Author Archives: Soren Dayton

A multi-state rescue

Watch this video in which people describe their experience working in a Bangalore incense factory, working for multiple years without any compensation:

This was a recent case from our Bangalore office. This was part of a multi-state, 155-person rescue described in more detail in this story from The Hindu:

The recent raid on an agarbatti factory on the outskirts of Bengaluru, in which 107 labourers were rescued, points to a trafficking network that runs much deeper than what this specific case reveals.

Those rescued by the district administration and the police from Balaji Agarbatti Factory at Kaggalipura on Thursday hail from West Bengal (43), Assam (40), Jharkhand (22), and Nepal (2). They were brought here in batches over three years. However, the common thread running through all their narratives is the modus operandi of “agents” who brought them to Bengaluru. […]

The next stop was Tirupattur, Tamil Nadu, where some of them worked briefly in another agarbatti factory before moving to Bengaluru. While the first point of contact at the village level is different depending on the State from which they hail, the Delhi agent is unanimously mentioned by all workers.

“There is certainly a racket here and the police are on the lookout for links to the agency in Delhi,” said Dayanand, tahsildar of Bengaluru South taluk. Besides provisions of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, the factory owner and touts have also been booked for human trafficking (Section 370).

Sources in Kaggalipura police said it was a “clear case of trafficking with inter-State ramifications” with several agents involved. Subsequently, a raid was also conducted at an agarbatti factory in Tirupattur, where 48 workers were rescued.

This complicated rescue required the work of multiple offices in multiple states and the strong response of government officials. I am so proud this IJM was involved in this. This is what we mean when we say that part of our objective is to “prove that justice for the poor is possible.”

The thing that struck me more than anything else about this was how modern the facility was. The New Indian Express had a picture from the inside:

This is not a brick kiln operating with some pre-industrial manufacturing techniques. This is a factory operating at scale with modern technology and facilities.

A remarkable rescue in Bihar

An NGO that IJM partners with in the northern state of Bihar recently did a rescue that shows that things are changing on the ground, but also shows how alarming the facts are still on the ground. The rescue was done with the National Human Rights Commission, a government body that ensures that human rights are protected, and reported here. There were 118 people from 38 families in a traditional bonded labour case in which the families had been victims for generations:

The petitioner alleged that more than thirty eight families are being exploited under an illegal bonded labour system in the revenue jurisdiction of Benipatti Sub-Division of Madhubani District. These labourers were forced to work by their respective employers at agricultural lands under “Kamiya” bonded labour custom.

The labourers are working since generations. The labourers are not paid their statutory minimum wages, instead they receive in kind two kilograms each (husband and wife) of raw rice per day against their hard labour rendered. Most of the labourers belong to the Scheduled Caste category (Mushahar) and work more than 10 hours a day. They are trapped in a customary bonded labour system in which the labourers are not free to move out or to be employed elsewhere, alleged the Petitioner.
Just to repeat. People were forced to work for generations and paid in kind in raw rice. Two kilograms per day. With subsidies for the poor, one kilogram of rice can cost just Rs. 5, or or less than $0.10. This long-term, generational oppression happened, in part, due to the caste system. The owners of the farmland were high caste, while the workers were dalits or untouchables.
The story continues, noting that

Accordingly ‘Release Certificates’ have issued to them and at least 113 cases have been filled against 18 errant employers under section 20(2) Minimum Wages Act, 1948 in respect of 48 labourers. They are also booked under the provisions of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Child Labour Act, the Juvenile Justice Act and the Indian Penal Code.

The full report by the NHRC on the case  is here. In that it is also noted that those 18 were charged under the human trafficking offence, which means that they are eligible for life in prison. The report goes into detail about the personal stories of the victims and the resistance that local leaders had to the government responding.

With this report, you actually have one of the best documented modern cases of this form of generational slavery that still occurs throughout the country.

A historic sex trafficking conviction

While our work with IJM has focused on labour trafficking, we do have offices that work on sex trafficking. One of our offices just supported local prosecutors in getting a historic conviction, the longest in the history of the state of West Bengal. According to the Times of India:

On Thursday a Haldia court sentenced man a 13 year rigorous imprisonment for multiple sex trafficking related crimes, the longest sentence in sex trafficking in West Bengal. Naru Gopal Shaw was convicted on April 10 under five sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) by the Additional District and Sessions Court, Haldia, East Mednipore.

Additionally, this was not the brothel owner, but someone who supported the brothel owner’s crime:

“This case is very significant because the convict was not the principal accused, but was charged for abetment,” said Amal Ojha, the special public prosecutor to the case. “This proves that even those who are not directly involved, but are helping as accomplices, can also be punished,” added Saptarshi Biswas, advocate for International Justice Mission (IJM), who provided legal counsel to the victims.

The victims in this case articulated why a conviction is so important:

Three of the rescued victims returned to court to identify Shaw and testify about the abuse he inflicted upon them. One victim, six months into pregnancy made four-hour journey from her home to stand before the court. Another victim testified that Shaw forced them to consume alcohol, raped, and tortured them. She said he threatened that if they didn’t obey the brothel owner they would face dire consequences.

“This will bring terror to people who are running brothels or abusing girls,” one of the victims said. “When people hear that these men who were very powerful are behind bars they will think twice about committing such crime,” the woman added.


US Senate leads on modern day slavery with an innovative approach

Last week the Chairman and Ranking members — the lead Republican and Democrat — of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced legislation to fight modern day slavery of the sort that we are working to address. Senators Corker (R-TN) and Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act and passed it out of their committee unanimously so that the whole Senate can act on it.

Before I go into the details of the legislation, please go tell your Senators to support the legislation.

There are several things about this that I find someone remarkable:

  1. The Senate took notice. With today’s international and domestic crises, the decision to focus on this issue is pleasantly surprising.
  2. It is bipartisan. With nothing passing through Congress, this is something that can. And it is something that President Barack Obama is likely to support.
  3. Additionally, it is a program with a somewhat innovative structure for foreign aid, following in the footsteps of the two major foreign aid programs of the Bush administration that I worked on while working on Capitol Hill: the Millenium Challenge Corporation and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). These used new structures to transform governance and the African AIDS epidemic with relatively little incremental economic investment.

I should point out that International Justice Mission had a role in articulating the importance and achievability of the objectives. IJM CEO Gary Haugen testified to the Committee several weeks before the legislation was introduced. Watch his testimony here, as it is quite a clear articulation of IJM’s point of view.

While, obviously, I am interested in the domain that is getting funded, I am just as intrigued by the structure of the program. Several things jump out at me.

First, the US government is providing “only” $250 million over 7 years, with the goal of raising another $1.25 billion from other countries and the corporate sector, a public-private partnership. This is a tiny amount of money, even compared to the tiny US foreign aid budget, approximately $48 billion in 2015, less than 1% of the federal budget, but the goal is to leverage that money through strong management practices described below that make it easier for others to invest in the program. At just over $35m/year, this is less than 0.1% of the total foreign aid budget. It is sad that with that, Holly Burkhalter, Vice President of Government Relations for IJM, noted that this will make the US government “the largest donor in the anti-slavery field.”

However, and this is the second point, this program has very strong accountability systems, described in the bill and this fact sheet, that seek to not only succeed but to change the culture of NGOs that operate in this space. Money is allocated for 7 years, in part, because the grants are required to prove that they can “[a]chieve a measurable 50 percent reduction of modern slavery in targeted populations,” in that time frame, otherwise, “[p]rojects that fail to meet goals will be suspended or terminated.” Holly from IJM describes this aspect of the Act as “tie[ing] grants to rigorous assessment of slavery prevalence and measurable outcomes.” That requires both planning and measurement, something that many NGOs are just not very good at, but for which IJM has been called “exemplary.”

Hopefully with this new program we can “fatally wound” modern slavery and human trafficking.

PS: I should note that the opinions expressed here are entirely my own in my capacity as a once (and maybe again) foreign aid policy professional and in no way reflect the position of IJM.

What success looks like

In general, when it comes to human trafficking, it is easy to despair. The numbers are enormous. The cases locally seem to never end. One has to take a step back to see what success can look like on the ground. Ultimately, as my friend Sam McCahon notes, success isn’t people rescued, it is people never being trafficked in the first place. Eventually it will be harder and harder to find cases, but that’s not where we are today.

So how do you know what success looks like in the short to medium term? It looks like the system working. One of my colleagues wrote a piece for Pragati Magazine, associated with the Takshashila Institution. It provides a glimpse of what medium term success looks like in a destination of trafficked labour. The legal system works. Cases are found and the legal system responds appropriately.  It is really exciting to step back and realize that we are part of a system like that is working

In the last one year, Karnataka has established itself as a leader in addressing human trafficking, especially labour trafficking. It has done this by effectively implementing a statewide policing structure, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU), under the newly amended section of Indian Penal Code (IPC), s. 370 – Trafficking of Persons. The Karnataka government has demonstrated in a series of recent cases that it is making significant progress in fighting human trafficking.

Not only that, but the conclusion is quite powerful. Not only can what is happening here be a model for the whole country, but it can provide hope that violent crime, especially against the poor and marginalized, can indeed be stopped, or at least reduced sharply

Together these demonstrate that a well-trained police force that is empowered by strong laws that are enforced by the judiciary, can begin to bring protection to society, especially to sections of the society that are often the victims of trafficking. There are several significant consequences of this. Karnataka’s work can be used as a model in other states in cases of trafficking. By ensuring that the AHTU and the police are well trained on the new IPC s.370, the police in other states can start to demonstrate the same effectiveness that they have here, if there is the political will. Additionally, Karnataka case law will provide guidance to the judiciaries in those states. These successes should serve as a message that with proper training and political will, we can have successful policing that protects all sections of society against other crimes. Trafficking offences are not much different than many other crimes that face our society. These successes should tell the police force that they can succeed and also tell the public that it is correct to invest trust in a well-trained police force.


Talking Freedom on Independence Day

So last week was Independence Day here, when the countries of the subcontinent got their freedom from the UK. The work of our office and a partner organization was covered by News 9, a local English-language news station. The segment includes people who were rescued from bonded labour and some of our coworkers:

The segment ran for 50 minutes (21 for content from the segment and 29 for advertising, a ratio that shows the value of that time slot) starting at 6:30pm on Independence Day. Hopefully it is changing the understanding of what is happening here.

One of the people who IJM helped rescue points out that he didn’t understand what Independence was all about until he was free.

Interestingly, an opinion piece in Daily News and Analysis (DNA) placed the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act as one of the top pieces of legislation that guarantees freedom:

However, the Constitution was careful to include restrictions so that unhindered rights would not be detrimental to the rights enjoyed by others. Various legislations have been passed by the Indian Parliament over the 67 years of its history. Below, we list out six landmark legislations that have guaranteed and ensured freedom for the people in the country.

1. Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976: The Act abolished the practice of bonded labour in the country, freeing a person from any bonded services and liquidated the debts as well. The property of the bonded labourer was freed from bondage and the practice of bondage was made punishable by law.


Another 12 people rescued

IJM collage

Pictures from the release and rescue posted to Twitter by IJM’s CEO.

Our office was involved in a release of twelve workers, including six children, and the arrest of a brick kiln owner. Here’s what The Hindu said:

Twelve people, including six children, were rescued from a brick kiln near Ramanagaram here on Wednesday. The owner of the brick kiln was arrested on charges of employing children and keeping the workers confined as bonded labourers.

According to a release issued by the International Justice Mission, which was part of the raid along with Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, the district authorities and the police, the workers were paid an advance and moved to the kiln premises where their movements were curtailed. They were paid less than the stipulated minimum wages.

The picture here contains several elements of the rescue.

Watching the “World’s Biggest Election”

We have had the pleasure of being able to watch what has been dubbed “the world’s biggest election” that tells you so much about this country. CNN has a good prospective write up from a Western perspective and Foreign Policy Magazine’s South Asia Channel has had good ongoing coverage, as has the Financial Times’ Beyond BRICS blog. Google has a great video that urges people to vote and gives you a little sense of the pride that the country has in its election by profiling the first voter post-Independence.

BuzzFeed also has some fantastic images of the election that might give you a little sense of the scale and scope of this exercise.

A number of people have asked me what I thought of the election. So I put together some basic observations. Read More →

The importance of convictions in fighting modern slavery

Several weeks ago a District Magistrate gave a sentence of seven years in a case that our office was involved in, according to The Hindu:

The owner of a quarry from Malakacheruvapalli in Chickballapur district was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for confining 42 people in his quarry as bonded labour.

International Justice Mission (IJM) which brought the case to light, in a release, has said the owner was sentenced by the Civil Judge and JMFC, Bagepalli, under Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, Section 344 of the Indian Penal Code Section (wrongful confinement) and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

The charges against the owner included confinement, payment below minimum wages, children not being allowed to go to school and a pregnant woman in labour not being allowed to go to a hospital.

IJM believes this is the longest sentence ever recorded for holding slaves in India. 

IJM pursues prosecution as a deterrent against future crime. As IJM’s Vice President of Government Relations Holly Burkhalter noted in a review of Siddharth Kara’s book  Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, IJM firmly believes that convictions form an important part of a total strategy for ending human trafficking by not just punishing but my fundamentally changing the risk profile of engaging in illegal behavior.

Prison sentences, on the other hand, can jolt traffickers, pimps, and brothel owners into reconsidering their assessment of profit and risk, and deter them from using children or coerced adults in the labor pool. Indeed, in the course of investigating child sex trafficking in South and Southeast Asia, securing relief for victims, and working with local prosecutors to bring perpetrators to justice, we at the International Justice Mission have found that even a relatively small number of convictions can contribute to perpetrators’ finding a different way to make a living.

She goes to to explain that Kara, whose background is in finance, “believes that ‘the most effective way to reduce aggregate demand is to attack the industry’s immense profitability by inverting its risk-reward economics, that is, by making the risk of operating a sex slave operation far more costly.'”

In Kara’s own words in his TED fellows interview argues that convictions are key because they are a key way to attack a key vulnerability of the slavery business model:

There are vulnerabilities here that can be exploited, in that it’s occurring in relative daylight. It happens millions of times a day. The locations in which it happens are relatively fixed, and you can’t go too far underground because consumers aren’t going to follow you there. And other reasons why this is the vulnerable point, where if you intervene intelligently and carefully, you can not only liberate the slave, which means you also cut off all future cash flows, but you can gather the requisite evidence and information required to successfully prosecute and convict, which elevates the real risk.

So there you are attacking profits and elevating risk, which is inverting that compelling formula we talked about. So this is the argument I make, based on understanding how it works, of what should be done, to more effectively respond.

So that’s why convictions are so important to us.

11 boys rescued; the urban face of bonded labour

This week, our office was engaged in a rescue of eleven boys from Jharkhand who had been working selling snacks — pani puri — in Coles Park, a park in a relatively affluent neighborhood in Bangalore.

Here’s how the Times of India — incidentally, the largest circulation English language newspaper in the world — reported on it:

Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) along with the help of district administration and the labour department rescued 11 boys found working on the roadside eateries especially at the chat stalls near Coles Park on Wednesday morning.

The authorities swung into action after being alerted by International Justice Mission (IJM), an global human rights organization.

The boys hailed from Koderma district in Jharkhand and most of them were found working as bonded laborers, selling Pani Puri in Coles Park.

The boys, between the ages of 12-20 years were employed by two businessmen, both brothers from Jharkhand.

The New Indian Express additionally noted that the “police have arrested Pinto (30), one of the supervisors at the chat outlets, as the owners were out of station for a wedding. The accused have been booked under Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1976, and under section 370 of the Indian Penal Code. ” (IPC 370 is the human trafficking statute) Additionally, a newspaper in Jharkhand, where the boys and the businessmen are from, carried the story, in Hindi.

In this case, these boys — bonded labourers denied various freedoms — were selling snacks to the public in an affluent neighborhood, probably to the students in several nearby middle and upper-middle class schools.

This case is interesting because it illustrates that forced labour is not just a phenomenon of rural areas, which is often the image that many people in South Asia have. They  imagine a caste-based agricultural system in which there is a paternalistic exploitation.

And while this certainly  exists across South Asia, there is an urban story that is quite real, as this and other cases illustrate. With crushing poverty in rural areas — in places like Jharkhand or Odisha — people take whatever opportunity is available, even if the opportunity is an illusion and turns into a nightmare. Often that means migration to another more affluent and more booming part of the country, often the South or a city. In those places, they lose contact with family and may be isolated by language and other differences, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

This urban pattern is important because as South Asia urbanizes, grows and develops, forced labour isn’t going away. It is increasing. That makes the urgency of responding much greater.

Consider two  other stories in the last couple of months.

Several weeks ago the State Human Rights Commission rescued people, again from these same poorer parts of the country, who were forced to live on the roof of their factory in “inhuman conditions,” according to The Hindu:

A team of officials from the Revenue Department on Thursday found about 100 youth, aged between 21 and 26, working in inhuman conditions in a factory on Hosur Road. The surprise inspection followed a direction from the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), which had received a complaint alleging that the company had employed bonded labourers.

A majority of the employees, who are from different parts of the country including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and northern parts of Karnataka, claimed to be diploma holders and had been appointed as interns with a remuneration of Rs 8,500 per month for eight hours of work every day, Tahsildar (Enforcement), Revenue Department, Chudamani told The Hindu.

This story of two men working for 22 years in a pan shop in Old Delhi, isolated from their family and exploited and beaten until rescued by Justice Ventures International, shows illustrates how forced labour continues in contemporary, urban South Asia:

The men worked in the pan shop for 22 years.  Ram Charan was 35 when he came to Delhi.  His father and mother both passed away while he was in the city, but he was not allowed to leave even to mourn their deaths.