“Hong Kong is not affected by, nor involved with human trafficking.”

Dave McCracken (Teacher at LPC UWC)

This post was originally posted at UWC Life. Dave McCracken, a LPC teacher who is a very active and passionate anti-humantrafficking advocate. He is also the teacher leader of Traffick Link, the anti-trafficking group at LPC.

This is a common answer from school children through to top executives. If this were true, why would Hong Kong have a tier 2 rating, putting it among the countries who do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards?

The thought that Hong Kong could be profiting from the selling of people into slavery receives much denial. That there are citizens here involved in the brutalisation of children and adults (mainly women) for profit – surely not! After all Hong Kong has an amazing international reputation and is regarded as one of the safest cities on the planet. The hard truth is that the trafficking of people here is no different to anywhere else. It is such a heinous crime, often involving organised crime and extreme violence, that it is more convenient for politicians and society in general to deny all knowledge about its existence.

“A concise dismissal of the comforting myth that slavery is a thing of the past … and a call to action to all citizens to ensure our governments, communities, businesses, unions, and the charities we support are doing everything possible to finally eradicate slavery from our midst.”

Aiden McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International

Slavery is older than money and all legal systems, and it has been practiced by cultures worldwide. There are more slaves today than at any time in human history and this includes the 350 years of the Atlantic slave trade. All are economically exploited and are under violent threat and control. They may have been kidnapped, sold by a parent or simply born into slavery. From their beginning until their end, often death, today’s slaves will have been brutally treated, tortured, raped, deceived and drugged. They will have been sold and re-sold. They will have no identity. They will often accept their slavery as their ‘karma’ and many feel they are utterly alone with no hope for a future.

Investigating Hong Kong’s link with global illicit trade often leads directly into the world of human trafficking. There have been many studies worldwide on this topic and Hong is regularly mentioned. Kimberley McCabe’s book (2008) ‘The Trafficking of Persons’ states that Hong Kong has no specific laws against human trafficking, although a range of criminal offences are used to prosecute traffickers. Organised crime syndicates in Hong Kong and China span the globe. The FBI estimates that they control 45% of all trafficking into the US. The syndicates are so well established that they provide protection to brothels and extort money from local businesses throughout the US.

However we don’t need to focus on organised crime to examine the issues of slavery and human trafficking in Hong Kong. Look at the policies concerning migrant labour. Indonesians are now the largest migrant workforce in Hong Kong and many enter into conditions of ‘bonded labour’, one of the many forms of slavery, in order to obtain employment here. They have to re-pay ‘agents fees’ and many work seven days a week. CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) is deeply concerned about their conditions of employment, especially as many of these migrant workers have their passports removed by their employers. The withholding of passports is one of the indicators of human trafficking, since it leaves people open to all forms of abuse with little or no rights and at the mercy of their employer.

TraffickLink visit to AFESIP Siem Reap, Cambodia, in March 2010 to work and play with the rescued young women resident there

The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report highlights Hong Kong as being a Destination and a Transit territory for men and women forced into labour and prostitution. This means that people are trafficked through Hong Kong on their way to other countries as well as being trafficked into Hong Kong to be held in slavery or slavery-like conditions here. The Report states that women from Hong Kong are forced into prostitution in Canada, while other reports state that Hong Kong girls are trafficked into the brothels of Sydney, Australia. Hong Kong has been linked with the trafficking of Thais to Tokyo and Seoul, the trafficking of Filipinas and Koreans to the Gulf states and to the global trafficking of mainland Chinese. The majority of those trafficked are girls and young women destined for abuse, rape and torture in the booming global sex trade.Hong Kong’s Crime Victims Protection Act often views victims of human trafficking as having broken the law.Hong Kongis not a party to the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol.

In China, a tier 2 watch list country, the situation is much worse. With a growing disparity between the rich and the poor there are many opportunities for exploitation. The TIP Report states that China is a Source, Transit and Destination country and, in addition to trafficking into, through and out of the country, there is a growing internal problem in the labour and sex industries. The Chinese government does prosecute human traffickers but the problem is so great that much more attention needs to be drawn to it.

Modern slavery is a blight on humanity which can be treated and cured. Ending slavery forever will be a long and extremely difficult task. It will involve the compliance of the UN, governments and strong political leaders. It will fail if there is no political will and little funding made available to combat the traffickers and the slaveholders. Wealthy countries need to stop creating the demand by exploiting an abundant cheap labour market, in their ever-increasing desire to maximise profits. Likewise, governments of the developing world need to cease creating the supply by ceasing to sell their own people. Incorruptible legal systems and harsh sentencing of criminals should be mandatory. Systems need to be in place to recognise and rehabilitate victims, instead of treating them as illegal immigrants and deporting them. This often returns them to their traffickers and locks them in an endless cycle of trafficking and abuse.

Every time we ignore trafficking we condemn the poor, the voiceless and the vulnerable to exploitation. We need to inform everyone who does not believe that slavery exists. We need to raise awareness and force governments to act. We should never doubt that we can do something – and talking about it is a great start.


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