Commemorating the Victims of Slavery

A Silent Crime Still In Our Midst

December the 2nd was the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, a day which is commemorated in all countries over the globe. For most people in the developed world the word “slavery” itself brings up images of times past. Yet slave markets are not gone, they have merely changed shape.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. In addition to that, an estimated 150 million children are forced into child labour. The most common forms of modern slavery are forced labour and forced marriage, which also may take forms of forced labour and sexual exploitation and child abuse. Women and children are more vulnerable to be affected by modern slavery than men; 99% in sex industry being women and children and 58% in other forced labour.

Major forces enabling modern slavery are poverty and inequality. One form of modern slavery is debt bondage, where a person is forced to work – often in dismal conditions which do not meet the requirements of labour laws – to repay a debt which is is often further manipulated by the debtor to get larger over time. Debt bondage is also linked to child labour, sexual exploitation and trafficking of children and human trafficking.

Modern slavery is strife everywhere across the globe. The forms and visibility of the phenomena vary amongst regions but no country can boast being free of it. What is common everywhere is that slavery is a hidden crime that affects the most vulnerable people who cannot easily seek help.

In Europe many of those in forced labour or working in conditions equal to slavery are often migrants. They can be from third countries – that is countries outside EU and the Shengen union – or EU-citizens, sometimes even citizens of the same country. Most have overstayed their legal permits or arrived via irregular means but not all. Slavery and forced labour go hand in hand with poverty and the breakdown of general labour conditions.

In Finland forced labour is very much a hidden phenomena. Here it is estimated to touch mostly migrants. As elsewhere, most at risk are undocumented migrants who have less access to official services and regular work. Most of them are from within EU and have overstayed their legal permit.

A relatively new group are those undocumented who have originally come as asylum seekers and cannot return, yet are not granted any kind of permission to stay. Before the year 2016 this group virtually did not exist in Finland. All persons who were not given a residence permit yet were unable to be deported were given a temporary residence permit which legalised their status and kept them within reach of official systems and monitoring. This in turn reduced the risk for them falling victim to forced labour.

To combat the problem of modern slavery it is important to have in place systems that monitor workplaces and act upon reports of incidents of suspected forced labour, whichever form it takes. The punishments for using forced labour and being involved in human trafficking need to be severe enough for that to act as a deterrent. At the moment the monetary gain for shady companies and operators out-weights the cost of possibly being caught.

Just as important, however, is to guarantee that the victims of the crime – the people forced or tricked into modern slavery – are not punished. Why modern slavery remains a hidden crime is that its victims fear repercussions both form their employers and the state – deportation being one of them, which in turn may lead to a life threatening circumstances to the victim and her or his whole family. Systematic protection for victims of human trafficking and forced labour needs to be in place.

Finland still has much to improve on both accounts. Criminal charges for using forced labour are rare and use of illegal work force is most often considered as a tax offence even when there are clear implications pointing to more severe possibilities. Punishment of perpetrators remains rather slack compared to the gain. And, which is most troubling, Finland has deported victims of human trafficking back to the area where they will most certainly fall victim of the crime again, in practice handing the victims back to their abusers. It seems that Finland does not have the systems to recognise or combat the crime of slavery.

What can an average citizen do about this? Apart from ethical shopping, which most of us are already aware of, we all can demand politicians – who are ultimately responsible of creating us the safe society we need – to take the responsibility. We can educate ourselves and then use this information to educate them. We can demand action, on behalf of those who are afraid to raise their voices.



ILO on forced labour:–en/index.htm

ILO Standards on Forced labour. The new standards at a glance:

UN Abolition of Slavery facts and figures:

Human trafficking in Finland:

Newspaper Article: Human Trafficking in Finland in Record Numbers Last Year

Article: Nigerian Mothers Escaping Human trafficking to Finland returned Back to Italy into Sex Work

Finland’s Anti-Discrimination Ombudsman’s report and recommendations in the case of deporting Nigerian victims of human trafficking back to Nigeria and /or to Italy

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