vulnerable to trafficking. The discussants said that the recent crisis of Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh made the trafficking condition worse. Embassies do not play enough roles in handling migration legally.
We find comfort in ignoring the issue of modern slavery when it comes to domestic workers. People in our country are very much dependent on the domestic help whereas domestic workers can barely afford a decent living environment. Poor parents are seen to send their children to work as a domestic labour in exchange of a very low payment. As it does not require any technical skill and there is a lack of opportunity to work in the formal sector, domestic labour is an ever growing informal sector in our country. Stakeholders showed concern on implementing existing laws of child domestic protection and also emphasized on preparing a database of the informal sector employees. Coordination among government, NGOs and CBOs are required to improve the working condition and eliminate slavery from these sectors.
The major stakeholders who are working to improve the modern slavery scenario were present in the meeting, including ILO, BRAC, IOM, BLAST, Manusher Jonno Foundation and Save the Children.