An email from the ITUC mailinglist reminded me of a horrible truth. Slavery is a phenomenon that persist, in spite of being denounced by the United Nations and forbidden in most countries in the world. According to Wikipedia, the current number of humans living in slavery is staggering 27 000 000 people. That more than the population of Romania.
The ITUC tells about domestic workers in Togo, often children, who are abused under forms that is nothing else than slavery. As always, poverty plays an important role. There is a Togolese tradition that poor families leave their kids to live with richer families that they know. The rich family feeds the kid and takes care of its education, and in exchange the kid provides domestic services.
Such a system would be oppressive in the modern world, but it belongs to a completely different context and should be assesed separately. Today , however, the same system has been distorted. Poor families leave their kids to rich families that they do not know. Often the kids are put to work the entire day, so there is no education involved. The payment, which can be as low as 8 EUR per month, are not given to the child, but transferred to its family. Since the kids are not formally employed, no labour legislation apply, and the "slave owner" is free to beat and mistreat the child as he or she wishes.
As sad as it sounds, one may not be surprised that this kind of practice is going on in a very poor country. If slavery was restricted to countries like Togo, we might hope that economic development itself would erase slavery. Unfortunately this is not the case. We might only call to mind the domestic workers in the gulf countries, whose working situation is also similar to slavery.
But slavery even exists in the midst of Europe. Balkan Insight has recently published an article, describing how criminal networks lure poor people from countries like Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Transnistriainto forced labour in the Czech Republic. There they work long hours without payment, supervised by armed guards, picking aspargus that later was served on luxury restaurants in Amsterdam and Berlin.
Slavery can exist wherever there is organized crime, and this is one reason why the fight against organized crime is also a fight for human rights. So is the fight against poverty. Because we do not want slavery anywhere. Neither in Togo, nor in the EU.