“Sahinal could well die out here. A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: “There’s a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they’re not reported. They’re described as ‘accidents’.” Even then, their families aren’t free: they simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a “cover-up of the true extent” of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting”
My very good friend, Kruti Mehta, recently posted a section of an article from The Independent on her blog 10 Evening Flowers. When I read it, I felt compelled to stop writing the post I planned for this week and write this instead. Please take a moment to click the link above (it will open in a new tab) and read the piece. Then carry on here.
If you’ve read the post now, I hope you are suitably horrified or, if you already knew this was going on, reminded just how angry you feel about the slavery going on behind the scenes. This isn’t about Dubai. It’s about the way the world thinks about human beings.
The reason I feel especially impassioned by this post is that I have firsthand experience of dealing with this on the other side – the side of the family left behind.
One of my very best friends is a hard-working mother who, like so many here in Northwest Bangladesh, has worked her way up from poverty and injustice. A few years ago her husband went to Egypt on just such a scheme as described in Kruti’s piece. It was a big investment but the rewards promised were worth it to finally bring in some money so the family could survive.
I should point out that the 40,000 taka per month promised to workers in the post is a very big deal. That’s 5-10 months wages per month being offered. However, the 220,000 taka investment (not something our friends paid but they paid something equally outrageous) is an almost impossible burden to recover from if you find, as these workers do, that the promised money never appears.
Our friend’s husband was trapped in Egypt, miserable and alone. There were many weeks and months of worry and stress trying to get him back. Once he got back to Bangladesh, they were now in a worse position than ever. Rather than the answer to all problems, it made a bad situation worse.
Five years on, and I think they have recovered from everything that happened, but the story goes on all over Bangladesh, India and the whole of Asia. It is nothing short of slavery and, indeed, is known as ‘debt slavery’. Because the workers, officially at least, get a wage and are employed, it goes under the radar as completely legal and authorities turn a blind eye.
You could argue that these workers have rights, could complain to the embassies, involve the police and so on but if you think like this you probably come from an educated background and don’t realise that this thinking is about as far away as you can get for these men (and women – don’t forget that Asian women are trafficked out as maids too and suffer even worse indignities and abuse). If I dropped you here in rural Bangladesh with no money, wallet, phone or passport and you had no language – just what would you do? I mean, really. No one speaks your language and no one cares. You are scum. That’s the reality.
The Middle East is a big culprit but the slave trade occurs all over the world. To an extent, the garment working girls in Bangladesh also suffer this way – so even the Asian countries themselves are guilty of this disgrace (see the links at the end of this post for more on this).
But before we westerners can start patting ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves on being more civilized than Asians, it’s worth pointing out that we still take cheap labour for granted – almost as a right – and most of us still care more about getting a cheap price for our goods than the ethical price we pay as a result. The British may have ended the Empire long ago but the attitudes which created it haven’t changed a bit. We see Asians as second class – third class even – and, frankly, expendable.
Until we seek Asian work because it is good rather than because it is cheap, the attitude that Asians are the cheap labour force to be kept behind the scenes and out of sight, will continue to flourish; more men will suffer and more will – as the post implies – continue to lose the will to live.
Until we see the Asian labour force as human beings rather than as dogs to kick, no one can truly call themselves ‘civilised’ – not without being blind and hypocritical, anyway.
- Bangladesh: A way up, “with dignity” – comment on a Dhaka Tribune Editorial (kenthinksaloud.wordpress.com)
- 200,000 Factory Slaves in Bengladesh, Riot (planet.infowars.com)
- stay-human: I keep seeing this picture and people being oh so… (priceofliberty.tumblr.com)
- Bangladesh Factory Fire Kills At Least 9 Renewing Safety Fears (bloomberg.com)
- 30 million people are slaves, half in India: survey (ndtv.com)
- 3.14 lakh Bangladeshis living like slaves: Survey (thedailystar.net)