Slavery: a word belonging to the past, yet so alive today. Illegal everywhere, yet present in all corners of the world. And increasing, too. Indeed, in every country there are people working for little or no pay, yet, who must do this due to threats, debt and violence. They are denied of freedom because their lives are practically controlled by other people.

Slavery make take place in various forms. It can be present in labour camps, the sex industry, domestic work and sweatshops. Given that it is often hidden from the public sphere, it is difficult to produce accurate figures on how many people are involved in it. Nevertheless, some research organisations, institutions and non-governmental institutions are doing their utmost to present an accurate picture of modern slavery.

For example, the global slavery index estimates that about 45.8 million people were victims in 2016. The countries with the highest estimated prevalence, in proportion to their population, are North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India and Qatar. The countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. It is important to note that, in this regard, several countries produce low-cost consumer goods for markets around the world.

The same index concludes that the countries with the lowest estimated prevalence of modern slavery in the proportion to their population generally have higher economic wealth, higher levels of government response, higher levels of political stability, lower levels of conflict and greater willingness to combat slavery. These include Luxembourg, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Another important report was published recently by the US Department of State. It focuses on the trafficking of people in 2016.

Liberalism without social justice and communitarian responsibility can result in social breakdown and exploitation

The report refers to Malta and states that people are trafficked to the island for sexual and labour purposes. The island is also identified as a source of trafficking, meaning that people are also trafficked to other countries. It refers to women who are trafficked, primarily for sexual purposes, from countries such as China, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine.

The Department of State also refers to the trafficking of Maltese women and children and to the ‘internal’ trafficking of people for sexual purposes.

The report also refers to precarious and abusive labour involving workers from China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, women from south east Europe in domestic labour, women from China in massage parlours and women from central and eastern Europe working in nightclubs under exploitative conditions.

The Department of State adds that about 5,000 irregular migrants from Africa work in abusive conditions in construction, hospitality and other private activities.

Malta was also mentioned in the Modern Slavery Index 2017, which highlights the increase in modern slavery within Europe. It was listed as one of the 20 EU member states were the risk of modern slavery has increased over the past year.

These eye-opening reports makes it clear that the government of Malta is not conforming to minimum standards to combat the trafficking of people.

What is stopping the government from commissioning studies to collect evidence on people at risk or involved in such abuse? The government can also conduct educational campaigns and push for more police presence in the field. Apparently, only two investigations and two prosecutions took place in Malta last year. In 2015, the corresponding figures were five and seven respectively.

These shocking reports are really food for thought and action, especially when one considers the government’s propaganda strategy to depict Malta as experiencing some golden age. Let us not be dazzled by glittery adverts and seductive spin. Beyond the hyperreality of economic growth, glitzy PR and primetime news on mundane topics, there are people living in miserable conditions in an island state measuring a grand total of 316 square kilometres.

Let us also not allow the government and its allies to label all those who question certain policies as belonging to some stone age society. I myself am liberal but liberalism without social justice and communitarian responsibility can result in social breakdown and exploitation.

Considering that the government is proposing policies on areas such as prostitution and strip clubs, we should be vigilant to read beyond the spin.

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