It’s not every day that you have three experts on modern slavery in one Zoom webinar. On Wednesday, July 14th, Becky Kingi from World Vision, Elise Gordon from Walk Free, and Tod Cooper from Transparency International New Zealand gathered to discuss modern slavery in its multifaceted reality in a webinar on Modern Slavery: Consumerism, Exploitation, and Transparency.
What is Modern Slavery
The session kicked off with a general definition of what modern slavery is. A broad dictionary definition provided by Becky Kingi is that modern slavery is essentially the ‘severe exploitation of people for commercial or personal gain.’ This definition may seem quite general; however, it manages to accurately capture the ambiguous and non-descript nature of slavery in modern life.
Worldwide, it is estimated that 40 million people are caught in some form of modern slavery today. In comparison to the slavery of old, which featured physical shackles and chains, modern slavery is often much more subtle and happens in the background. Modern slavery frequentlyrelies on psychological coercion that is often invisible. Due to its highly personal nature, it is difficult for the general population to grasp and define as slavery.
Modern Slavery exploits vulnerable populations
One of the central points of the webinar that I found particularly interesting was how modern slavery focuses on exploiting vulnerable populations. Vulnerable populations can range from the very young to the very old, people with mental disorders or troubled backgrounds that render them psychologically vulnerable, and migrants experiencing uncertainty around their living circumstances or migrant status.
Research shows that migrants are easily exploited within labour-intensive industries such as agriculture, fishing, and construction. For example, a form of modern slavery that is rife in the South-East Asian fishing industry is debt bondage. Debt bondage usually entails being forced into labour to pay off a loan or favour that can take months or even years to work off.
In the Pacific Islands, people are increasingly being pushed into scenarios where they may be vulnerable to modern slavery as they leave to seek work opportunities elsewhere due to displacement caused by climate change.
Dealing with Modern Slavery
When outlining the different responses and approaches to ending modern slavery, the overarching theme is that we as a general population and our governments are much too complacent when it comes to ending modern slavery.
Incredibly, NZ households spend approximately $34 per week on risky products. When polled on what actions we are willing to take towards ending modern slavery, most of my fellow webinar participants responded that they would donate more to anti-slavery organisations.
In comparison, fewer answered that they were willing to try to ensure that the products and clothes they were purchasing were free of modern slavery within their supply chains.
On the legislation level, the tendency towards complacency is startling. For instance, the UK Modern Slavery Act has no official central reporting system and is dependent on people reporting cases of modern slavery.
To demand more accountability, the panellists suggest letting your parliamentary representatives know that modern slavery is an essential issue to you by emailing your local MP or tweeting or tagging them in an article about modern slavery. By making our politicians accountable for New Zealand’s lack of legislation around modern slavery, we will take a vital step away from this crippling complacency and move towards ending modern slavery.