(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