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kafala system
Exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar has become an increasingly pressing issue since the implementation of the Kafala labor system. The Kafala system requires migrant workers to have a sponsor, usually their employee, to monitor their work and to control their visa and legal status. These sponsors, however, often prevent their laborers from moving jobs and have been known to either underpay or deny their employees pay.

Many workers from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal have been attracted by false promises from Qatari employers, but once contractually committed, they cannot leave the country without the permission of their sponsor.

Reporters from The Guardian ventured to some of these labor camps west of Doha and met 25-year-old Ujjwal Thapa from Nepal. He came to Qatar to work in order to send money back to his family, but had not been paid for months. His employer has his passport so he cannot leave, and upon his arrival, his family was required to take out a loan of 660 pounds from a private lender that has an interest rate of 48 percent per year.

Question as to whether Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been a topic of concern due to these human trafficking issues. In their report on human trafficking, the U.S. state department wrote that, “initial consent of a construction worker to accept hard work in a harsh environment does not waive his or her right to work free of abuse. When an employer or laborer recruiter deceives a worker about the terms of employment, withholds their passports, holds them in brutal conditions and exploits their labor, the workers are victims of trafficking.”

Eight to 12 stadiums would need to be built for the 2022 games, and although the Qatar organizing committee reported that no one had died yet building the stadiums, that is only due to the fact that the true building process has not yet begun. Between 2012 and 2013, 450 Indian laborers died and 184 Nepali workers have died in the past year.

General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow, predicts that if the Kafala system does not change, 4,000 workers will lose their lives in preparation for the 2022 world cup.

The U.S. State Department is looking to end this system by May of 2015, and in their report on human trafficking, they noted that Qatar has promised to reform these unjust labor practices. Although no serious changes have been made to improve the labor system, Burrow believes that the Qatari government will change the system if refusing to change will deny them the chance to host the World Cup in 2022.

— Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: The Guardian, BusinessWeek, New York Times
Photo: DohaNews

unicef

This year, UNICEF has been utilizing the global platform that the 2014 World Cup provides as a method to boost advocacy.

While it is true that the competition brings people together and has many positive effects on the nations involved, the World Cup will unfortunately also result in the rise of more sinister practices.

For example, global sporting events like the World Cup almost always result in a significant boost in human trafficking.

Judy Harris Kluger, an affiliate of the nonprofit Sanctuary for Families, describes this phenomenon: “On the most basic level, any location that sees an exponential increase in large numbers of men traveling for entertainment will receive a proportion increase in those who purchase sex.”

In Brazil, where this year’s World Cup is being held, prostitution for those over 18 is legal. Unfortunately, many of the people on the streets selling sex are children, and UNICEF is trying to do something about it.

In order to combat child trafficking, UNICEF Brazil has created an app called Proteja Brasil that allows users to report incidences of exploitation or abuse. Witnesses can use the application to document the time, details and location of incidents. This information is sent directly to the authorities who can respond immediately.

In addition to reporting the exploitation of children, the app contains detailed information about exactly what constitutes child abuse, leaving users better educated and more able to protect youth from harm.

Despite the fact that the World Cup means remarkably high numbers of people will be exploited in sex trafficking, UNICEF still sees the tournament as having the potential to create positive change, saying, “The FIFA World Cup is not only a great sporting event, but a powerful opportunity to share messages about the profound and positive difference sport can make in the lives of children. It provides a chance to focus positive public attention on the special risks children face in host countries like Brazil and around the world and the special efforts we can take to protect them from those threats.”

Hopefully UNICEF’s efforts to protect children during this year’s World Cup will be effective. The tournament is essentially a massive world stage which the United Nations is trying to use to for good.

The U.N.’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended the first match of this year’s World Cup and released a statement that  highlights the tournament’s significance: “Sport has a unique ability to unite us, and to show us what we have in common…[The World Cup] is an occasion to celebrate the best values of sport: teamwork, fair play and mutual respect.”

— Emily Jablonski

Sources: Huffington Post, UN, UNICEF
Photo: UNICEF USA

modern-slavery
Modern slavery is a major concern for our developing world. Modern slavery exists as a person being deprived of their freedom and rights. This is the right to leave a current job or workplace and the control over one’s own body. There are over 28 million people trapped in modern slavery.

Modern slavery can take the form of forced labor and human trafficking. All of these are forms of slavery and must be stopped. Countries like Russia and China have over 76 percent of the population trapped in some form of modern slavery.

The Walk Free Foundation is a driving force to end modern slavery in this generation. The foundation uses research and the help of businesses to gain a solid ground on the subject of modern slavery. The Walk Free foundation will look at the countries with high numbers of people in slavery and enlist partners to identify strategies to make a lasting impact on slavery.

New information provided by The Guardian states that it is possible that store-bought shrimp that lands on dinner tables across America is employed with forced slave labor. The shrimp is sold by major companies like Wal-Mart and Costco.

 Thailand’s forced slave market is connected to the global shrimp chain. These ships enslave many unsuspecting workers by beating them and at times even ending up in death. Most of the shrimp slave workers are captured to work without pay, and threatened with violence and death. There is no escape when at sea on these ships.

The slaves are forced at sea for years with shifts lasting over 20 hours. At times these men witness horrific and brutal execution-style killings of other slaves. These workers are coerced with hopes of finding work in factories, but are sold to boat captains, most likely to never return.

One victim states to The Guardian that at one time “20 workers were murdered in front of him.”

Aidan McQuade, director of the Anti-Slavery Movement, states that “if you buy shrimp from Thailand, you are purchasing a product of slave labour.”

Over half a million people are trapped in globalized slavery, even sex trafficking at Thailand’s borders. 300,000 of these victims of modern slavery are migrant workers tricked into the slave trade for fishing boats. The demand and pressure for cheaper fish and prawn from America and Europe creates a drive for even cheaper labour: slavery.

The possibility that Thailand’s sea port industry relies so much on forced slave labour that without it the industry would collapse. Wal-Mart and Costco both agree to require audits and proper corrective actions to be in effect towards the ending of the supplier’s slave trade.

Thailand’s fishing industry will be soon forced to change with new audits and anti-slavery actions taking place. The International Labour Organization will be conducting changes to ensure slavery free supply chains, especially those from Asia countries.

There are several companies that have been placing workers in unsafe working conditions and slavery. It is not just Thailand’s fishing industry committing these unethical practices. Companies compete for cheaper prices as the market grows for consumers. The correct process is on companies and consumers alike to make ethical decisions for workers around the world to receive humane and fair treatment.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Walk Free Foundation, Global Slavery Index, The Guardian
Photo: Eureka Street Australia

human_trafficking
Generating an industry worth billions of dollars, human trafficking poses one of the greatest threats to human rights globally. The U.N. defines the act as “a process by which people are recruited in their community, and exploited by traffickers using deception and/or some other form of coercion to lure and control them.”

The problem stems from various elements, including migration floods, political instability, economic uncertainty, dysfunctional state institutions and a rapidly growing sex industry. The U.N. goes on to identify three different elements that must be present for an act to be considered human trafficking: recruitment and transporting, an act of deception or abuse of power and a form of exploitation to which the victim is subjected.

Here are five basic realities of human trafficking that give a snapshot of the current situation:

1. What we see is the tip of the iceberg.

Cases of human trafficking are extremely difficult to detect. Conviction rates from the crime are extremely low: even though 460 different trafficking flows have been identified worldwide, 16% of affected countries reported zero cases between 2007 and 2010.

2. Victims remain tantalizingly close to home.

Most traffickers do not transport their victims across the world. Instead, they tend to keep victims within the region they were taken from. Globally, the trafficking flow with East Asian origins exports the most victims out of the region.

3. Men are trafficked, too.

Human Trafficking is an act of those in power exploiting those who are vulnerable. Women and children, then, with smaller physical stature and less social empowerment, are at highest risk. But that does not mean they are the only victims: men account for a quarter of all human trafficking victims. A third of all trafficked children are boys.

4. It’s happening right now, even in the U.S.

More than 10,000 people are forced laborers in the U.S., and this does not account for all the cases that go unnoticed. Taking those into account, the figure is more likely in the tens of thousands. Most of these will end up in the sex industry, while others will be forced to work in agriculture, domestic settings, sweatshops and in hotels.

5. It’s everyone’s problem.

It is estimated that 20.9 million people work forced labor globally, and this number can be thought of as a good indicator for the number of trafficked people worldwide. Victims have been identified with 136 different nationalities in virtually every region of the world, and all countries play some part in the process, with 118 of them containing victims.

The news is not all bad, though. There are ways to combat these trends, like lessening discrimination, empowering women, keeping children healthy and clear of conflict zones and, as always, battling global poverty.

Currently, evidence shows that in some regions, human trafficking has been on the decline since 2000, and 134 countries have now made laws against it.

– Rachel Davis

Sources: UN(1), UN(2), UNODC, Human Rights Center
Photo: LB International

international_justice_summit
International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency headquartered in Washington, DC, will hold its annual Advocacy Summit on June 9-10, 2014. This event allows IJM supporters from around the nation to gather together for advocacy training and day of lobbying on behalf of anti human trafficking legislation.

Many IJM supporters are asking the question, “What else can I do to help IJM’s work overseas to free slaves and protect the vulnerable?” IJM’s advocacy program began in 2007 with a grant from Humanity United. The idea was to engage “ordinary Americans” in the fight against modern-day slavery by voicing their concerns to their elected officials.

This advocacy program began with postcards – hundreds of them – sent from constituents to their elected officials to voice their concerns for the enslaved and urge Congress to take action.

Two years later, the first Advocacy Summit was held in Washington, DC. Approximately 80 people were present for this first advocacy day in 2009, where “ordinary” citizens were trained and then sent out to meet with Representatives, Senators, and their staff to “give a voice to the voiceless” – a popular phrase when advocating for the world’s most vulnerable.

At the forefront of IJM’s policy agenda this year is the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act, H.R. 2283 and its “companion bill” in the Senate, S. 1249.

This legislation seeks to upgrade the US State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) to the same level as other State Department regional bureaus that it regularly converses with on behalf of trafficking victims.

This legislation would effectively give the experts within J/TIP a “seat at the table” in foreign policy discussions surrounding Trafficking in Persons and give them the authority of a State Department Bureau.

This bill was introduced into the House last June by Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey and currently has 63 cosponsors. It was introduced in the Senate last June by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and has 21 cosponsors.

IJM’s Advocacy Summit has grown each year, and IJM hopes to host 250 advocates this June 9-10. The event is empowering for people who have long supported IJM with their time and money, as the act of lobbying can often feel like a more tangible action on behalf of the poor.

“Everybody who participates in meetings with legislative staff on behalf of the poorest, most powerless people on earth—modern-day slaves— comes away feeling that they’ve made a significant contribution. Because they have,” says Holly Burkhalter, IJM’s Vice President for Government Relations and Advocacy.

– Madisson Barnett

Sources: IJM Campaign Blog, IJM Freedom Commons, Library of Congress, Library of Congress
Photo: Freedom Commons

odanadi
Odanadi, founded 20 years ago by two former journalists, combats human trafficking through spreading awareness, rescue missions and rehabilitation of former victims. Part of the therapy involved in rehabilitation involves yoga, practiced to maintain physical and mental strength, and it allows those who have been physically abused to reclaim their bodies.

For the last five years Odanadi has advertised a global event called Yoga Stops Human Traffick; participants bring their yoga mat and dedicate their practice to raising awareness on behalf of those who have survived so much at the hands of traffickers. Odanadi claims that those who take part in of their 105 events around the world are “demonstrating [their] solidarity and support for [former victims of human trafficking], as well as sending a message of defiance against a world which allows these horrific abuses to take place.”

Last Saturday, on March 15th, yogis in 26 countries rolled out their mats at home, in yoga studios, shopping malls, parks, and beaches to spiritually join those in Mysore Palace for 108 sun salutations.

The annual event also offers an opportunity to raise funds for Odanadi, and in 2013 they succeeded in raising £25,000 (~$34,500). This money was then spent on promoting literacy and women’s empowerment, supporting the two rehabilitation centers in Mysore, India and ultimately reuniting young trafficking victims with their families once they have the tools to be face mainstream society as confident individuals.

Through the efforts of Odanadi, 138 traffickers have been arrested, 200,000 school children have been educated about sexual exploitation, 630 missing children have been reunited with their families, and over 2,000 women and minors have successfully gone through their rehabilitation program.

Other methods of psycho-social therapies practiced by Odanadi beneficiaries include karate, art, drama and traditional dance – all in addition to individual counseling. Education is greatly stressed through the program, and enrollment in local schools, colleges and universities is encouraged.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources: NBC, Odanadi, Ashtanga Magazine
Photo: Yoga Stops Trafficking

human_trafficking_israel
In the span of about five years Israel has seen monumental changes in its country’s reputation as being sympathetic to human trafficking.

As of 2005 Israel was listed on Tier 3 by the U.S. State Department in its efforts to fight and prevent human trafficking. As the bottom in the scale Tier 3 is reserved for those shame-faced countries whose governments “do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.” Israel at this time was still considered one of the main destinations for the trafficking in woman – primarily those from the former Soviet Union.

The U.S. State Department’s harsh labeling of Israel as being on the same Tier as non-democratic countries such as Sudan and Somalia shamed Israel into action. Knesset member David Tsur of the HaTenua Party and chairman of the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women and Prostitution stated, “If I were a seasoned and professional politician, I would say that the decision to act was not related to the Americans, but the reality was that without the whip of the State Department, we would not have taken serious steps. We understood that if we didn’t address the problem, aid funds would be stalled, and very quickly we would have a new center of criminal activity on our hands.”

As the law stood, victims of human trafficking were treated as criminals, making it very difficult and unlikely for them to come forward and report their abuse. This was one of the first things to be changed as Israel began to make anti-human-trafficking a priority. Government-funded shelters were set up for trafficked women who’d filed complaints where they received medical treatment and underwent rehabilitation.

Congruent to decriminalizing the victims, starting in 2006 perpetrators were given 20 year sentences for human trafficking violations. As of the U.S. State Department’s 2013 report on Trafficking in Persons, they declared that this still wasn’t a sentence that “Commensurate[d] with the gravity of the offence.”

The addition to Israel’s pre-existing barrier in 2005 was monumental in preventing the trafficking of people from Egypt, which at one time was the post popular through-country and entrance into Israel for traffickers.

Since prostitution is legal in Israel there are still issues of sexual exploitation and cases of trafficking within the country, but Israel has been hugely successful in abolishing human trafficking across its borders. In a statement to Israel’s Daniel Shapiro a U.S. Ambassador said, “I applaud the Government of Israel for continuing to focus on eliminating the scourge of modern day slavery. Israel has taken an all-of-government approach to tackling this global phenomenon, including legislative action in the Knesset, police training, and providing shelters and services for trafficking victims.”

Other countries stand to learn a lot from Israel’s example. Human trafficking has been reported in nearly every Western country, including each state within the U.S. As Israel has demonstrated, governments must recognize trafficking as a threat and allocate a full-on attack to stand a chance in eliminating it.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources: The Times of Israel, Al-Monitor, Atzum, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Jerusalem Post

Eritrean Refugees
Refugees are fleeing Sub-Saharan Africa’s poverty in search for job opportunities, political freedoms and basic human rights. The sad reality of this situation is many of these opportunities are few and far in-between, and their lives rarely improve above the dire situation they were leaving.

Eritrea is one of the nations many have been fleeing from. Isayais Aferwerki, the despotic dictator who’s ruled Eritrea since its 1994 independence from Ethiopia, is a main reason. The nation is home to rampant poverty, media repression and political oppression. Adult-aged males are regularly conscripted into military service with no definite end-date, and the President was quoted as saying the nation was not ready for free elections for at least another 20-30 years. The constitution has been suspended and Eritrea remains single-party state, with opposition political groups regularly rounded up and jailed.

Around 200,000 Eritreans have left the nation in search of freedom, but it has resulted in a human rights crisis. Eritreans regularly flee to Sudan, Egypt and Israel only to be subjected to discrimination, and in some cases, have fallen into human trafficking. Israel has prevented refugees from entering by building a fence, which has resulted in asylum seekers slowing “to a trickle” of their original amount.

Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the crisis in early February stating that “refugees are commonly kidnapped, and their families extorted to pay for their release.” Those who manage to avoid kidnapping are usually deported back. HRW has focused on the culpability of Egyptian and Sudanese officials in the kidnapping crisis. The allegation has been made that corrupt officials have been benefiting financially from the situation and are actively cooperating with kidnappers.

Physicians for Human Rights released a damning report on the conditions many Eritrean refugees face on the trek to asylum. The imprisonment rate of those interviewed was around 59%, while 52% claimed they were violently abused at some point on their way to the Sinai Peninsula. Slave camps are prevalent in Egypt. In El-Arish, there are camps reported throughout the area, populated with “slave traders” who “demand ransoms” for the release of African refugees.

The report detailed that many of these refugees were tricked through “promises of being led to Israel” but rather held against their will, while other’s detailed “severe abuse.” Twenty percent of those interviewed also described witnessing murders. Israel can be considered culpable in this situation. With the building of the fence, the average of 1,500 refugees gaining asylum each month decreased to only 25 entering “between January and April 2013.”

Israel has also mounted a political campaign to defend their actions, decrying the Eritrean refugees as a “threat to Israeli society.” The public response to these accusations helped allow the government to enact stricter immigration legislation, allowing for slave traders to flourish in the wake.

The Anti-Infiltration Law was passed in January of 2012 by the Israeli Legislature of Knesset, and allowed the Israeli Government to detain any people found crossing the border. The law even prevents many of these refugees from receiving a speedy trail, allowing the Israeli state to detain undocumented immigrants for “minimum of three years.” If a undocumented immigrant is from a state considered belligerent to Israel, such as Sudan, they can be “detained indefinitely.”

It was a crushing defeat for many Africans in search of a new life free of oppression. With no options, many still flee, but they may not find the salvation they are in search of.

– Joseph Abay

Sources: Turkish Weekly, US State Department, Haaretz, The Voice, Sudan Tribune, DW, Physicians for Human Rights, Haaretz

stop the traffik
Phil Lane was working at a day center for vulnerable children in Mumbai that offered refuge for those living in slums or on the platforms of a nearby train station when he first witnessed the all-too-common realities of human trafficking. He was concerned when a 7-year-old and 9-year-old brother and sister who lived near the day center and had been attending with their parents for months suddenly stopped coming. Phil found the father to ask if they were alright, and was told that the two children had been sold to a man who offered them work for about 20 dollars.

The children were never seen again, a terrible but common reality for many in the area. Deeply affected by what he saw, he joined efforts with several global United Kingdom organizations who wanted to work together to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade, and Stop the Traffik was born.

Trafficking is the practice of buying and selling people against their will to be transported into slavery for sexual exploitation, forced begging or labor, for removal of organs or sacrificial worship, or as child brides, domestic workers or into circuses or sweat shops. It is often violent, and victims suffer physical abuse and threats to themselves and their families as means of coercion and control by their traffickers. Alarmingly, it is also the fastest growing global crime. At any given moment, 9.1 million men, women, and children are trafficked.

Stop the Traffik is a London-based international organization comprised of individuals, communities and organizations dedicated to stopping human trafficking. The organization has about 45,000 members in countries all over the world; it partners with the U.N. Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) to take both local and global action.

Stop the Traffik initially began as a two-year initiative to accomplish two goals. The first goal was to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade by hosting a Freedom Day on March 25, 2007. The second goal was to make a worldwide declaration to present to the U.N. to prevent the sale of people, to protect victims of trafficking and to prosecute the traffickers.

When the declaration garnered over 1.5 million signatures, it was clear that the two-year campaign had the support to grow into an independent organization. Stop the Traffik founder Steve Chalke became a U.N. advisor on Community Action Against Trafficking.

Today, the organization is a growing global movement that seeks to educate and inform activists to make a difference in their communities around the world. Stop the Traffik works with individuals and organizations to address human trafficking on both a local and global level.

Locally, Stop the Traffik seeks to make trafficking more difficult by educating communities to know what trafficking is and how to identify it, how to protect themselves and others from trafficking and how to respond to trafficking.

Globally, Stop the Traffik runs campaigns to push decision makers to exert their influence to prevent trafficking, to build a worldwide movement by reaching out to new people and to gather information to develop up to date systems to rival the traffickers’ network.

Stop the Traffik’s success at building a movement seems largely due to its inclusive approach. The organization offers everyday people the chance to become activists by learning about the issues of trafficking and pledging time and effort to the cause. The website offers tips on how to raise funds for the organization and showcases many current campaigns that people can participate in.

Visit Stop the Traffik to donate or find out how to join the fight against human trafficking.

– Sarah Morrison

Sources: Stop the Traffik, Viralnovelty.com, PR Newswire
Photo: Stop the Traffik Commercial

repatriation companies
Migrant workers are a common sight among the busy streets of Singapore; they have been essential to the growth of the impressive buildings that paint the skyline. But like many countries that rely on migrant workers, abuse does rear its ugly head.

Many workers who make their way to Singapore seek money that simply is not available in their home country. Typically, they sign a contract, allowing them to reside in the country for a specific period of time.

Workers who do not wish to leave are put in the hands of companies that specialize in corralling migrant workers and forcibly removing them from the country. Many of these companies have been known to use intimidating and sometimes violent tactics.

Bapari Jarkir, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, encountered the employees of a repatriation company at the point of a knife. His employer wanted to expel him off his job as a welder, but he refused due to the high amount of debt he incurred while moving to Singapore.

He was escorted to the office of a repatriation company, where he was forcibly detained for several hours until he agreed to sign a document saying he was responsible for paying his $3,900 bond that each construction firm must give up to the government for each migrant worker. The bond money is usually returned to the company once the migrant worker leaves the country.

Should a migrant worker fail to leave the country once their contract is up, the construction firm is levied with a sizeable fine. The bonds the companies hand over to the government combined with the risk of facing fines has resulted in a profitable market for repatriation companies. Horror stories have also been reported detailing the expulsion of workers from Singapore should any health issues occur.

Construction companies are typically responsible for insuring their workers and paying medical expenses should they arise. A Bangladeshi worker named Shagar faced deportation following a work related injury.

After he hurt his leg while carrying heavy tile, he pursued compensation through his employer. After being summoned to the foreman’s office, he encountered two large men who escorted him to the headquarters of a repatriation company. The company informed him he was being placed on a flight back to Bangladesh. Luckily, he was able to remember a lawyer’s assistant’s number and was provided assistance.

The issue of Singapore’s repatriation companies has even garnered the attention of the United States government. In its 2013 Report on Human Trafficking, it confirms the experience of Bapari and Shagar at the hands of repatriation companies. It notes instances of workers being “seized and confined” against their will and threatened into leaving the country.

While Singapore is a very modern and stable nation, it needs desperate reform of its labor laws concerning migrant workers; specifically the bonds the government requires from every firm employing migrant workers, which has created a market for these repatriation companies to flourish. Singapore experienced its first riot in 40 years involving disgruntled migrant workers; a clear sign that change is needed.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Bloomberg
Photo: UNHCR