Help Us Fight Slavery
I was very happy to hear of both the release and success of the film Sound of Freedom. So much about this film and the response to it is remarkable. Sadly, I have only been able to see trailers and watch interviews with Tim Ballard and Jim Caviezel as I live and work in a remote community. Nevertheless, the film's message has struck a chord with me and left me feeling heartened that so many people have taken the time to see it. The fact that children are taken as slaves on such a scale is truly shocking, but the fact that this story has been largely ignored or downplayed by media and government alike is truly appalling. The slavery trade, though, is enormous and encompasses all ages, with slavery being more than just sex slavery. Sex slavery is, of course, much more offensive and even more so when the victims are children. Slavery, however, is much broader than that. Adults are enslaved and forced into all manner of work in many places around the globe. This phenomenon is not limited to places in the Middle East or Africa. A recent article on a CTV website shows how this is something that is happening here in Canada (https://regina.ctvnews.ca/woman-forced-to-work-at-multiple-sask-restaurants-against-her-will-police-say-1.6470128). What can an individual do to help end this practice?
I have a personal connection with this trade. Someone I have known for years is now enslaved in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Slavery is a common practice throughout that region. It isn't called slavery though, it's called employment. Sure, the people I refer to as enslaved are paid and aren't kept in shackles. They even showed up to the job site voluntarily. So why do I call it slavery? Let me explain. Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world, has many people who subsist on a hundred to a few thousand dollars annually with little to no opportunity to free themselves from this poverty. Similar statements could be made of many sub-Saharan African countries, so a lot of what I have say here could be applied more broadly. Needless to say, many people are quite desperate to find a solution to this oppressive poverty and one of those solutions is to emigrate to one or another western country where even living poorly there is superior to staying home. Desperation to emigrate or take a foreign work visa can make a trap seem like an opportunity and this leaves so many young men and women vulnerable to predators offering "employment" in wealthy middle-eastern countries. Promises are made and promises are broken and there are no opportunities to escape once the victim has taken the work.
Leroy, my friend from Liberia, is one such victim. He and I have collaborated on a few projects in an effort to help lift him out of poverty. My philosophy was that it was better to find a way to improve the situation on the ground there rather than find a way to help him move to Canada or the United States as is his aspiration. If he can engage in an entrepreneurial activity to earn money he also improves his community by providing a service or product as well as becoming a more active consumer that supports other local businesses. Our last project was a phone charging station. Most people have cell phones there and need to charge them frequently. Electricity is not widely available. It certainly isn't available in any of the homes Leroy has lived in over the years I have known him. Doubtless this is different in the capital city, Monrovia, but he lives in a rural area outside the city. The city is simply unaffordable. Leroy set up the charging station and was doing well enough. He told me he was earning close to $15 a day there. To put that into perspective, since that might sound pretty awful to many readers, a typical teacher there earns around $300 monthly. Although not a great wage, Leroy was earning enough to feed his family as well as a school teacher. The desire to leave Liberia did not wane with this relative success and this made Leroy easy prey for these slavers in the UAE.
After only a few months of running this business Leroy met someone who convinced him he would be better off leaving Liberia for work in the UAE. The job was physical labor and he was told he would earn $500 a month, the first of many lies. The UAE is a wealthy country and this must have seemed a golden opportunity to Leroy. The UAE has labor laws and a welfare system that is so generous most citizens prefer not to work. The Emirati only make up about 20% of the work force with the rest being made up by foreigners. Labor laws and the welfare system do not apply to these foreign workers. The only constraint imposed on employers is that they must hire a minimum number of Emirati as a part of their work force. Outside of that they are free to pay employees as little as they want, require them to work 16 hours a day without additional pay, and expect them to work in 40 C - 50 C temperatures. The only day off allowed these workers is Friday. Once he began work Leroy learned he was only getting paid $10 a day.
My erstwhile, and uncritical, conception of what slavery is overly simplistic and only really considered someone a slave when they are not paid for their work. I expect that is the case for many people, so it may sound like Leroy is not really a slave, just poorly paid. This overly simplistic conception of slavery mighty also include the idea that the owner provides the food for him as well. Leroy, however, is expected to purchase his own food out of the pay he receives. This is a bargain for the slaver. The average cost of food per day in the UAE is less than it is here in North America, but that doesn't mean the $10 a day pay is sufficient. According to the website Numbeo (https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/) a western diet would cost at minimum around $29 daily and a less expensive Asian diet would still cost around $22 daily. Even if the employer were to cut corners on the less expensive Asian diet and obtain discounts for bulk purchasing it is likely paying people $10 a day is cheaper than providing the food directly. If the "employees" end up loosing their health due to malnutrition it also isn't the "employer's" problem since they have no obligation to provide health care and there are always more victims to draw from in Africa. Paying people doesn't make them employees, it is simply a cheaper way to feed slaves.
Another uncritical component of our conception of slavery is the ownership of the person in question. A slave is supposed to be captive otherwise the servitude is voluntary. A slave, in this simplistic model, is considered property rather than an autonomous human being. After all, Leroy did voluntarily sign up for the work, so why not just leave. These predators that enlist employees from Africa know that they are unable to leave. Typically they have exhausted their ability to raise money simply to get there and then they have no family members able to rescue them financially from this predicament. Leroy sold all he owned to make the journey and has no relatives who could assist him in escaping. These slaves are earning only enough to keep themselves alive until the effects of long-term malnutrition kick in and have no way to save money for travel home. These slave don't have chains made of iron holding them there. Their chains are made of poverty that robs them of the means to escape.
Solving this large problem is more than I imagine I can accomplish at the moment, but I do hope to help this one person. I have started a Give Send Go crowd funding page to help Leroy escape this situation. If I could I would simply pay his way out of there and send him home to his family but I am current unable to do so. I am reaching out to anyone that can help with any amount of money to contribute to this cause. What I can do is match any donations made over the next few months. Any donations made from August 1 to September 30 will be matched by Bud Rub. Please consider helping out by donating or sharing this story. The link to the campaign is https://www.givesendgo.com/G9TUG. Thank you for taking the time to read this story.