Ending slavery the world over
Perth, the capital of Western Australia, recently hosted a global meeting of high-level public and private-sector leaders to discuss plans for the eradication of modern-day slavery, forced labour, and human trafficking, the latter of which, in particular, has been a popular topic of late across the spectrum. Recognising all three as crimes, the Bali Process Government and Business Forum attended by top business moguls and politicians is a welcome initiative. The world at large, however, is waiting for results. The Forum membership mostly consists of countries in North America, Europe and Asia, including Pakistan, whose involvement is imperative in the backdrop of its expanding economy and recent issues of ethical standards and practices as well as labour rights.
The country has a lengthy list of business magnates and politicians, many of whom are also involved in some form of economic trade owning airlines, media channels and sugar mills. It is a deep hope that the Bali Process membership is used as a means to improve the outlook for the country’s labour class.
Much of Pakistan’s economy thrives on major business conglomerates owned by wealthy dynastic families (often a reason for cousin marriages, also). However, their companies only thrive because there is a willing labour class ready to work long hours in deplorable conditions, dangerous heat, and for peanuts just to be able to feed a few morsels to their families at dinner, somewhat reflective of the carrot-and-stick model, though inherently inhumane.
There is a need to update and implement existing laws. While the Constitution prohibits bonded labour, human trafficking and slavery, legal enforcement is nonexistent. There has been ample effort by the labour class to ask for their due rights and to be treated with dignity, but it is for the state to promote the welfare of the impoverished. The legacies of Iqbal Masih and others like him must not be forgotten. Our leaders’ conscience upon seeing pre-adolescent children and pregnant women drudging their feet from car to car in desperate efforts to earn a few rupees by selling colouring books or wiping windshields must induce some action to end the plight of labourers. Now is a good time to provide them some relief.