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Dancing steps on tombs of modern slaves

They are often found in elite homes.

They are in servitude to husbands – often used as sex slaves and wives who use them as fit-for-all-purpose and tasks within the home.

Before now, housemaids are juveniles from close relatives, but modern slavery has since become trans-border trade that fetches good returns for those that engage in the evil trade.

Indeed, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said 25 million people are engaged in forced labour, which yields astronomical $150 billion in illegal profits for those that operate the inhuman business. As hopeless as the situation appears, the ILO believes that its Protocol on Forced Labour could restore hope and freedom to millions of people trapped in modern slavery with a proviso that countries must ratify the convention.

Nigeria is yet to ratify it.

The international labour watch body declared that its goal is to persuade at least 50 countries to ratify the Protocol on Forced Labour by the end of 2018.

Also, a new research developed jointly by the ILO and the Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has revealed the true scale of modern slavery around the world.

The data, released during the United Nations General Assembly, shows that more than 40 million people around the world were victims of modern slavery in 2016, including about 25 million in forced labour, and 15 million in forced marriages.

The ILO has also released an estimate confirming that about 152 million children, aged between 5 and 17, were subject to child labour. The new estimates also show that women and girls are disproportionately affected by modern slavery, accounting for almost 29 million, or 71 per cent of the overall total. Women represent 99 per cent of the victims of forced labour in the commercial sex industry and 84 per cent of forced marriages.

Commenting on the disturbing trend, the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, said: “The message the ILO is sending today – together with our partners in Alliance 8.7 – is very clear: the world won’t be in a position to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals unless we dramatically increase our efforts to fight these scourges. These new global estimates can help shape and develop interventions to prevent both forced labour and child labour.”

Andrew Forrest AO, Chairman and Founder of the Walk Free Foundation, said: “The fact that as a society we still have 40 million people in modern slavery, on any given day shames us all. If we consider the results the last five years, for which we have collected data, 89 million people experienced some form of modern slavery for periods of time ranging from a few days to the whole five years. This speaks to the deep-seated discrimination and inequalities in our world today, coupled with a shocking tolerance of exploitation. This has to stop. We all have a role to play in changing this reality – business, government, civil society, every one of us.”

As the world marks, or should I say continued to dance on the altar of unhappiness of victims of modern slavery, domestic workers are one of the groups most vulnerable to exploitation, violence, harassment, and forced labour.

Indeed, the remembrance of the 2018 edition of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition reminds the entire world that many women end up being trapped in abusive work situations which in some cases may amount to modern forms of slavery.

The Chief of the ILO Branch related to Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions, Philippe Marcadent submitted that at the root of this situation is discrimination.

She added: “Domestic workers are often not recognized as workers, and face discrimination as women, often from poor and marginalized groups, such as migrants and indigenous peoples.”

There is no doubt that international standards can be powerful tools to protect domestic workers. The ILO Domestic Workers Convention No. 189, which was adopted in 2011, recognized millions of domestic workers as workers, further empowering them to advocate for their rights, and fight violence and harassment.

Furthermore, the ILO Forced Labour Protocol, adopted in 2014, requires member states to take effective measure to prevent forced labour, protect victims and ensure their access to justice.

In particular, countries must ensure the relevant legislation applies to all workers in all sectors. This obligation is particularly relevant for domestic workers as one key issue is that they are not always recognized as workers by the national legislation, hence not benefiting from the same rights and protection.

However, to date, 25 countries have ratified the Domestic Workers Convention no. 189, another 30 or so have adopted laws or policies extending protections to domestic workers, and only 25 countries have ratified the Forced Labour.

Governments, employers and workers, as well as individual households, all have a role to play to ensure protection of domestic workers from violence and harassment. The Protocol on forced labour is a legally binding treaty that requires governments to take new measures to tackle forced labour in all its forms. It works on three main levels: protection, prevention and compensation.

As an international treaty, countries must first ratify the Protocol before it enters into force. It requires countries to ensure the release, recovery and rehabilitation of people living in forced labour. It also protects them from prosecution for any laws they were made to break while they were in slavery. The Protocol can prevent labour because countries that ratify it will have to make sure that all workers in all sectors are protected by legislation. They’ll have to strengthen labour inspections and other services that protect workers from being exploited. They are also required to take extra steps to educate and inform people and communities about crimes like human trafficking.

The Protocol would ensure improvement in enforcement by guaranteeing victims’ access to justice and compensation-even if they are not legal residents of the country they’re working in.

Governments would also have to crack down on abuses and fraudulent practices by job recruiters and employment agencies.

While the insinuations that the Protocol serves same purpose as existing treaty on forced labour, it must be said that the Protocol is specifically meant to address new emerging trends after the treaty on forced labour came into existence.

The Protocol on Forced Labour complements the Convention by adding new elements, such as addressing root causes so that slavery can be eliminated once and for all.

It also requires employers to exercise “due diligence” to avoid forced labour in their business practices or supply chains. In all, while the Protocol on Forced Labour would not end forced labour by itself, convincing governments to ratify it is a critical step in that direction.

This is where advocacy of global citizens is necessary to jointly end dancing on the tombs of victims of modern slavery.

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