The 2016 Global Slavery Index released by Walk Free Foundation, revealed that an estimated 6,245,800 are living in slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa which translates to a 13.6% of the total 45.8 million estimated to be enslaved globally. 58% of all the people living in slavery were reported to be in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. However, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Central African Republic and Mauritania made the list of countries with the highest proportion of their population in modern slavery. The Global Slavery Index is based on data from nationally-representative, random sample surveys conducted in 25 countries.
Modern slavery has been defined as the act of recruiting, harbouring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labour or commercial sex acts through force, fraud or coercion. This phenomenon is not always as obvious and pronounced as it was historically as now the slave masters may be anything from corporate executives in flawless suits to the traditional plantation owners or even husbands in some parts of the world. The sad background story which Global Slavery Index skipped is the influence of Western capital on African slavery. The report was at pains to prove that developing countries were not doing enough and had to emulate the West yet it is Western capital that has been a cause of slavery in some regions of Africa. That the West has great domestic policies does not exculpate it from liability for the influence of its capitalistic ambitions. A spade should be called a spade.
When you eat chocolate, you eat a slave’s flesh
Robin Romano, a photographer and human rights educator captured a photo of young boys who were working in the cocoa plantations of Ivory Coast. In the lecture, “Report from the Frontline: Child Slaves in the Cocoa Fields of the Ivory Coast” at the Dodd Center, he relayed words from a child working in the plantations who told him, “Tell them, when they’re eating chocolate, they’re eating my flesh.” He also revealed that at least one million West African children toiled in the field so people could have the chocolate they love so much.
In late 1700s, Britain was embroiled in the same conundrum that confronts the world today but in that period, it concerned sugar from the West Indies. Sir William Fox is immortalised for his words that bid the tea drinker, “As he sweetens his tea, let him say as he truly may, this lump cost the poor slave a groan, and this a bloody stroke with a cartwhip.” Such is the situation with chocolates, a blood-stained delicacy. It is such food companies as Nestle which have been at the centre of this storm yet when blame for the high slavery numbers in Africa are announced, it suddenly becomes solely the fault of the African governments. In 2015, a Fair Labour Association report revealed that farms connected to Nestle were using child labour. These findings are made a touch more shameful on Nestlé’s part by the protocol, a voluntary agreement the company signed in 2001 to be part of a movement that brings an end to child labour. Was this simply lip service with absolutely no intention to uphold the principles of the agreement? In January, The Supreme Court rejected a bid by Nestle and two other companies to throw out a lawsuit holding them liable for the use of child slaves in Cote d’Ivoire. The contention of the plaintiffs was that the “companies aided and abetted human rights violations through their active involvement in purchasing cocoa from Ivory Coast”. Confronted by this order of economics, it becomes apparent that some of the 6 million slaves are victims of Western capitalism. Time rightfully asserts, “But even if Western countries target slavery within their own borders, they have shied away from examining how their economic and foreign policies create the conditions for slavery abroad.”
However, though the role of the West is apparent, Africa herself has been the major player in the slavery debacle. The Global Slavery Index said, “Modern Slavery in the Sub-Saharan was enabled by economic conditions, violent conflict and territorial displacement, in addition to widespread humanitarian and environmental crises.” The government responses in such situations were seen to be less than adequate with Malawi for instance having a single government-run shelter which had such deplorable conditions that children rescued from brothels returned to them. There is need for focused action from governments in Africa and players in the global economy as well as Western governments. Where Western capital is to blame, the West must be seen to be part of the solution not to stand back and release reports about how African governments are not doing enough.
The Global Slavery Index can be found here.