Modern Slavery: Worker Rights and Human Trafficking

Many aspects mark today’s global world, and perhaps its most defining one is migration.

Migration, though, can come at a cost. Especially when world leaders push for increasingly harsh immigration policies.

While a nation’s sovereignty is one of its crowning tenets, making it more difficult to seek better opportunities for peaceful existence opens the gates to human trafficking.

Strong borders may give the perception that a nation is safe and secure, but it has dire consequences for those who would otherwise seek legal means to resettle.

Whether migrants and refugees leave their countries of origin for economic, political, religious, or a host of other reasons, wholesale barring of these people presents unique challenges in the fight against human trafficking.

Maurice Middleberg, writing for Thomson Reuters Foundation, sees “a profound moral test [in] sustaining U.S. leadership in the struggle against human trafficking.”

Trafficking often results in a form of modern day slavery in which undocumented migrants are forced into jobs ranging from seafood fisheries to the sex industry.

Modern slavery is a term that encompasses issues ranging from human trafficking to forced labor to sex trafficking, and other bondages neglecting fair reimbursement and disregard for basic human rights.

Many find they develop PTSD as a result of the deplorable conditions of their working environment and low, if any, pay, coupled with emotional and physical abuse.

The global slavery index estimates that most of the victims of modern slavery are based in Asian countries.

Others argue that while the slavery index is a good start, it risks simplifying a global problem. Primarily, the index obfuscates modern day slavery that exists throughout the West as well.

In the UK “People trafficked could typically have been promised a job or a new life abroad, but once they arrive they are told they cannot stop working until the debts they have incurred have been paid off.”

In the U.S. there exist few reliable statistics about the sheer number of people trafficked and forced into jobs with low pay and sometimes paltry conditions.

While most cases of modern day slavery do exist in Asian countries, we must also consider the global supply chains of manufactured goods, minerals and precious gems, as well as agricultural products such as cocoa.

Domestic workers are one of the fastest growing groups of trafficked people. The private nature of their work often exposes them to increased risk for physical abuse and exploitation, often with few alternatives to escape.

Economic demand for cheap products and services is one of the driving factors of the increase in modern slavery.

A recent report by Farsight, a social enterprise whose “mission is to design and deliver tools for people who want to improve the world,” claims that for many of these domestic workers:

Human trafficking artistic photo. (Photo by Ira Gelb. Flickr Creative Commons.)

“This is not temporary migration to save for one’s family – it is recurring participation in an overseas labor market to maintain a subsistence income.”

This runs contrary to popular belief that domestic workers freely travel to other countries in the hope of sending remittances back to family and friends.

Guaranteed insured minimum wages and better working conditions are often undelivered despite agreements.


In many cases victims of trafficking often bear the brunt of punishment. Deportation remains the most likely scenario, but this ignores the underlying issues of both why and how such undocumented persons were able to gain entry into a country.

Other victims of trafficking have been fortunate to receive rare compensation after court rulings against their former employers.

While issues of human trafficking and modern slavery seem overwhelming, many are taking steps to alleviate the burdensome system of exploitation.

One such example comes from the U.S.’s past.

Domestic workers in the 1990s organized themselves in demand for fairer wages and working conditions. While many were documented migrants, their stories and experiences helped break down barriers and social taboos. In each other they found solidarity.

Indian domestic workers are taking a similar approach and demanding fair compensation along with basic employment rights, such as breaks, often taken for granted.

Another way to lower rates of modern slavery and human trafficking is to focus on the same global supply chains that use such labor in the production, manufacturing, or sourcing of their goods.

The approach’s goal hopes to “trigger more corporations to take action to investigate, improve, and eradicate unfair and illegal labour practices.”

These efforts aim to reduce human trafficking and usher in a world in which modern slavery, in all of its forms, is no longer tolerated.

Human trafficking cannot be allowed to continue despite one’s status as a documented or undocumented migrant or refugee.

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