The smuggling of people across borders commonly captures a sense of curiosity or adventure. Mass media often presents us with impressions of old container trucks or cargo trains crossing borders locked with a sweating crowd grasping for breath. Other times, it is about mothers carrying young children jumping into the sea from trespassing ferries and drowning in their last desperate effort of swimming to reach Australia or the United States. These provocative and dramatic actions make stereotypical headlines. To some extent, the curiousity that the passionate imagery evokes in us reminds us of the slavery of the past. However, our minds barely manage, if at all, to register the current patterns of enforced and exploited labour. Precisely because today we know the people in vessels, carts, brothels and factories as being "illegal" rather than being wage-slave labour.
The inadequate headlines mask the true face of some these risky activities: the agents, gangs, and the economic structure and global market of labour trafficking behind it. Underneath the spectacular and criminalizing desperation invoked by popular culture and the press are the untold stories of trafficked bodies. From domestic workers to sex workers, from construction labour to sweatshop crew, modern slavery is harshly entrenched in today's economic, social and legal systems.
The modern commercial trade of workers, women, and child labour is a controversial phenomenon involving an unjust social structure. Occurring across almost all geopolitical borders and not just national borders, this exploitative exchange of people doesn't merely float in space or happen coincidently and individually. Rather, human trafficking exists as a stratified market to maximize the supply of cheap and reserve labour and is interwoven with the exploitation of labour, women and migrant workers.
Flight to cities with jobs or giving into work deemed "illegal" is not always a distinct voluntary act; it evolves in relation to processes of environmental degradation, war and conflict, economic violence, societal oppression of women and the marginalization of poor people.
Ins and Outs of War
War and conflict creates a tragic recipe for trafficked and abused workers. It forges a two-way channel of dealing--both the ins and outs of forced labour. The horrors of war encircle the vast webs of human trafficking stretched across territories, cities and markets.
Recent documented instances include trafficked construction workers from Asia to Iraq. For instance, the United States subcontracted First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting for the construction of the u.s. embassy in Baghdad. Dealers, brokers and gangs recruit male construction workers from across Asia, routinely stopping in the Philippines, Pakistan, and India. While the workers are in transit in the Middle-east, the Kuwait-based company is in fact importing the labourers to Iraq. These workers, holding boarding passes to Dubai, are unaware that their plane--a private jet appointed by the company--is actually heading to war-torn Baghdad where they are going to be building one of America's biggest embassies.
John Owen, a u.s. citizen initially working for First Kuwati resigned from his job several months after overseeing the construction project because of the manipulative scheme and the harsh conditions workers face. In his reported testimonies, employees of First Kuwati would beat and abuse the trafficked labourers and often deny them proper safety mechanisms and basic needs.
While many workers are deceitfully imported, others find themselves trapped after military violence breaks outs. The war in Lebanon last summer is no exception to these forms of exploitation of migrant workers. Herbert Dolcena, a filmmaker and advocate affiliated with Focus on The Global South provides a glimpse of this modern slavery in his short documentary--Suicide Jumpers: A Modern Day Slavery in a Modern-Day War. …