Indonesia a Hive of Modern-Day Slavery

(From the Jakarta Globe) As many as 714,000 people in Indonesia have fallen victim to modern slavery practices, a recent study suggests, making it the eighth-largest country in terms of number of people living in modern slavery.

The Walk Free Foundation, a global human rights group dedicated to ending modern slavery, released its “2014 Global Slavery Index”, which estimates the number of people in modern slavery in 167 countries.

Indonesia ranked eighth with 0.28 percent of the country’s population considered slaves, namely children denied an education by being forced to work or marry early; men unable to leave their work because of crushing debts; and women and girls exploited as unpaid and abused domestic workers.

Indonesia has more modern slaves than Bangladesh (680,000) and Thailand (475,000) making it the biggest in Southeast Asia.

Singapore ranked 133rd with 5,400 while the Philippines is at number 19 with 261,200.

India ranked the highest in the survey, with an estimated 14.2 million people living in modern slavery or 1.14 of the country’s population while Iceland and Luxemburg are at the bottom of the survey having less than 100 people living as modern slaves accounting less than 0.013 percent of the population.

But according to percentage of the population, Uzbekistan is the highest with 3.97 percent of the population living as modern slaves.

The report note that Indonesia appears to have strong responses on paper to end or stop modern slavery, but these are often poorly implemented, or are hampered by high levels of corruption.

Indonesia ranked 47th of the 167 countries surveyed in terms of government responses.

“The wide gap between wealth and poverty, high levels of unemployment and corruption create an environment in which modern slavery flourishes in Indonesia,” the report says.

More than 11 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 70 percent of Indonesians are employed in the informal sector, which is largely unregulated.

This means many Indonesians are working in poor conditions with little pay and no social security.

To escape poverty, as well the government’s failure to create jobs back home, many seek employment abroad, working in plantations and construction sites as well as becoming domestic workers.

An estimated 700,000 Indonesians migrate abroad annually, and an estimated 4.3 million to 6 million are already working abroad as of 2012, making Indonesia the second-largest labor emigrant market in the world.

But the migrant workers have little to no legal protections once abroad.

Brokers operating in rural areas are known to lure men and boys into forced labor on palm oil, rubber and tobacco plantations, the report says, as well as luring women and under-age girls to work as domestic workers or even as commercial sex workers.

The brokers often break the law by sending undocumented workers or underage children by forging passports to conceal their age.

The rampant practice is placing migrant workers at increased risk of experiencing modern slavery, particularly through work performed under the threat of deportation.

Meanwhile, Indonesian women, both trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation or as domestic workers, experience excessive working hours, deprivation of wages and lack of health care services.

The report comes as President Joko Widodo readies to replace the chief of the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI).

The BNP2TKI’s current chief, Gatot Abdullah Masyur, has only been in office since March this year to replace Jumhur Hidayat.

Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto said the new chief had already been chosen and the president would lead the inauguration next week.

“The presidential decree has been prepared and the inauguration will be conducted next week. That’s all I can say,” Andi said on Friday at the State Palace.

He declined to identify who the new BNP2TKI chief would be.

“Just wait for the decree,” he said.

The replacement comes just weeks after the Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri leaped over a fence during a raid on a house used by a migrant worker placement agency in Jakarta.

Hanif found an “inhuman” shelter crammed with workers, and promptly shut the company down for breaking regulations.

The minister has pledged to audit all migrant worker placement agencies in a bid to crack down on widespread extortion and exploitation of some of the country’s most vulnerable people.

The lot of the migrant worker is a major political issue in Indonesia. While remittances sent by construction workers and domestic workers from abroad has had an important impact on raising hundreds of thousands of families out of poverty, migrant workers are often victims of mental and physical abuse and in many cases have to surrender their passports to either agents or employers.

Extreme cases such as the recent murders of two Indonesian women in Hong Kong, allegedly at the hands of a British banker, occasionally make international headlines, but the domestic press is never short on stories of abuse perpetrated by agents, employers — even the governments of workers’ destination countries.

Manpower Ministry data show there are 520 registered placement agencies in the country.

But the Walk Free Foundation report says the conditions are not much different inside the country.

“Domestic workers in Indonesia currently have no legal protection, limiting their ability to leave exploitative employers,” the report says.

Adults and children from rural areas are subject to modern slavery in cities, with many migrating willingly, and others kidnapped and trafficked.

Palm oil is harvested by children and adults who are trapped on plantations and forced to live in squalor, work excessive hours, are subject to physical abuse, work for little or no pay, and have restricted movements.

Forced labor of both children and adults is used in the fishing industry, including on boats, in factories and on offshore live-in fishing vessels.

The foundation called on the government to ratify and implement the Domestic Workers Convention and increase public awareness of modern slavery and encourage the reporting of cases.

Indonesia should also ensure that businesses undertake due diligence measures to identify any forced labor in their supply chains. – The Jakarta Globe

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Food for thought

One of the cultural things you have to  expect in Indonesia is a group of strangers showing up unannounced at your home, brought there by an Indonesian friend of yours. At Christmas two years ago, this happened to me when my girlfriend at the time showed up at my apartment with nine people, including her father. They were mostly her family, including five children, but I had never seen them before. Her father brought me a gift, a watch, which promted me to give him something very valuable – a Boston Red Sox hat.

I ordered a seafood pizza for the crowd, which devoured it in a couple of minutes. They just sat around chatting a awhile before leaving.

This happened again today when a friend showed up with four of her friends. Two were interested in the apartments for rent here. Luckily, I had some tea almost ready to drink, only needing sugar. And then I went out to get some fried treats from a street vendor I pass on my way to the wet market every week. I had no idea what I was ordering – four (empat) of those, four of those, four of those, I said. They were Rp1,000 each, or less than 20 cents. Of course, when I returned, my guests were leaving, leaving me with the plate of food below. One of these is called bakwan, a second I’m sure is tofu and the third tasted like a vegetable and had a white flesh.


An assortment of fried Indonesian foods

I’ve been wanting to take pictures of some of my meals here, if only to show people that living on a budget here does not mean eating poorly. Quite the contrary. Below is my breakfast today – eggs simmered in real butter, bakwan and tofu (with strawberry jam), and a mix of pork, green and red peppers, and onion, seasoned with rosemary and thyme. Bacon would have been good but I haven’t yet found any in Batam, so pork was substituted.

My dinners sometimes can look spectacular, and taste just as good – grilled grouper the other night (fantastic) with Indonesian-spiced noodles, or grilled pompano with mashed potatoes and seasoned greens.




Posted in Batam, Dining Out, Indonesia, Local Culture | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sorry, but I’ve been busy

I apologize to my readers for the lack of posts recently – but I’ve been pretty busy, and not because I’ve been traveling. You see, I actually have a business to run.

For those of you who do not know, I’ve been in Batam, Indonesia, for 2 years and 10 months. The first 2 1/2 years of that time was spent working for Smiling Hill and Goodies Restaurant as a marketing person. It was a great gig and allowed for me to save some money that was used primarily on some travel in the region – Malaysia, Bali, Yogyakarta.

That job ended in July, however, when I flew off to the small Caribbean nation of St. Kitts-Nevis for a job at a weekly. As I’ve chronicled here, that job was just plain terrible, and the island I was on was almost totally devoid of the social life I had in Batam, or anywhere, really. It was fine for tourists at the resorts but not so much for me. So I returned to Batam.

What my job at Smiling Hill also afforded me was the chance to show my capabilities to the large audience of expatriots living and working in Batam, many holding management positions at Western companies with manufacturing operations on Batam. These have become valuable contacts for my new marketing consulting here in Batam.

While there are hundreds of Western-owned companies operating on Batam, mostly in the oil and gas and shipbuilding industries, very few local offices have any sort of marketing capabilities. The expats in charge are generally operational people, mostly engineers, who usually rely on headquarters in some other part of the world for their marketing needs.

business card

However, these companies often need local marketing support and prefer to work with Westerners who understand their needs better than a local Indonesian would. A company I am working with now, for example, needed writing, photography and brochure development for its 5th anniversary. Others are asking for help with their websites, or photography, or Web marketing on a new website I’ve just developed.

In short, there is a built-in need for my services that seemingly no one else on this island of 1.3 million people can offer. So, I’ve been busy.

When I returned from my Caribbean hiatus (call it a vacation where I could clear my mind), I also moved from my cozy quarters in Smiling Hill to a small studio apartment in the middle of Nagoya. Here, I hear the sounds of the city 24/7, walk to the local fresh market for meats, fish, vegetables and fruit, shop at local stores for other needs, hike to the ferry terminal every 60 days for a Visa run to Singapore, and carry out my new business plan.

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An important part of that plan was the creation of a news resource for the Batam expat community – I frankly was surprised the URL was still available, but it was, and now it’s mine.

I think of as the “next generation” of what I was doing with the Smiling Hill weekly newsletter, which was mailed to about 1,200 people who either lived on Batam or had visited Smiling Hill over the years. aggregates news about Batam or the industries predominantly represented on the island, as well as provides information about the activities and interests of Batam’s expat community – contracts, weddings, anniversaries, classifieds, travel, dining, etc. And it does this on a daily basis.

My time the past few weeks, therefore, has been used for three main tasks - marketing my marketing services to Batam’s expat managers, working with my current client on its large anniversary celebration needs, and creating I recently added a fourth – doing some revisions on a new client’s website.

The latter is a work in progress, with changes made almost daily to the site. To this day, I am still exploring different themes for the site, a time-consuming process. The way the site looks now may be how it ends up but there are several interesting options I may try. The beauty of the blog/website format is that I can change the look and feel of the site, ask for subscriber comment, and adjust as necessary. has only been live for two weeks but is generating a great deal of interest from potential advertisers. In fact, we should soon be announcing our first banner advertiser, even as I continue to market the site to build the subscriber base. That’s one of the advantages of the site vs. mailing out a newsletter or creating a static website – people sign up and receive the daily updates via email. They have opted in and should be expected to be more involved in the information presented there.

I doubt that my new ventures will make me rich; I will be happy just with enough extra income to be able to travel in Asia some more, and for maybe another trip back to the U.S. But it keeps me busy and the potential is there for bigger opportunities.

So, if I’m not contributing as much to as in the past, you now know why. I’m just busy with my new life.

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