The Global Slavery Index & Pakistan
By: Syed Muhammad Ali
is infamous for ranking high on global indices, which
categorise countries according to varied criteria, ranging
from pollution, to mother and child mortality rates, to
The second edition of the Global Slavery Index published
by an Australian campaign group, Walk Free Foundation, this
past month, has again placed Pakistan at third position in a
list of 167 countries where the problem of human slavery is
After India and China, Pakistan is considered to have the
most number of people living in conditions that can be
described as modern-day slavery.
In fact, the combined number
of such people found in India, Pakistan and Thailand are
estimated to equal almost half of the nearly 36 million
people trapped in slavery globally.
The Global Slavery Index aims to provide a tool for
different stakeholders to understand the size and scope of
the problem, contributing factors and existing responses, so
more effective action can be taken to end such brutal forms
of human exploitation.
The report accompanying the index rightly identifies debt
bondage to be the most common factor creating conditions of
Punjab and Sindh are
described as ‘hotspots’ of bonded labour, which is prevalent
in the brick-making, agriculture, and carpet weaving
The government needs to act
to tackle the problem, including by regulating these
informal industries and enforcing anti-slavery laws such as
the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act of 1992.
However, all three of these
sectors remain largely unregulated. Brick kilns, for
example, are now under the responsibility of provincial
departments of labour, and half of the approximately 10,500
brick kilns in Punjab remain unregistered.
While the recent burning of a Christian couple burned in
kiln over debt on alleged blasphemy charges caught media
attention, a majority of brick kiln workers are trapped
under the paishgee system of trying to return advance
Landless haris across rural
areas of the country are subjected to a similar fate.
While debt bondage has been
identified as a major problem in the carpet-weaving
industry, rights-based organisations fear that a lot of
other informal sector industries, such as auto workshops and
even domestic workers, become trapped in debt bondage.
The lack of documentation of
debt repayments, coupled with low remuneration, invariably
traps workers and their families to pay off debts, many of
which are transferred onto remaining family members if the
borrower is disabled or passes away.
The debt bondage of people trafficked across borders is also
a growing problem.
Yet, there is no
national-level entity to oversee a coordinated response to
these challenges that trap so many poor Pakistanis in
conditions of slavery.
The Walk Free Foundation aptly identifies the need for an
integrated national strategy with accompanying resources to
implement its required proposals.
Some important tasks in this
regard would be more effective registration and regulation
of brick kilns and other informal sector workplaces,
ensuring that all workers are paid the minimum wage and
strengthening relevant government institutions such as the
police, the FIA.
Social security, labour and
human resource departments and the judiciary to prevent
slavery and prosecute those involved in enslaving others.
Export-oriented industries such as textiles, agriculture and
carpet-weaving are advised to work through their industry
bodies and with appropriate third parties to create
industry-wide supply chains that are free of modern slavery.
However, only three developed
countries’ governments are making some efforts to prevent
the use of forced or slave labour in their supply chains.
More emphasis, thus, also
needs to be placed on the role of multinational corporations
which profit from the use of unregulated workers in
developing countries, and on broader liberalisation and
market policies advocated by international agencies, which
exacerbate this disturbing phenomenon of human exploitation.