We tend to think of slavery as something that’s long extinct, but according to several reports, there are more slaves today than at any time in history. Now, a new study found that forced labor among migrant domestic workers is widespread in Asia. More than 70 percent of 4,100 women surveyed, citizens of the Philippines and Indonesia, said recruiters in their home country had confined them, confiscated their documents, or abused them verbally, physically or sexually.
Slavery is a system in which the principles of property apply to humans – in other words, it’s a system where people are treated as property to be owned, sold and bought without having any possibility of withdrawal. That this is still happening now is not only disturbing, it’s also surprising.
“We never expected the problem to be as widespread as it is,” said Jacob Townsend, CEO of Farsight, an international social enterprise which carried out the survey and released it on Thursday. “Some (recruitment agents) … hold women against their will, take their passports, put them in debt and mislead them about the circumstances they will be working in,” he added.
He and his team set out to survey current, prospective or returning workers. There are between two million and five million migrant domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines at any given time, and if the 70 percent carries out throughout all of them, then we’re basically dealing with 1.75 million slaves in these two countries. Sure, these aren’t people carried on in cages at Sunday fairs, but they are still people without the possibility of a choice, completely controlled and abused by working agencies and employers. Sexual abuse and violence are just an “added bonus.”
The report also refutes one of the common beliefs, that overseas workers only work for a few years, then save a lot of money and return to live on a cushion of wealth.
“This is not temporary migration to save for one’s family – it is recurring participation in an overseas labour market to maintain a subsistence income,” the report said.
Over 20 million people are victims of forced labor globally, more than half of them in the Asia Pacific region, according to the International Labour Organization.