Mr. Ban Has a Dream: That Big Business Will Fight Against Modern Slavery!

Human Wrongs Watch

By Baher Kamal*

Everybody is entitled to have dreams and anyway every one has, maybe some people more than others. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon appears to be very active in this field—he now pretends that big corporations, banks and eventually all the private sector everywhere, to be more active in combating modern forms of slavery!

True, he said that. Just few days ahead of “celebrating” the so-called “Human Rights Day” on 10 December, the UN top official “urged” the private sector “to play a more active role in combating modern forms of slavery.”

“Humanity still lives in a world blighted by serfdom and other practices” despite efforts by governments and civil society to end the scourge, etc., etc., etc., he declared.

To eradicate contemporary forms of slavery, we need new strategies and measures that can unite all actors,” said Ban in a message to mark the “International Day for the Abolition of Slavery” on December 2. “While governments bear the primary responsibility, the private sector has an integral role to play.”

Then the man appealed to all of them “to demonstrate their commitment to fighting slavery.” How? By making a financial contribution to the UN “Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons”, according to him.

The Big Announcement: “Protect, Respect and Remedy”

And here he recalled that the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) earlier this year endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, outlining how States and businesses should implement the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework.

The corporate responsibility to respect includes ensuring that their activities do not cause or contribute to contemporary forms of slavery in the workplace, and taking steps to stop it from happening in supply chains and elsewhere,” said Ban.

All this sounds nice. But how can this be done, he did not say.

What Does Ban Ki-moon Expect?

Maybe Ban was thinking that Italian prestigious shoe-makers will stop using and abusing of cheap, apparently tireless, no rights demanding workers in Egypt or elsewhere, to produce their shoes at very low cost and sell them everywhere at exorbitant prices?

Does the South Korean former minister expect big sports shoes and soccer balls makers to refrain from producing them in Bangladesh or other poor countries, using shamefully underpaid workers and sealing commercial deals with local industries that use children as labour force?

Or maybe the man dreams that huge “fashion-makers” will stop producing do their cloths in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in poor Asian nations?

Isn’t this the kind of “modern slavery” he talks about? Does he seriously believe that the “private sector” will halt its highly lucrative, modern slavery-based business?

Wasn’t the UN organisation who reported, just few days earlier, that smallholder farmers — who produce up to 80 per cent of all food in some areas, mainly in Africa– “face the risk of exploitation under contract farming arrangements with processing or marketing companies”?

Didn’t the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, tell the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee that “Contract farming locks farmers into one segment of the food chain.”?

Didn’t this UN top expert say “It will be very difficult for farmers to move up the value chain into the processing, the packaging, the marketing of their food if all that is expected from them is to produce the crops that then the commodity buyer shall buy, transport, process and sell on the global market”?

More Announcements

Anyway, Ban Ki-moon also pointed out that the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.Gift), which includes the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the UN Global Compact corporate sustainability initiative, “has been active in encouraging the private sector to contribute to raising awareness on modern slavery and taking concrete steps to eliminate it.”

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of efforts by the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to help victims of slavery regain their independence, lives and dignity.

This Fund has supported projects that provide vocational training, education, legal advice, medical and psychological assistance, the UN says and add that it has also targeted the social factors that can foster slavery. “It needs a minimum of $1.5 million to fulfil its mandate, but less than a third of the required funding has been secured to date.”

Mind you: just $1.5 million!

Forms of Modern Slavery

Not that Ban Ki-moon and other UN high officials are be blamed for saying this sort of things –after all they are just civil servants who are paid –comfortably– mainly by the biggest UN contributors, the very rich countries whose giant corporations transform, more and more every day, thousands of human beings in just slaves, no matter how modern they can be called.

And not that the UN and its top official are not aware of the vast variety of forms of modern slavery.

Contemporary forms of slavery include debt bondage, serfdom and forced labour; trafficking of persons and trafficking for the purpose of organ removal; sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage, the sale of wives, widow inheritance, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict,” according to the UN secretary general.

What About the Millions of Migrants?

What to say about the migrants, these 240 or 300 million human beings that are severely underpaid for harvesting in the sun, cleaning houses, caring of the elderly, working 12 or more hours a day in restaurants, coffee shops, construction, roads, and all kinds if “dirty” jobs that U.S., Canadian and European citizens refuse to do despite high unemployment rates?

Yes, those who are either forced to work and live in clandestinity with meagre wages and no human rights, or are legally hired –the least of them– and therefore regularly pay their taxes and social contributions that largely help the states to continue running their social and health service to their citizens in their ageing societies?

And, yes, those who are suffer from all sorts of harassment, abuse, xenophobia, and humiliation –let alone sexual slavery– in the lands of the great democracy and human rights advocates?

Anyway, the UN independent expert on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, in her message for the “International Day for the Abolition of Slavery”, said that “slavery is not history” and that it still persists.

Thanks for saying that. Maybe the millions of modern slaves working for big corporations in all poor countries are not aware of their inhumane sufferance as such “modern slaves” and need to be informed. (Human Wrongs Watch)

*Baher Kamal is an Egyptian-born, Spanish national, secular, anti-war journalist and analyst specialised in international affairs and human development. He is publisher and editor of Human Wrongs Watch. This article can be republished, sourcing and linking to: Human Wrongs Watch.


Related: Photo credit: UN

Also read:

Small Farmers, Victims of Food Marketing Companies

Who Dares to Challenge a 32 Billion Dollars Business – Human Trafficking?

Who Is Afraid of 300 Or 400 Or 500 Million Miserables?

New Brand of Slavery Surfaces in America

Copyright © 2011 Human Wrongs Watch

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