There are an estimated 794,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Russia (GSI 2018). Forced labour remains the predominant form of human trafficking in the country. Labour trafficking has been reported in the construction, manufacturing, logging, textile, and maritime industries, as well as in sawmills, agriculture, sheep farms, grocery and retail shops, restaurants, waste sorting, street sweeping, domestic service, and forced begging. Many migrant workers experience exploitative labour conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions.
Petro*, a 31-year-old man from Ukraine travelled to Russia for work to buy his family a new home. Upon arrival, he went to a recruiter who found him work. Petro paid the recruiter and gave him his passport. He was trapped in debt bondage forced to work long hours as a labourer to pay off his loan.
I arrived at the beginning of 2000 from Poltava. I graduated from the Building Institute, an engineer. I worked using my profession. I am married with a daughter. Before coming to Russia my family was well off. I hoped to earn money in Russia for a new flat. But after arrival my dreams vanished. I learnt from my friends about recruitment in Russia and decided to go. A recruiter accompanied me, settled me and got me work, but not the one initially discussed. He said while taking away my documents that I had to wait until another place would be vacant. I gave him a receipt for the US$200 I owed for the arrangement of transport, work and housing and gave him my passport and that was all. Anyhow, I had no choice. This “credit” cost a great deal for me - I found myself in debt bondage to the employer.
Yes, [I could leave] but I would have had to immediately cover all the expenses of the travel of myself and additionally for a “new” person for my place, plus pay a fine - 50 per cent of the total sum for the damage that I had caused.
How else could you call it? Of course it was. It was a fraud. I am working as an unskilled labourer, build dachas and cottages. 12 to 14 hours daily, with one day off - Sunday. I begin work at 7 a.m. and finish at 9 to 10. I was promised that I would be made a work superintendent, but I work as a bricklayer, carpenter, slab-layer, parquet floor layer, electrician, and so on. Each time they give me 1,000 Roubles for clothing, cigarettes and drinks and say that the rest of money is being taken for the debt, which is not diminishing but mounting.
I cannot change work, I cannot leave, I receive very little, have no money, my debt is increasing - I do not know why. Because of that it is complete exploitation. If you refuse to work, they might beat me, I can go nowhere without a passport, besides, they might “come down hard” on my family. I am lucky that I am not ill, otherwise I could not even imagine what to do. They did not allow me off the site. The situation is desperate. Only once a month can I go to the city - like today. Because of that I agreed to talk with you. We live in a van, which is not equipped with facilities. There is no water supply, in winter time we stoke a stove and cook dishes at the same place. I wish to go back as soon as possible, but do not know how to deal with my debts.
Narrative credit to International Labour Organization
Original narrative found in report ‘Forced Labour in the Russian Federation Today: Irregular Migration and Trafficking in Human Beings’