Imagine a world in which forced labour has been consigned to the history books. We believe that world must be made a reality.
Today, 45.8 million people around the world are still living in modern day slavery. Gender norms, racism, poverty and the fragmented nature of global supply chains means people remain trapped. The only way to change this is to fundamentally challenge mindsets.
Our partners from industry and government are working to shift entrenched cultural norms. Because new mindsets open the opportunity for tactical interventions in the factories and communities where forced labour is still rife.
Working together, we can change expectations and free individuals.
In this section
A platform for collective action
Mercia Silva discusses solutions to tackle the rise of forced labour in Brazil, bringing together businesses, NGO’s and government.READ MOREBen Langdon
Defending rights, changing rights
Ms Bunshwari explains how she's protecting young women and girls from forced labour in the spinning mills of Tamil Nadu.READ MORERyan Paul Lobo
Shining a light on forced labour
Thomson Reuters Foundation journalst Anuradha Nagaraj reveals how journalism is playing a vital role in the fight against forced labour.READ MORERyan Paul Lobo
Forced labour in Brazil is on the rise. It's perpetuated by deep-seated gender discrimination and racial inequality, as well as a turbulent economic and political climate. So, how can we eradicate it? Mercia explains that the only way is to bring businesses, NGOs and the government together to find a collective solution with the power to break down even the most entrenched problems.
Someone once told me that to be happy, you have to be ignorant. But I'm not ignorant. And I can't be happy with the situation in Brazil. As a child, I wanted to be an architect or an engineer. But I was told I couldn’t because I was a girl. That motivated me to dedicate my life to change. I set up InPacto in 2013 to support businesses in keeping their supply chains free of slave labour, a problem which disproportionately affects marginalised women.
We exist to bring the right people to the table, from brands and suppliers, to government and non-profits, to discuss the barriers to change and find the best solutions. Traditionally, these players aren't open to dialogue with each other. But collective action is the only way to confront such a deeply entrenched problem. To solve problems, you must talk and no voice should be left out of the conversation.
Back in 2005, the ILO and three Brazilian non-profits created the National Pact for the Eradication of Forced Labour. By signing the pact, companies were acknowledging the existence of slavery in Brazil and committing to 10 principles for a fair and equal supply chain. Despite many big brands signing the pact, progress has stalled. That's because the root causes of slavery haven't been solved.
Deep gender discrimination and racial inequality mean that we have a culture that still accepts certain people being treated as commodities. Then we have murky supply chains serving a ready market for cheap goods and labour. These underlying forces govern forced labour and are complex and time-consuming to address.
InPACTO exists to reinvigorate the National Pact, helping more companies commit to it and empowering them to take more effective action around its principles. We ask members to work collaboratively to create short and long-term action plans towards certain key goals, such as employing survivors of forced labour, validating suppliers more thoroughly and promoting decent work. We also offer access to critical tools, like supply-chain monitoring, performance assessment, benchmarking and training.
Today, we're continuing our work with Brazil's biggest businesses. And together with C&A Foundation, we’re designing a programme to initiate meetings with other businesses in their supply chains. We want to reach out to them about the importance of joining InPACTO and from there we hope to develop their action plans to eradicate slavery. It is clear we still have far to go to eradicate forced labour in Brazil. But I am more and more hopeful. I believe that people – and therefore companies – can change. We just have to work together. –
Incidence of slave labour in Brazil*
slaves in 2013
slaves in 2015
* Article 149 of Brazil’s Penal Code provides the definition of the Brazilian concept of ‘labour analogous to slavery’ by criminalising the various practices which cause workers to work: in degrading conditions; excessive working hours; in conditions of forced labour or in situations whereby their freedom is restricted. The Brazilian concept of slavery-like labour goes further than the international definition of ‘forced labour’ as set out in the ILO Conventions, not requiring an element of coercion and encompassing debt bondage, as well as other exploitative or degrading labour conditions.
of these are in the apparel industry
of Brazil’s GDP
Members of InPACTO
of which are sectoral
of other companies
Since 2003, the government of Brazil has been publishing of list of companies profiting from slave labour called the “dirty list”. publication of the list was suspended in 2014 by Brazil's Federal Supreme Court. In 2016, InPACTO joined forces with its partners to advocate for the public release of the dirty list. After two years of legal dispute, the Ministry of Labour began publishing the list of names again in March 2017.
In our hotspot in Tamil Nadu, with the leadership of The Freedom Fund, we're strengthening 13 local NGOs to protect the people most at risk of forced labour. Ms. Bhuwaneshwari explains how her organisation, Peace Trust, is supporting girls in spinning mills and working with communities to tackle the underlying causes that push children and young people into forced labour.
When I finished school, I went to work in a spinning mill. I was forced to join a Sumangali Scheme because my father was very ill and unable to work. It became my responsibility to support our family.
When I got to the mill, I felt a sense of abandonment. The conditions, the work hours, the emotional stress were difficult to get through. During shifts, we were not given enough time to use the toilet and were only given 30 minutes for lunch each day. I hardly ever saw my family. Many of the girls could not bear the workload - 12 to 16 hours a day – or the way they were treated by management. I used to console them, but was scolded by supervisors if they saw us. During all of this, I knew nothing about my rights.
Things started to change for me in 2015 when I attended a meeting set up by the young worker project in our village. I met Peace Trust and heard all about their aims to reduce the risk of young workers. After everything I'd been through, I knew this was something I wanted to be involved with. So, I volunteered to help organise another meeting at the village level. Later, when one of the field coordinators resigned, I was invited to interview for the role. I became a field coordinator in 2015.
Girls go to the mills because it's the only option they have. In some cases, girls need to help repay family debts for things like health loans. Others don't have the skills to go into alternative employment. We are here to show them that they can continue their education and that there is another way.
I support adolescent girls in six villages in Srirampuram Panchayat. I provide training on worker rights, safety and occupational health, as well as support in education, life skills and career guidance.
Building the community's awareness about what it's like at the spinning mill is very important. I am starting to see the community's attitude changing. Families are questioning whether they should send their daughters to work once they understand the problems it causes for their health and fertility. One village elder even said: "We will not send our girls younger than 18 to the mill."
We have developed relationships to ensure worker protections with 25 mills in the area. Although some are more worried about profits than safety, the mills we work with do not force the girls to do over time. And workers are also given safety equipment, such as a mask, cap and gloves, which help prevent serious, common injuries.
After my own experience in the spinning mill, I am determined to change girls' lives. I am proud and thankful that I am able to do this. –
community groups established
Groups take action against the causes of vulnerability. Adolescent groups spread awareness of workplace rights, protect each other from risky recruitment, and promote increased access to vocational training.
Drought and climate change, structural gender inequality, and the mobile nature of industry and the workforce are just some of the macro factors that perpetuate forced labour. Combine these with local nuanced issues, and the varying levels of institutional capacity, it's clear that there are no quick fixes. We need to be confident enough to invest in the long-term.
Go beyond awareness
Young women are more aware of the dangers of working in spinning mills. However, they are also clear that they have very few other options but to join the mills. Without alternative accessible employment in the area, raising awareness will have limited impact. We must continue to develop strategies for alternative employment.
Address limited transport
Lack of transport restricts access to alternative employment and traps women in the local market. The provision of safe, affordable transport might have the biggest short-term impact on bonded labour. If people are in a captive market, they have no bargaining power. If they have alternatives, they have some leverage to negotiate work conditions and pay.
Focus on families
Female and male economic circumstances can't be separated from one another. Evidence shows a family-centred approach fosters development, gender equality and works better to combat extreme poverty. We should consider inviting family members to join adolescent groups and incorporating house visits into our approach.
Often women take loans from middle men (money lenders) at high interest in order to pay for medical expenses. This is a major driver of forced labour. Going forward, we need to understand the issues in the hotspot to develop health interventions that can break the cycle of forced labour.
Improve mill conditions
There is a systemic connection between mill conditions and forced labour. If conditions continue to cause ill health, people will continue to get high interest loans to pay for medical expenses. To pay these loans, families will have to send their next daughter to the mill. We should continue working with key actors in business and government, and building the capacity of local organisations that can influence mill owners to create better conditions.(Source: Freedom Fund's Southern India Hotspot, October 2016)
Ms Bhuvaneshwari's story
Ms Bhuvaneshwari shares her experience of protecting girls in Tamil Nadu from forced labour in spinning mills.
We partnered with Thomson Reuters Foundation to create the first news desk dedicated to forced labour and trafficking, a widely underreported and misunderstood issue. Anuradha Nagaraj, a journalist in Chennai, Tamil Nadu explains how raising awareness about an issue that's been hidden for so long is shifting mind sets and driving real action from business and government.
I’ve been reporting in India for over 20 years. Throughout my career, a lot of my work has overlapped with forced labour because it’s intrinsically connected to other issues I reported on, like migration and gender discrimination. So, when Thomson Reuters Foundation and C&A Foundation established the first editorial news desk dedicated to forced labour, I wanted to be part of it.
The global trade in humans is bigger today than at any time in history, and yet there’s a huge gap when it comes to reporting on slavery. One reason for this is a lack of understanding of a very culturally complex and nuanced subject. For example, in India, there's a migration pattern related to agriculture, drought and poverty. From an outside perspective, this misses the important distinction between ‘normal’ migration and migration where people are vulnerable to forced labour.
Another reason for this coverage-gap is that forced labour is hard, even dangerous, to report on. Practically speaking, there are often a lack of sources and getting information from people involved in illegal activity isn't easy. Nor is interviewing victims. It requires a certain level of skill to interview victims sensitively while still getting the information you need for your story.
Also, telling a story beyond the surface of 'the police have rescued five trafficking victims' is difficult. To report accurately, you need to understand the nuances. Lack of understanding leads to inaccuracies in reporting that breed myths, misconceptions, sensationalisms and simplifications that do no favours for the anti-slavery fight.
To improve this situation, C&A Foundation and Thomson Reuters Foundation have established a training and mentoring programme for local journalists in Asia. I went to the first training session in Bombay last year. It offered practical tips for improving the effectiveness of our reporting, including how to make the connection between forced labour and other issues, like migration.
The news desk and training are starting to make a real impact. The stories we write are reaching millions of readers. In the last year, we were picked up in almost 80 countries. In India, we had excellent coverage from English-language providers. We were also covered by the Hindi- and Tamil-language press. This is critical because it raises awareness among the people most vulnerable to exploitation.
Writing about forced labour is hard, but I stay optimistic because of the interventions I see from the government, from factories and from workers themselves. We don’t just cover challenges, we tell the stories of the victims and share promising solutions from the field. The results are exciting.
Thanks to stories we’ve written, a new action plan to improve working conditions in the leather industry in Ambur has been established. And one of stories I wrote about Indian women in Gulf prisons led to the Bahrain government making a public statement reaffirming its commitment to international anti-human trafficking conventions.
All of this gives me hope that quality journalism can play an integral role in the fight against forced labour. –
journalists in South Asia
exclusive stories created
countries picked up the stories
readers reached per month
Hindi publications published the translated stories. As well as 15 Tamil publications
views on dedicated trafficking section on news.trust.org
subscribers to the weekly newsletter
Share in-depth stories
Shorter stories are popular, often because of limited space in newspapers and other media outlets. However, evidence suggests that more in-depth stories resonate more widely and have a greater impact on audiences. We are currently planning special reports on deaths of Indian migrant workers in Gulf states and on the ‘hidden’ faces of trafficking perpetrators.
Connect with all
Although we’ve taken measures to connect with Hindi and Tamil-speaking communities, we’re going to make it easier for non-English-speakers to sign up to our Hindi and Tamil distribution lists. We’re going to use an India-based media monitoring service to provide a broad overview of pickups by local media.
Share what we've learned
We have learnt a lot about the challenges and opportunities for reporting on trafficking and slavery in India. We will develop a printed guidebook and online learning resources for journalists anywhere who are interested in this subject.