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Wearing Her Story

In contrast to the trope that brands individuals’ experiences onto their backs, the No Project released a poster in 2012 titled “Wearing Her Story,” made by the artist Ismini Black. A woman’s dress hangs alongside carcasses in a butcher’s window. There are letters cut out of the dress and the words are impossible to piece together. By replacing a woman’s body with just her dress, the poster refuses to inscribe slavery’s story onto her flesh. She might wear her story like a removable item of clothing, but it is not the last word on her total identity. Instead it remains impossible to grasp and therefore consume, unlike the poster’s chunks of meat.

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Modern Slavery, Indian Weaver

This image depicts 'Jadawati, a weaver, she is working on a 24 feet carpet which will take her nearly 40 days to complete. As a bonded labourer, she is paid 60 rupees a day, a rate nearly half the minimum wages entitled to her as per the law. The carpet that might sell for 25,000 rupees or more will have earned Jadawati less than 2,500.' The composition of the image gestures towards a sense of imprisonment; the woman is visible behind the fabric weave which acts as an intricate prison. As the rug fabric moves towards completion the figure of Jadawati slowly disappears behind the pattern, as the object of consumption obscures the human cost of production.

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Carriers, Nepal

Entire families are in bonded labor slavery. Often, families get a loan for an emergency or to pay a broker a fee for getting hired on a new job. Slaveholders, the only people near with any money to lend, trick the borrowers into slavery through illegal, exorbitant interest rates that are impossible to repay. Children inherit the bogus debt from their parents. Generations of families have been enslaved for a loan of just $18.

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Choti

In 2000, some of the 220 residents of Sonebarsa, a quarrying village in Uttar Pradesh, India, revolted against their slaveholders. About 40 families lived in Sonebarsa, all of them Kols, an ethnic group near the bottom of India’s steep ladder of caste and discrimination, and all locked into hereditary debt bondage. Children worked from the age of three or four, and infant mortality was high. Choti was one of the slaves who rebelled. The villagers had begun meeting with organizers from Sankalp, a grassroots NGO that has so far helped 4000 slaves to free themselves from slavery in the stone quarries of Uttar Pradesh. Seeyawati, who works for Sankalp, explained that organizers offered the villagers two things initially: “an example of another village where we’d been able to get some progress done,” and the question: “how long could they live this life as a slave?” Bala, who also works for Sankalp, added: “Earlier on there was no hope at all amongst the people. They didn’t believe they could be free. We gave them a new hope, and said to them: ‘What has happened has happened. The past is past. But it’s up to you to make a change, because it’s your life and the lives of your children.’” The slaves began to organize. Women were particularly central to this process of self-liberation, as Bala explained: “When one of the slave owners came to a house and raped a man’s wife, 15 females came out of their houses and said ‘No more,’ formed their own self-help group and joined us in the movement.” The narratives focus on the role of women in the process of self-liberation: Choti observes that the women “played a very big role in getting revolution.The slaves called a mass meeting, and were joined by 3,500 people from 60 villages. Slaveholders interrupted the meeting, attacked the villagers, and shot guns into the air. The villagers retaliated by throwing stones and one of the contractors was killed. His friends set fire to Sonebarsa—“not a thing was left, everything was gone,” recounts Choti. Eight men from the village were scapegoated and jailed, including Choti’s husband. After the burning of Sonebarsa, Sankalp assisted the 40 refugee families and helped them form micro-credit unions. The villagers pooled their money, and petitioned for a mining lease. But the Allahabad Mining Corporation wouldn’t allow leases and so the villagers moved onto unoccupied land in Uttar Pradesh and began mining it. Authorities protested this in court, but a judge ruled that no unauthorized workwas being done and signed leases. Today the villagers continue to build their community, which they have named Azad Nagar, “the land which is free.”

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Miguel

Miguel’s narrative marks a clear turning-point when he knew he could remain in bondage no longer: “A week before Easter it happened.” He told other workers: “Now is our time to leave.” Miguel had arrived in the US from Mexico in 2001, and ended up as a slave in a labor camp run by the Ramos family in Lake Placid, Florida, after being recruited in Arizona. He and several others were transported to Florida and then told they owed $1000 each for transportation. The Ramoses also deducted from their weekly pay for food, rent for substandard camp housing, and work equipment. Miguel sometimes ended up with only $20 a day, and had no control over records of payment and credit. His employers were armed with guns, watched for workers trying to escape, and cut off access to the outside world. Relatives of the Ramoses owned the stores where workers were taken to shop.Miguel reached the turning-point from slavery to freedom in 2001 with the help of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community-based worker organization of over 2000 members in Immokalee, Florida’s largest farmworker community. Between 1997 and 2000, CIW helped end three modern-day slavery operations, resulting in freedom for over 500 workers, and in 2001 it began investigating the Ramoses. In November 2002, three members of the Ramos family were convicted of conspiracy to hold 700 workers in involuntary servitude. In May 2004 they were sentenced to a total of 31 years and nine months in federal prison.

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Munni

Debt bondage is the most common form of modern slavery. Found predominantly in South Asia and South America, it occurs when a person pledges their labor or that of a child for an indefinite period of time in return for financial credit. There are millions of bonded laborers in India. Debts arise from two main sources: an urgent crisis such as illness, injury, or famine, and the need to pay for death rites or marriage celebrations. Technically, bonded laborers can end their servitude once the debt is repaid, but this rarely occurs. A combination of low wages and high interest rates makes it impossible to repay the initial debt, and the debt usually increases because the employer deducts payment for equipment and living expenses, or charges fines for faulty work. According to India’s laws, families can simply walk away from debt and bondage, but this is usually impossible: if families try to leave, the slaveholder’s thugs retaliate with beatings, rape and forced eviction. If a family survives the beatings, they are free to starve. Without access to jobs, health care, community support or credit, independence is impossible to sustain, and they re-enter debt bondage. Munni Devi narrated her story while enslaved as a bonded laborer in the rock quarries of Uttar Pradesh, India. She finds the idea of escape impossible. But the day before Munni told her story in November 2004, Ramphal (an abolitionist and former quarry slave in Uttar Pradesh) explained of slaves like Munnii: “We keep…showing them…the life we lead now, and they’re keen to get out of bondage, so it’ll happen. It’s just a question of time.”

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Ramphal

In 2000, some of the 220 residents of Sonebarsa, a quarrying village in Uttar Pradesh, India, revolted against their slaveholders. About 40 families lived in Sonebarsa, all of them Kols, an ethnic group near the bottom of India’s steep ladder of caste and discrimination, and all locked into hereditary debt bondage. Children worked from the age of three or four, and infant mortality was high. Ramphal was one of the slaves who rebelled. The villagers had begun meeting with organizers from Sankalp, a grassroots NGO that has so far helped 4000 slaves to free themselves from slavery in the stone quarries of Uttar Pradesh. Seeyawati, who works for Sankalp, recently explained that organizers offered the villagers two things initially: “an example of another village where we’d been able to get some progress done,” and the question: “how long could they live this life as a slave?” Bala, who also works for Sankalp, added: “Earlier on there was no hope at all amongst the people. They didn’t believe they could be free. We gave them a new hope, and said to them: ‘What has happened has happened. The past is past. But it’s up to you to make a change, because it’s your life and the lives of your children.’”  The slaves called a mass meeting, and were joined by 3,500 people from 60 villages. Slaveholders interrupted the meeting, attacked the villagers, and shot guns into the air. The villagers retaliated by throwing stones and one of the contractors was killed. His friends set fire to Sonebarsa. Eight men from the village were scapegoated and jailed. Ramphal was one of these eight. After the burning of Sonebarsa, Sankalp assisted the 40 refugee families and helped them form micro-credit unions. The villagers pooled their money, and petitioned for a mining lease. But the Allahabad Mining Corporation wouldn’t allow leases and so the villagers moved onto unoccupied land in Uttar Pradesh and began mining it. Authorities protested this in court, but a judge ruled that no unauthorized workwas being done and signed leases. Today the villagers continue to build their community, which they have named Azad Nagar, “the land which is free.”

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Sumara

In 2000, some of the 220 residents of Sonebarsa, a quarrying village in Uttar Pradesh, India, revolted against their slaveholders. About 40 families lived in Sonebarsa, all of them Kols, an ethnic group near the bottom of India’s steep ladder of caste and discrimination, and all locked into hereditary debt bondage. Children worked from the age of three or four, and infant mortality was high. Sumara was one of the slaves who rebelled. The villagers had begun meeting with organizers from Sankalp, a grassroots NGO that has helped thousands of slaves to free themselves from slavery in the stone quarries of Uttar Pradesh. The slaves called a mass meeting, and were joined by 3,500 people from 60 villages. Slaveholders interrupted the meeting, attacked the villagers, and shot guns into the air. The villagers retaliated by throwing stones and one of the contractors was killed. His friends set fire to Sonebarsa. Sankalp assisted the 40 refugee families and helped them form micro-credit unions. The villagers pooled their money, and petitioned for a mining lease. But the Allahabad Mining Corporation wouldn’t allow leases and so the villagers moved onto unoccupied land in Uttar Pradesh and began mining it. Authorities protested this in court, but a judge ruled that no unauthorized workwas being done and signed leases. Today the villagers continue to build their community, which they have named Azad Nagar, “the land which is free.”

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Shanti

Shanti narrated her story while enslaved as a bonded laborer in the rock quarries of Uttar Pradesh, India. Debt bondage is the most common form of modern slavery. Found predominantly in South Asia and South America, it occurs when a person pledges their labor or that of a child for an indefinite period of time in return for financial credit. Debts arise in India from two main sources: an urgent crisis such as illness, injury, or famine, and the need to pay for death rites or marriage celebrations. Technically, bonded laborers can end their servitude once the debt is repaid, but this rarely occurs. A combination of low wages and high interest rates makes it impossible to repay the initial debt, and the debt usually increases because the employer deducts payment for equipment and living expenses, or charges fines for faulty work. According to India’s laws, families can simply walk away from debt and bondage, but this is usually impossible: if families try to leave, the slaveholder’s thugs retaliate with beatings, rape and forced eviction. If a family survives the beatings, they are free to starve. Without access to jobs, health care, community support or credit, independence is impossible to sustain, and they re-enter debt bondage.Though the Bonded Labor Abolition Act of 1976 criminalizes the use of the system, which is 1500 years old in India, those in debt bondage face involuntary servitude in brick kilns, rice mills, carpet looms and embroidery factories. Bonded labor is also widespread in the quarrying of granite and other stones. Workers are required to purchase their own materials, and are forced to borrow money from the contractors or quarry owners. Children aged four to 14 are required to work along with their parents for up to 14 hours a day, carrying loads of rocks in order to maximize production. Bonded children are sometimes sold to other contractors, and female workers are frequently raped. Accidents caused by explosions or drilling are common, and workers suffer from respiratory illnesses due to inhaling stone dust.  

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Shyamkali

In 2000, some of the 220 residents of Sonebarsa, a quarrying village in Uttar Pradesh, India, revolted against their slaveholders. About 40 families lived in Sonebarsa, all of them Kols, an ethnic group near the bottom of India’s steep ladder of caste and discrimination, and all locked into hereditary debt bondage. Children worked from the age of three or four, and infant mortality was high. Shyamkali was one of the slaves who rebelled. The villagers had begun meeting with organizers from Sankalp, a grassroots NGO that has helped thousands of slaves to free themselves from slavery in the stone quarries of Uttar Pradesh. The narrative focuses on the role of women in the process of self-liberation. Shyamkali explains that “because we are also bread earners…we also have equal role to play in fighting for our freedom. The slaves called a mass meeting, and were joined by 3,500 people from 60 villages. Slaveholders interrupted the meeting, attacked the villagers, and shot guns into the air. The villagers retaliated by throwing stones and one of the contractors was killed. His friends set fire to Sonebarsa. After the burning of Sonebarsa, Sankalp assisted the 40 refugee families and helped them form micro-credit unions. The villagers pooled their money, and petitioned for a mining lease. But the Allahabad Mining Corporation wouldn’t allow leases and so the villagers moved onto unoccupied land in Uttar Pradesh and began mining it. Authorities protested this in court, but a judge ruled that no unauthorized workwas being done and signed leases. Today the villagers continue to build their community, which they have named Azad Nagar, “the land which is free.”

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Joy

An orphan who was tricked into leaving her village in northern Nigeria in 1998, Joy Ubi-Ubi fashions the turning-point from freedom to slavery as the moment when she drank blood during a voodoo ritual. Afterwards, once Joy was in Europe, her captors said this ritual meant the “juju” would kill her if she tried to escape. As Joy explains, she was thereby “forced to do the work” of a prostitute. She was enslaved for three years in the deprived Bijlmer district of Amsterdam—home to many West African immigrants. But the narrative also includes a parallel turning-point from slavery to freedom: the moment when Joy was asked to drink something again: a liquid that would make her bleed, and miscarry. This time, she refused to take the drink. Not wanting to abort her pregnancy, she made the decision to escape, then was helped by a West African Pentecostal minister who operates mission houses in Amsterdam. This use of native West African voodoo is a common feature of the slave experience for Nigerian women held in Western Europe (of whom there are around 10,000). The women and girls undergo an initiation ritual before leaving their country: for Joy this included the marking of her face and hands, and laying hands on a “juju” (statue), as well as drinking blood. They are often made to swear to the gods that they will work hard for their employers, and will never mention their real names, run away, or contact the police. Captors threaten the women with punishment by the gods for any disobedience, and warn that any attempt to escape will awaken a curse on their families. Once in Europe they are drugged, then resold. Held in brothels, they have sex with customers but are not paid: Joy notes that all money changed hands before the clients reached her room. Any pregnancies are aborted.

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Angela

Angela Guanzon was brought to the United States from Bacolod City, Philippines, in 2005, to work at an elderly care home in California. But upon arrival she was told she owed $12,000 in fees, to be deducted before wages. She worked 18 hours a day and slept on hallway floors for two and half years. The FBI rescued Angela and several other workers in 2008. Angela testified against her trafficker in criminal court and the woman received a five-year prison sentence. Angela is now a survivor-organizer with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), a nonprofit organization that provided her with shelter and legal assistance.

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Aye

Aye grew up in rural Thailand but was trafficked to Japan to work in a Tokyo bar with other Thai women who were forced to entertain and have sex with customers. She was told she owed a large debt to the traffickers and the women were not free to leave. Aye managed to escape only after being arrested by police for violating visa restrictions and deported home to Thailand, where she returned to rural life. Thailand is not only a source of men, women and children who are taken into slavery in other countries, but also functions as a transit and destination for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Four key sectors of the Thai economy (fishing, construction, commercial agriculture, and domestic work) rely heavily on undocumented Burmese migrants, including children, as cheap and exploitable laborers.

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Farida

Born in Armenia, Farida was trafficked to Turkey, where victims also arrive from Ukraine and Moldova. As well as Turkey and the UAE, Armenian women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation to Russia, Greece, and other European countries. In this narrative, Farida discusses the pressures that led to her seeking out work in another country, and also reveals that fear of the immigration police in Turkey made it harder for her to leave her situation. Like many others who return to their home country after being trafficked abroad, Farida notes that her circumstances are still as precarious as before she left.

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Emee

Emee and her brother were taken from her rural community with false promises of work for good money but then enslaved in Manilla. Emee was enslaved within the Philippines but an estimated 10 million Filipinos migrate abroad for work, and many are subjected to human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour throughout Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East.

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Ganggang

Ganggang was enslaved in the Philippines at the age of 18 and then trafficked to Japan, where she was imprisoned and expected to entertain and have sex with bar customers. In the Philippines, women and children are subjected to sexual exploitation in brothels, bars, and massage parlours, online, as well as in the production of pornography. The Philippines is an international hub for prostitution and commercial sex tourism – a highly profitable businesses for organised criminal syndicates. The demand for sex with children among both local and foreign men has continued to fuel child sex tourism.

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Goma

Goma was enslaved in her home country of Nepal as a teenager, after running away with friends to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. She was made to weave carpet without pay and beaten when she asked for the money she earned. According to the Global Slavery Index, within Nepal, forced labour and debt bondage persist, particularly within the agriculture, forestry, construction, and manufacturing sectors. Many Nepalese are trapped into exploitative situations by borrowing money from lenders, who then force borrowers to work to repay their debt. As in Goma’s case, those in debt bondage do not have the freedom to work for another employer without the landlord’s permission, and are subjected to working long hours for wages below the minimum wage. Individuals who eventually pay off their debt are at risk of falling back into modern slavery, due to limited alternative job opportunities. Studies also indicate that forced marriage and the marriage of those under 15 years old continues.

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Irene

Irene is an Indonesian woman who was enslaved in Malaysia doing factory work that was hazardous to her health. Foreign workers constitute more than 20 percent of the Malaysian workforce and typically migrate voluntarily—often illegally—to Malaysia from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries, often in pursuit of better economic opportunities. However, workers can find themselves imprisoned, exploited, and in debt bondage. The law allows many of the fees of migration, which are first paid by employers, to be deducted from workers’ wages, incentivizing employers to prevent workers from ending their employment before fees are recovered.

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Irina V.

Irina V. was trafficked into Germany from Russia, where traffickers abduct an estimated 55,000 women each year. She was taken along the so-called “Eastern Route” through Poland. This is a key overland corridor for trafficking women into the EU from Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and the Baltics. Her narrative grapples with the fact that her enslavers “continue to traffic women” and also outlines a more practical problem. Upon her escape, she “began a long, terrible process of multiple questionings and misunderstandings,” was placed in prison for three months, and only received assistance from an NGO.

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Isra

Isra, a Thai national, was a sex slave in Canada. She is one of around 600-800 trafficked people who arrive in Canada each year. A further 1500-2200 people are trafficked through Canada into the US. Canadian officials note that both these estimates are conservative, for very few victims of trafficking report the crime. Most trafficking victims who arrive in Canada come from South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and most are women trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. In the global market for people, the vulnerable are trafficked from poorer countries to richer countries, and many thousands of these trafficked women arrive in Western Europe, the UK, Canada, and the US. Between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, according to the US State Department. Some NGOs claim the figure is four million, and the UN puts the average estimate of international organizations at two million. Perhaps the most well-publicized form of this international trafficking is sex trafficking. By some estimates, as many as two million women worldwide are currently trapped in forced prostitution. And for those who are trafficked across international borders (many of them from Eastern Europe, South Asia, and South America), there is a double bind: not only of the brothel owner’s restrictions, but the restrictions of a foreign country where they cannot speak the language, have no knowledge of their legal rights, and often fear the police. In 1996, Canadian law enforcement officials learned that a Toronto-based sex trade ring was procuring young women from Thailand and Malaysia aged 16 to 30. Agents sold the women’s services to brothel owners for $16,000 to $25,000 each. Then, before they could keep a percentage of their earnings, the women had to work off the cost of their transportation and a “debt bond” that ranged from $30,000 to $40,000—which meant servicing 500 customers. Their travel documents were confiscated and their movements were restricted. On December 2, 1998, police officers arrested 68 people at ten brothels in Toronto, including Isra. One of the charges laid against the brothel owners was forcible confinement.