SINCE it was announced that Qatar would host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, there have been many shocking news reports of workers’ abuse and exploitation in that country. Migrant workers recruited from South Asia, the Philippines, and elsewhere have been particularly vulnerable, and there have been reports of inhumane working conditions and limited freedom to leave for those constructing venues.
While the World Cup, which begins later this month, has brought labour exploitation to the world’s attention, the reality is that this problem extends far beyond Qatar. Forced labour is a growing issue that touches all our lives, not least through the supply chains of products that we use every day — from our clothing to the smartphones on which fans check the latest scores.
And, sadly, it is getting worse. The International Labour Organization reported that 28 million people were recently estimated to be trapped in forced labour, which represents a 2.7-million increase over the past six years.
Each of these 28 million has a story to tell — like Chandrabati, who found herself and her family trapped in forced labour in a brick kiln in South Asia, after the owner offered her employment with an advance on her wages, which meant that she could put her eldest daughter through school. Instead, she was forced to spend backbreaking hours moulding and firing heavy clay bricks in the gruelling heat, with no water and no pay, to repay her debt. Even her five-year-old daughter was forced to work.
“The owner’s men would constantly threaten that they would give us electric shocks and remove our skin if they see us not working, and we lived in constant fear,” Chandrabati recalls. She heard stories from other workers of a labourer who had died after being electrocuted, and wondered who would come to help if the owner tried to hurt her. To her, far from her community and in an unknown place, escape seemed impossible.
SITUATIONS such as Chandrabati’s are being played out around the world. As the World Cup reminds the world of this brutal injustice, many in the churches will wonder what they can do to help.
In response, International Justice Mission (IJM) UK, Tearfund, and Compassion have teamed up to launch Justice United, an initiative that calls on churches, football fans, and gamers to take positive action against injustice during the World Cup.
Churches can rally their local communities for watch parties, FIFA gaming tournaments, or other events, which act both as conversation-starters about exploitation, and as an opportunity to fund-raise towards solutions.
One of the key drivers of exploitation is poverty. Many people find themselves, like Chandrabati, targeted by traffickers because financial challenges make them vulnerable to exploitative loans or to false offers of work.
When people in poverty are not protected through effective systems of justice, traffickers can exploit their vulnerability. This is why tackling exploitation requires a holistic approach that addresses the root causes alongside the problem itself.
For the first time in decades, extreme poverty is on the rise, which makes it particularly urgent to act now. IJM UK, Tearfund, and Compassion are all helping to stop exploitation, whether by bringing people out of slavery to safety and seeing traffickers held to account, or empowering communities to lift themselves out of poverty and helping families through the global food crisis so that they are less vulnerable to traffickers in the first place.
ULTIMATELY, Chandrabati’s story shows that change is possible. With IJM’s support, the authorities found her and her children, brought 61 people to safety from the brick kiln, and arrested the kiln owner and two of his associates. IJM was also able to support Chandrabati’s family with housing, education, and opportunities for her daughters, so that they could build a better future.
Stopping slavery will take a movement — and, around the world, survivors of exploitation are playing a key part in shaping solutions. Many choose to act as advocates for others, as the experience that they have lived through means that that they understand how people become vulnerable to slavery, and how best they can be given support to rebuild their lives in freedom. In South Asia, for instance, survivor leaders run the Released Bonded Labourers’ Association, which helps the authorities to bring people to safety.
The World Cup must be a wake-up call. In 2022, the world is at a potential turning point for the ending of poverty and exploitation. Churches have an opportunity to be part of this movement by bringing their communities together to enjoy football, while starting crucial conversations about injustice and inspiring positive action. Together, they can end exploitation for good.
Frances Kordonowy is PR and Media Officer for International Justice Mission UK.