Tag Archives: modern slavery

The Faces of Modern Day Slavery


There are 27 million slaves in the world today: That’s more than double the number of people taken from Africa during the entire transatlantic slave trade.

These are the faces of the modern day slavery, captured by Lisa Kristine.

Lake Volta, Ghana: There are triumphs, too. Meet Kofi, a young boy who was rescued from slavery in a fishing village. I met Khofi at a shelter where Free the Slaves rehabilitate victims of slavery. He was bathing at the well, pouring big buckets of water over his head. Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Free the Slaves, today Kofi has been reunited with his parents, who were provided tools to make a living and to keep their children safe from human traffickers.

Lake Volta, Ghana: Child workers usually work from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. on cold, windy nights to reel in nets weighing as much as 1,000 pounds when they are full of fish. Skeletal tree limbs submerged in Lake Volta frequently entangle the fishing nets, and and slave masters will throw weary, frightened children into the water to free the trapped lines, sometimes drowning them. I didn’t meet one child who didn’t know another who had drowned.

Uttar Pradesh, India: In India I visited a village where whole families were enslaved in the silk industry. This is a family portrait. The father (hands in black) and his sons (hands in red and blue) are held captive in a “silk dyeing house.” The dye they work with is toxic. It’s common for entire families to be enslaved for generations. My translator told me their story. “We have no freedom,” they said. “But we hope, some day, we will be able to leave this house and make dyes in a place where we actually get paid for it.”

Kathmandu, Nepal: A worker blends in with the bricks at a Nepalese kiln. Workers mechanically stack 18 bricks at a time, each weighing four pounds, and carry them to nearby trucks for 18 hours a day without any payment or compensation.

Accra, Ghana: These gold miners have just come out of the shaft, their pants soaked from their own sweat. Most had spent all their money coming from the north hoping to strike it rich in legal mines. But legal operations require certifications. When they can’t get a job, the men take high-interest loans or join groups of slaves in mines abandoned by legitimate operations.

Kathmandu, Nepal: For this photo, I was escorted by women who had previously been enslaved themselves. They brought me down a narrow set of stairs leading to a green fluorescent-lit basement. This wasn’t a brothel as such; it was a “cabin restaurants,” as they are known in the trade — venues for forced prostitution. Each has a small private room where slaves, some as young as seven, entertain and serve the clients, encouraging them to buy alcohol and food. These cubicles are small, dark, and dingy, each identified with a number painted on the wall, and partitioned by plywood and a curtain. The workers here often endure sexual abuse at the hands of the customers. Standing in the near darkness, I realized there was only one way out — the stairs where I came in: no back doors, no windows large enough to climb through, no escape at all.

In the Himalayas I found children hauling stone for miles down steep mountain terrain to trucks waiting at the road below. These huge sheets of slate were heavier than the children themselves. The kids hoisted them with their heads using handmade harnesses made from sticks, rope, and torn cloth.


World News: India’s Beedi Industry


If you are a woman born into poverty, without an education or skill, how do you earn a living?  The answer usually includes a path not willingly chosen by the individual.  Many women and young girls have no choice but to turn to work that does not pay a fair wage and often threatens their health.  This is a familiar scenario to Anchal’s artisans.  One way or another, they were forced into the commercial sex trade.  This was not a choice, but rather a means of survival.

I recently read an article on the CNN Freedom Project blog that described the harsh realities of the beedi industry.  The beedi is a traditional hand-rolled Indian cigarette, which makes up nearly half of India’s entire tobacco market.  The maker places tobacco in a dried leaf and rolls it tightly before securing it with a string.

I was fairly familiar with the product and process because several of our artisans previously earned money making them at home.  I knew that it did not pay well and was painstakingly tedious work but I was unaware of the severity of the industry.

Mothers and daughters gather for 10 to 14 hours daily; racing to roll at least 1,000 beedis; only to earn a sum of less than $2 a day.  While the manufacturers make billions of dollars and the middlemen are comfortable, there are millions of invisible women and children trapped in a modern day economic slavery.

Shanu makes the conditions clear, “The pressure to keep up with the speed and meet the target is so intense that many skip their meals and even avoid drinking water so they do not need to go to the toilet.”

The visible health impact is undeniable. Workers of all ages develop tuberculosis, asthma, and chronic pain related to postural problems. They also absorb high doses of nicotine through their fingertips, resulting in permanent damage by age 40. Mahboobjan states, “My hands often swell up. I don’t know what I will do if I can’t roll beedi anymore.”

However, the most damaging for beedi workers is the lack of rights, opportunity, and support from anyone. They fight to feed their families with extreme labor conditions, only to feel no protection or alternative.

When will we stand up to slavery?  Women of the world need to support each other in creating change.  Whether we are asking for equality in the workplace or an end to exploitation, we must start by speaking up together!


Check out the full article here.