September 26, 2012—In the Congo, Marie Godet Niyonyota was kidnapped by rebels and turned into a slave. Physically and sexually abused, she bore five children—all of whom perished in a battle. Miraculously, she survived and escaped and with care and support, she began to heal. She learned to read and write and today is home, working toward a new future.
|Hundreds of families with young children work and live in brickyards like this one near Islamabad, often under conditions of bonded labor. Photo © M.Crozet/ILO
Niyonyota is one of the lucky ones: 21 million people around the world are trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and cannot leave, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
President Obama described her chilling story yesterday in a speech on human trafficking, which he called “a debasement of our common humanity” and “nothing less than modern slavery.”
Speaking at the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference, Obama outlined new steps to address the problem, both in the United States and around the world. They include an Executive Order (Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts) to ensure that taxpayers do not fund the trafficking of people through contracting, more support for survivors and victims, and enhanced use of technology to educate young people about its dangers.
Overall, human trafficking is estimated to be a $32 billion industry, involving 161 countries, according to the Polaris Project. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced laborers in the world—11.7 million (56 percent) of the global total, according to the ILO. Africa is next at 3.7 million (18 percent), and Latin America with 1.8 million victims (9 percent).
The Solidarity Center works globally to eliminate all forms of worker exploitation and to build support for worker rights in partnership with trade unions, governments, and civil society to create community and workplace-based safe migration and counter-trafficking strategies that emphasize prevention, prosecution and protection.
"Government and private-sector supply chains for goods and services often include migrant or immigrant workers who are hired to do low-wage jobs—for which they may pay unscrupulous labor brokers and foreign recruiters excessive fees, landing them in debt bondage, forced labor or other forms of human trafficking. The Solidarity Center applauds the Obama Administration's pledge that U.S. tax dollars will not support human trafficking in federal procurement supply chains. And a strict, no-fees policy is a major step in preventing trafficking of workers,” said the Solidarity Center’s Neha Misra, senior specialist for migration and human trafficking.
As Obama said , “When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape—that is slavery. When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving—that’s slavery.”
The Solidarity Center is a member of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), which commended the president for renewing and strengthening his commitment to end trafficking and modern-day slavery.