Reflection on exploitation and forced labour

Read the stories of FredekAndrás and the Pakistani Guest.

A reflection on these stories – Revd Dr Michael Jagessar

Though from different contexts, there is a pattern in these stories of two former Eastern European males (Fredrek and András) and a Pakistani Christian woman (Guest). The latter though had further layers of exploitation laid upon her because of her gender and her faith. As a poor woman and a Christian in a rigidly patriarchal and Islamic society her vulnerability and exploitation took on mind-boggling proportions. While there is no hierarchy in exploitation and forced labour, ‘Guest’s’ vulnerability meant that she could have only escaped the clutches of her abusive employers outside her country. Inside her own land, much the system conspired to keep her enslaved. We need to note this before reflecting on the pattern of the exploitation related to forced labour in these stories.

Humans who are trafficked for forced labour are often found in a broad range of sectors, including agriculture, construction, cleaning, nursing and care work, domestic work, hospitality and also illicit activities. Different types of work may be associated with different nationalities and gender. As seen in the case of Fredrek and András their labour can be characterised as ‘3D’ work (dangerous, difficult and dirty). In all three cases the forced labour is exploitative in terms of wages, rights and treatment. In the case of ‘Guest’, the vulnerability is more acute as her labour is in a private household which will not be subjected to employment regulations as in a more formal labour market. And in Pakistan ‘Guest’ was literally ‘property’ of her employer!

While there are both push and pull factors linked to the trafficking, the inherent vulnerability of all three should not be overlooked. All three (with varying degrees) are dependent on others (the traffickers) as ‘source of knowledge’ for information, language, work and accommodation, and (real or perceived) the need to be safe from the authorities.

In all three cases the combination of deception and coercion are key to the control and exploitation. These two elements that distinguishes victims of trafficking for labour exploitation from those employed in poor working conditions. Lack of free movement, the unpredictable/illegal nature of unemployment and inhumane conditions of the labour indicate ‘trafficking’ for forced labour purposes.

The deception (more evident in stories of Fredrek and András than that of Guest’s) is in the promise of a good paying job (pull factor) as against unemployment and poverty at home (push factor). As seen the promises were largely based on misinformation and the withholding of information. In all three cases the coercion is evident through debt-bondage, deprivation of movement either by the withholding of identity documents, denial of contact with others or close surveillance, physical and psychological abuse and threat of deportation.

All of these are geared to create a situation of total dependence. This is link to the exploitative and dehumanising conditions seen in meagre payments, debt-bondage, long and excessive working hours with no breaks or benefits, almost little health and safety provision, discrimination, poor accommodation and abuse. Dependence as a paralysing state or condition is also linked to inherent systemic injustices and the internalising that happens to the victims.

 

Words from our sponsor

Our Scriptures are replete with ‘words’ against injustices and exploitation of fellow human beings for economic gain.

Take Amos of Tekoa as only one example from the Hebrew bible. He had strong words for all who ‘sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals’, trampling ‘the head of the poor into the dust of the earth’ (Amos 2:6-7). Such exploitation, according to Amos and others, is an affront to the way of God who loves justice, hates evil, and will side with the poor and oppressed (Amos 5). God’s mandate for us is best captured in Micah 6:8: (as one example): to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

This way of just living which we follow is embodied in the one who offers abundant life for all. The shape of full and abundant life (John 10) counters a life of deception, coercion and exploitation. ‘Pasturage’ is for all (not a select few). There is a freedom of movement (come in and go out to find pasture’). Danger, though, is always lurking in the form of the robber (those who steal/coerce by force or exploitation) and the thief (those who steal/coerce by guile or deception). Full and abundant life counters the ways of exploitation: it is a qualitatively different life, in which the ‘good shepherd’ will lay down his life for the vulnerable and exploited to ensure ‘fullness’ for all.

That’s our mandate: simple, clear and costly.

 

Questions for discussion

  1. What are some of the key pull factors (in your country) in relation to human trafficking and forced labour? What pushes people in their own context into situations of exploitation and forced labour?
  2. What should we look for as signs that a person may be a victim of forced labour?
  3. What are some of our habits and lifestyles which unwittingly allow exploitation and forced labour in the UK and the Netherlands?
  4. In what practical ways can you and your church community both help those escaping forced labour and ending exploitation and forced labour?

Prayer

Lover-of-justice-and-peace,
shape our consciences and hearts
according to your way of just, peaceful, loving and full lives.

Move us beyond fear
to speak with compassionate courage
and to act with both conviction and humility
for those exploited and dehumanised through forced labour.

In the face of powerful forces bent on denying life,
give us ears, eyes, hearts and voices
to discern, respond and embody hope through our actions.

May the urge to bring hope, care and compassion
in distressing situations
find sustenance through your Spirit
and in your promise of abundant life for all.

In the name of the one who frees and releases.
Amen.