More than 200 years since it was abolished, slavery is rife all over the world. People who have escaped describe their ordeal

When Elvira arrived at Heathrow in 2014, she thought she had escaped the abuse she’d faced as a domestic worker in Qatar. Yet the exploitation the Filipino woman was about to suffer would surpass anything she experienced in the Middle East. The 50-year-old was taken to a luxury flat in Kensington, where her boss, the sister of her “madam” in Qatar, made her work 20 hours a day, allowing her only one piece of bread and no wages. She was trapped in a life of servitude, while metres away central London bustled with shoppers.

More than 200 years since it was abolished, slavery is thriving. The UN’s International Labour Organisation estimates that 21 million people around the world are trapped in some form of modern slavery. In many cases, the physical shackles of the past have been replaced by less visible but equally effective forms of coercion and control: a worker on a factory line crippled by recruitment debts he or she cannot pay back; a man on a construction site in a foreign country without his passport or wages; a woman selling drugs on a roadside threatened with beatings and rape if she doesn’t earn enough. Dig deep into the supply chain of the world’s major commodities, and you’ll find instances of slavery. From the food we eat to the phones we use and the clothes we wear, its influence is pervasive.

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