Human trafficking is modern slavery
‘Slavery…I didn’t know about all these forms that existed. I think it’s largely because we aren’t expecting it. It is hidden. Generally people would not believe that it is possible under modern conditions. They would say, “No, I think you are making it all up,” because it is just too incredible…’
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Human trafficking and slavery are problems of global proportions, driven by poverty, unsafe migration and the neglect of human rights standards.
Trafficking has risen to become the third most profitable transnational organised crime, after drugs and arms. Tens of millions of people around the globe are enslaved in forced labour, bonded labour, sexual servitude and involuntary servitude at any given time. Traffickers use deception or coercion to take people away from their homes. Victims of trafficking are then forced into a situation of exploitation, such as forced labour or prostitution.
Support our work and give victims of human trafficking a voice.
|Migrant workers in an overcrowded cell in the KLIA Immigration Depot, Malaysia, © Amnesty International|
To date, most legislation, research, projects and prosecution cases have focused on trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, while human trafficking for other exploitative purpose has not been given much attention. Human trafficking and slavery occurs everywhere and affects women and children - as well as men, who are often ignored in domestic legislation.
In South and South East Asia, these problems are particularly acute. Trafficking victims are often considered to be illegal migrants and so are detained, fined and deported with little regard to their human rights.
Amnesty International conducts research into human trafficking and the treatment of migrant workers. We are calling for an end to all forms of modern slavery and for governments to implement legislation that takes action against trafficking in human beings, whilst supporting victims of human trafficking and not merely regarding them as illegal immigrants. We also work to support local human rights defenders who are campaigning against the abuse of migrant workers.
Support our work and help protect victims of human trafficking.
Immigration Centre in Malaysia © Amnesty International
Please read the personal stories of some victims of trafficking below. You can also find links to some recent reports on human trafficking and modern slavery at the bottom of this page.
It is important that victims of trafficking are given a voice. Many don’t dare to speak up out of fear of their captors, fear of deportation and fear of social isolation.
Please support Amnesty International to ensure we can continue to report on this important human rights issue and that action is taken to support the victims of trafficking.
Uganda – UK: Adina
After her parents died, Adina found work helping on a market stall in Kampala, Uganda. One day the woman who ran the stall told her to go with two men. She said they were going to take her to live abroad, where she would be safe and could go to school. Adina was put on a plane to the UK, collected by a man at the airport, taken to a house and locked in a kitchen. For the next two years, Adina was forced to live in this one room. By climbing on a chair, she could just see into a garden. She had no idea where she was. Adina’s ‘job’ was to clean and cook for her ‘owner’ who was later joined by a second man. After a couple of months, the role took on a new element – Adina was taken upstairs and raped. She finally managed to escape when one of the men fell asleep drunk and failed to lock the kitchen door. He woke and chased Adina, but she hid in a ditch before managing to flag down a car. The driver dropped her at Marylebone Police Station in London.
Bangladesh – Malaysia: Husain
“I came to Malaysia in 2007 because I had to help support my parents and my two younger siblings. We were poor and did not have enough money. An agent came to my village and spoke to my dad. The agent spoke to my father and told him that if I were to work in Malaysia, I would be paid 30 ringgit a day. The agent asked for 2 million taka, which we raised and paid. My father borrowed the money from friends, sold some of his cows and also sold a house that he owned. The agent told me that I would be sent to Malaysia within three months of the payment, but I had to wait eight months.
“Once I reached KLIA airport, no one came to meet me, so I was taken to a holding area at the airport car park. There, I had to stand in sewage because there was a burst pipe. The urine was above my ankle level, and I was forced to stand in it together with about 55 others for three hours. We were in a holding area. There were many more being held in other areas. There were probably between 100 and 200 other newly arrived workers also there.
“I called the agent, who told me to wait for the employer to come and collect me. After a night in holding, the employer came, and 55 of us were released to him after completing the biometric scans. We were then taken by bus to Shah Alam by a Bangladeshi agent named Ashraf. In Shah Alam, we were taken to a house where we were all kept in a room upstairs. I had my passport for about three days, after which the agent took it from me.
We were kept in the house in Shah Alam for about six days. We were given some food, but the place was very small for all 55 of us. It was very hot, as there were no fans, and there was only one toilet. There was only a light. Although we were not locked in, we were afraid to leave the place because it was a strange new place and we had no documents. No one came to see us. The Bangladeshi agent told us that our employer would come there to see us and take us away.
“When I asked Ashraf about the employer or where the employer was located, I was just told to wait. At about the eighth day of being in the house, the agent told us to leave and to go away and find work ourselves. I asked for my passport, but the agent said I would only get my passport if I paid 1,000 ringgit [$290] because my passport was with the immigration. I bargained with him and asked him for the amount to be reduced to 500 ringgit [$145]. I then borrowed money from my uncle and friends to get the money and paid the 500 ringgit in person to him. I got my passport.
“My uncle then found me a job in the construction industry, next to the Damansara immigration office. I worked there for about two months but was not paid a single cent for my work. I worked about ten hours a day with no days off and also worked weekends. I did ask for my wages, but I was always told that I would be paid the following month. At the end of two months, the employer suddenly ran away. He disappeared from the site. I have gone back to the site many times to find him but did not see him there.”
Ratna started working as a domestic worker when she was 13 years old… “I stopped going to school because after my father died my family didn’t have enough money to pay for my schooling… [I found my first employer] through my neighbours… I was told that my salary would be Rp.350,000 (US$40) per month. But I was only paid Rp.150,000 (US$17) per month…”
She told Amnesty International that she felt ‘cheated’ during the recruitment process because her female employer turned out to be violent: “[My employer] threw hot water on me when she got angry. She said I was wrong… my work was not good enough…She also threw the boiler at me and once she almost used an iron to hit me”…
“I cleaned the house, cooked, swept the floor, and took care of the children… every day from five in the morning until midnight.” No breaks were allowed. “The only time I could go outside was when I hung clothes to dry… once a week… My employer said, ‘girls are not allowed to go outside’.”
“[I slept] in the kitchen... with no mattress… just on the floor. I didn't have a key [to the room]. I felt cold… scared… My employer locked me in the room [every evening], saying it was for my protection. I couldn’t go to the bathroom during the night”.
Ratna was not allowed to make phone calls or send letters either. Her employer said it was too expensive. She could not contact her family, and did not have any news of them. Ratna’s experience with two of her other employers was similar. She suffered poor conditions of work and physical and psychological abuse. Her second employer spat on her “in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening and at night”, and did not give her any salary. While she was there she slept in the storage room: ‘there was no door…and it was very small. There were lots of things around and it was smelly”.
The third employer shouted at her continuously and slapped her frequently. Once she was not given food for three days. There, she was forced to work from 5am until 1am without any day of rest. Ratna recalls that when her eldest sister died her mother managed to let her know and asked her to come home for the funeral, but she was not given permission by her employer so could not go. Her mother tried to find out why she was not coming but Ratna did not tell her the truth about her situation. “Until now, she doesn’t know what happened to me. [I feel] too scared and embarrassed to tell her [Even now] I don’t speak about my experience... [I feel] too ashamed.”
China – UK: Jin Lai
In the Chinese province of Fuijan, many families give their children – especially boys – to so-called ‘snakehead’ gangs. These are traffickers who promise to take the boys to a new life in a new country. The price for their ‘service’ is high – a figure of £20,000 is not unusual. The families of course do not have such money. So the child, once smuggled, has to work for the traffickers to pay off the debt. Unpaid debts can result in threats to the child’s family. This form of slavery is called ‘debt bondage’.
Jin Lai was brought to a Kent police station by someone who lived near where he had been sleeping. He spoke no English, but the police soon established that he did speak Mandarin Chinese. An interpreter from Immigration and Social Services was called in. Although he had no documentation, Jin Lai said he was from Fujian Province in China and that he was 16 years old.
Social services placed him in a foster home, but within a few days a number of men called, claiming to be the boy’s uncles and asking to visit. The foster parent did not reveal the boy’s address and informed Kent social services. Social workers managed to contact one of the alleged uncles on his mobile phone, but he refused to disclose an address.
Lai eventually admitted that he had been living and working in a restaurant. He had been made to work seven days a week and slept in a makeshift dormitory with other males from China. He had run away from the restaurant, and started sleeping outside, which is where he had been when he was found. He said he did not feel comfortable disclosing how much he or his family owed to the people who brought him into the country. Lai was moved to a new foster home and agreed not to tell his agents where he was.