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Singapore’s National Plan of (In)Action: two years on.

March 21st marks the two-year anniversary of the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce’s launch of an Action Plan to combat human trafficking. Mirroring 2012, 2013 produced little substance in the way of anti-trafficking initiatives. As Singapore’s landscape shifts, it becomes clear that the anti-trafficking Taskforce is operating in a silo, failing to engage with broader underlying labor concerns affecting exploited individuals. TTRP has previously commented on the lack of action by the Taskforce in both our response to the US TIP Report and our six-month review of the NPA. Continued silence by Government on human trafficking enables an easy review of 2013: a lack of transparency and substantial collaboration with NGOs has resulted in a failure to account for progress achieved across all stated objectives of the plan. (more…)

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Visually affected. Campaigning the post-Oscar sexy.

At a human trafficking event at the National University of Singapore in September 2012 journalist Benjamin Skinner spoke about the conditions of quarry workers in India to “put a human face on statistics”. He proceeded to tell the audience, “the vast majority [of slaves] are born into debt bondage” and predicted, “in the US, every half hour one person becomes a slave” (I can find no evidence for either statistic). As I sift through post-Award season media reverie commending the success of 12 Years a Slave and the Director’s subsequent recruitment as Patron of Anti-Slavery International and Ambassador of Polaris Project, I am reminded of a similarly unquestioned use of conflating narratives.

The intent of this post is not to vilify campaigners, or anyone involved in the film. It is intended to highlight another missed opportunity to engage in critical discourse with the public about the complications of human trafficking. There are clear lessons to be learned through international and intercultural dialogue, but that dialogue should be inclusive of conversations about weaknesses and differences, not only success. It should also be contingent on cultural and geographic context, mindful of impacts, especially in countries with emerging policy change. In discussions facilitated by this movie, we hope to see the production of evaluations completed by organizations that highlight the outcomes of such campaigns on public understandings of human trafficking. (more…)

Running interference: tackling trafficking

Without The Guardian, I might have remained blissfully ignorant of any preparation for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Sidestepping, for a moment, the imminence of the 2014 (Brazil) and 2018 (Russia) World Cup tournaments, I am stereotypically American. I do not follow soccer, or football, hence the mixed metaphoric title of this post; the only context in which I will sanction the word “tackling” in anti-trafficking discourse. I am, however, no stranger to the keen perseverance of media and activist reporting on the links between A Major Sporting Event and human trafficking. (more…)

Middlemen

A key component of human trafficking, recruitment often involves labor and migration brokers, with varying levels of complicity, in the process of exploitation. Recruitment practices for low-wage migrant workers may increase the risk for exploitation as a result of the costs incurred to the worker. Recruiters and agents themselves may be abusive. Moreover, the recruitment experiences of workers pre-migration can be linked to vulnerability to exploitation not only during employment, but also in the process of repatriation. In Singapore, the repatriation process itself can be forced and abusive, exacerbating individual risk by enabling employers to deport workers without pay or compensation for injury. (more…)

Syndicated: organized crime and human trafficking

The mere mention of human trafficking gangs suggests a seedy, clandestine underbelly of organized international criminal syndicates focused on profiting from the exploitation of vulnerable individuals. The terms “gang”, “syndicate” and “organized crime group” are bandied about the anti-trafficking world on a regular basis as descriptors for those who undertake, facilitate and/or enable exploitation. But when interrogated, the terms become slightly opaque, perhaps challenging perceptions about the actors complicit in human trafficking. (more…)

Just deserts: victim compensation

Despite ample international, regional and local provisions for compensation, the provision of restitution for trafficked persons remains under-utilized. This undermines justice as well as potentially depriving much-needed financing for anti-trafficking efforts. A State’s focus on criminal prosecution may neglect important aspects of a victim-centered approach and without stringent, enforced penalties, may not even serve as an adequate deterrent. The former might include an emphasis on a victim as a key witness at trial, without taking into account livelihood concerns involved in an individual’s ability to participate (not being to generate an income, for instance). The latter may be expressed through the limited impact of the use of fines as punishment for those convicted for forced labor offences. For example, Paul Broadbent, Chief Executive of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) in the UK, highlighted:

We’d worked out the amount of money they’d made out of exploiting those people was way in excess of that fine […] so it’s actually worthwhile doing it on the off chance you’ll get caught, because when you do get caught and fined it’s absolutely a drop in the ocean compared with the money you’ve made. (more…)

The ROI on CSR

Concerns about workers’ safety in the garment industry have spurred collective protest against several deadly factory fires and the recent building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Subsequent responses from the Bangladeshi government, the international community and retailers highlight the difficulty in seeking accountability for tragedies which ensue from a failure to develop, implement and enforce measures that ensure employee protection.

Faced with warnings of “financial repercussions from consumers, damage to their stock value or sustained public protests if they do not adopt stricter garment manufacturing standards,” some global clothing retailers, such as the United Colors of Benetton, initially denied any role in factory production of their products. Walt Disney left Bangladesh completely after the November fire, discontinuing production of branded merchandise. Other companies directly affected by the most recent building collapse focused instead on compensation and long-term financial aid for victims. The marred reputation of garment production in Bangladesh has complicated corporate public relations even for companies, like H&M, not directly involved in the Rana Plaza collapse, but part of the industry. In response to concerns about the potential economic vacuum resulting from this swift corporate exodus, the Bangladeshi government closed several garment factories for inspection, opened the door for garment worker trade unions and is considering plans to increase the minimum wage in this industry. (more…)