Isn’t it about time that we started to pay more attention to where our clothing is made, who produces our food, why there is a glut of sex slaves and why they are getting younger?
Who is profiting from the estimated $US32 billion annually, that an estimated 27 million actual slaves generate; and who is allowing this evil trade to flourish?
Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms’. In 2007 Mauritania was the last country on earth to make slavery illegal, yet it still exists today in every country.
Why this is allowed to happen may be put down to many factors, such as a lack of political will to seriously address the issue, blatant discrimination against women and, of course, greed for money and power.
Many blame poverty. However, poverty simply facilitates slavery; it makes people vulnerable, providing opportunity for the unscrupulous to exploit potential victims; and this is done ruthlessly without compassion.
At the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, a slave would cost on average $US40,000 in today’s money. According to Kevin Bales, who is a leading authority on the contemporary slave trade and founder of ‘Free The Slaves’ (www.freetheslaves.net), the average cost of a slave today is $US90.
The reason for the drop in price can largely be attributed to a plentiful supply of vulnerable potential victims ripe for exploitation, matched by the high demand for their services.
Nola Leach from CARE wrote an excellent report in September 2013’s ET entitled ‘Human trafficking today’. That report was mostly UK-focused. My aims here are to support that report and make people aware of this issue in an area of the world notorious for different forms of slavery.
Ruth Dearney of ‘Stop The Traffik’ (www.stopthetraffik.org) said, ‘The chocolate industry can give us chocolate that is sugar free, fat free, nut free and additive free … so why can’t they proudly tell us that it’s slave free as well?’
Why can’t everything we purchase be slave free? The answer is, simply, that the driving forces in global business (and I include many governments, because of their complicity) value profit and paying out to shareholders more than people’s dignity and human rights.
Multinational corporations have faced so much criticism over the years for exploiting people in developing countries that it has forced them to tighten up their tactics. Nowadays, they can outsource their search for cheap (and free) labour to contractors who will again outsource — who can then outsource again.
This way the multi-national can justify how it is not involved in exploitation and slavery. Conscientious high street buyers should be suspicious. They can ask questions about business ethics and petition unscrupulous business practice.
Please note that I do not advocate boycotts, because this can do much more damage. If demand for labour drops and people are not earning their 1-2 US$ per day, a family may be forced into selling a daughter to buy food and medicines, or even to ensure education for their son.
I advocate that consumer-power forces businesses to pay a fair wage to their employees, so that we see the end of 16-hour days 7 days per week, in developing world sweatshops.
For both areas I now live, one very wealthy and the other very poor, involvement in slavery is, as you might expect, quite different. Further information on slavery in all countries may be obtained from the most recent TIP [Trafficking in Persons] Report 2013 (www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2013).
In Hong Kong, decades ago, sweatshops were abundantly making goods for a global market. Nowadays, the sweatshops have moved into mainland China, in regions like Shenzhen and Dong Juan, because the workforce is considerably cheaper and can be managed electronically.
Hong Kong’s illicit sex industry however has not changed much. Prostitution is legal, providing the girl is working on her own without a pimp — the system is referred to as ‘one room one girl’. The government does not have any control over it; that’s very much in the hands of organised crime.
Visitors would rightfully assume that all prostitution, pimping and brothels are in fact legal, because all are well displayed in certain areas and, where it is not in full view, hundreds of girls are available in buildings controlled by pimps.
The girls come mainly from China. However, other nationalities, such as from Thailand, Philippines, Colombia, Nepal, India and many African countries, are available. Russian girls, brought in to cater for the ‘high end’ and private clubs, are also available.
The government of Hong Kong is not a signatory to the 2000 Trafficking in Persons Protocol and they vigorously defend their claim that there is no human trafficking into, out off or through the territory.
There is much evidence from various reports, including the TIP Report, that proves that this is not the case, and there are many groups including CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), NGO and church organisations working at redressing human rights abuses.
Victims of human trafficking get arrested and locked up before their deportation. Even Hong Kong’s Director of Public Prosecutions has acknowledged there is a trafficking problem. And when it comes to relevant meetings, governmental non-representation is an all too common occurrence.
In Cambodia, the unwary can easily fall victim to traffickers and end up in the fishing, agricultural, domestic servitude and sex industries in neighbouring countries.
I spend considerable time at AFESIP (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations, www.afesip.org) with girls rescued from sexual abuse and sex trafficking. The age range is 4-19. They all attend school and I work with them on basic English. With the older girls I teach human rights and women’s rights, which is an area that receives much interest.
The person who founded AFESIP is an ex-child sex slave called Somaly Mam. Although she says that she gets much inspiration and motivation from the girls she rescues, Somaly has a powerful influence on them and is the major source of their ambition to be successful.
Her message to the girls is about love and compassion. She talks about the future and how strong the girls can be. She is fully supported by a dedicated hard working Cambodian staff.
Girls (and boys) in Cambodia’s sex industry can face extreme forms of torture and sexual violence. They are dehumanised, stripped of all dignity and at the mercy of those who own them.
Children are forced to watch hard core, Western-made pornography, as a form of ‘training’, and cannot refuse when they are expected to perform obscene sex acts. They are often gang-raped by both local men and foreign, travelling sex offenders.
Foreigners on ‘sex tours’ normally frequent Thailand, but, when they are looking for very young children, then Cambodia is one of their choice destinations.
It is the primary role of APLE (Action Pour Les Enfants; www.aplecambodia.org) to address the issue of child sexual abuse. They investigate both local and foreign abusers, but it is absolutely crucial for them to have the support from the perpetrator’s government.
This is not always the case and sometimes previously convicted sex offenders escape prosecution — this is an area that Western governments need to address. Sadly, the various British male accents are far too common in areas of Cambodia known only for child sex predation.
As with many developing countries, lifting people out of poverty in Cambodia will make them less vulnerable to sexual predators and traffickers. This is a social and political issue, along with other major causes such as inequality and the status of women.
The selling of Cambodian children being a cultural norm, as suggested in the film documentary Nefarious merchant of souls, can be quite misleading; Cambodia is a strongly patriarchal society.
The word bauk (meaning ‘plus’ in Khmer) refers to the gang rape of a pre-selected victim in Cambodia, which largely goes unpunished. Male youth in Phnom Penh fuel themselves on pornography before their assault. Due to the shame and stigma on the girl, it often forces them into the sex industry.
It’s going to take a massive combined effort to address the trafficking of girls into the illicit sex industry and to eliminate pornography’s corrupting influence. Not ignoring issues like these, but talking about them, is a great start. Also, supporting NGOs and individuals working with survivors will be a great help.
Educating our youth about the contemporary slave trade will reap rewards, as will convincing companies to conduct ethical business practices. Most importantly, learn about the issue. You will be surprised how much difference you can make very quickly.
Lower picture shows a Western man negotiating for a young Thai girl while she clutches the arm of her female trafficker. After settling on the price, the man left with the young girl and the trafficker left with the payment (TIP Report 2007).