Tag Archives: slavery

Satellites and Algorithms against Slaveholders

Brick kilns, tens of thousands across South Asia are often run on forced labor.  Satellite imagery of such kilns can help tally the kilns, enabling organizations on the ground to target slaveholders at the sites…

Some 40.3 million people are held in bondage today, according to the latest estimates from the International Labor Organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. But finding them is hard… Boyd who works for the Rights Lab estimates, however, that one-third of all slavery is visible from space, whether in the scars of kilns or illegal mines or the outlines of transient fish-processing camps.

Boyd is now using artificial intelligence to speed up the search. As a pilot project, she and her colleagues at the Rights Lab used crowdsourced visual searchers to identify brick kilns. The oval shape of the large ovens, sometimes 150 meters long, and their chimneys are distinctive, even from space. “You cannot mix them up with something else,” Boyd says.

Since then, Boyd has turned to machine-learning algorithms that recognize the kilns after being trained on the human-tagged examples. Last month, in the journal Remote Sensing, she and her colleagues reported that the algorithms could correctly identify 169 of 178 kilns in Google Earth data on one area of Rajasthan, although it also output nine false positives…

Another company, called Planet, has about 150 small satellites that snap images of the globe’s entire landmass daily. The images are lower-resolution than DigitalGlobe’s, but their frequency opens up opportunities to identify changes over time.With Planet data, Boyd and the Rights Lab plan to investigate fast moving signatures of slavery. From space, you can watch a  harvest in Turkmenistan and, based on how quickly the cotton disappears, you can tell whether machines or hands picked it. In the Sundarbans, an area spanning India and Bangladesh, shrimp farms and fish-processing camps employ slave labor to clear mangrove trees—a process satellites can capture.

Excerpts from Sarah Scoles, Researchers Spy Signs of Slavery from Space, Science, Feb. 21, 2018

Mass Graves in the Libyan Desert

Growing numbers of African migrants passing through Libya are traded in what they call slave markets before being held for ransom, forced labour or sexual exploitation, according to the UN migration agency.

West African migrants interviewed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recounted being bought and sold in garages and car parks in the southern city of Sabha, one of Libya’s main migrant smuggling hubs. Migrants are traded for between $200 and $500 and are held on average for two or three months, Othman Belbeisi, head of the IOM Libya mission, told journalists in Geneva.

The IOM said it spoke to a Senegalese migrant who was held in a Libyan’s private house in Sabha with about 100 others. They were beaten as they called their families to ask for money for their captors. He was then bought by another Libyan, who set a new price for his release. Some migrants who cannot pay their captors are reportedly killed or left to starve to death and when migrants die or are released, others are purchased to replace them, the IOM said. Migrants are buried without identification, with families back home uncertain of their fate.

“What we know is migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder,” Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operations and Emergencies, said in a statement. “We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”  Libya is the main gateway for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea, with more than 150,000 people making the crossing in each of the past three years.

So far this year an estimated 26,886 migrants have crossed to Italy, over 7,000 more than during the same period in 2016. More than 600 are known to have died at sea, while an unknown number perish during their journey north through the desert.

Excerpts from: Migrants traded in Libyan “slave markets”, Reuters, Apr. 12, 2017

For Sale: 46 Million Slaves

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people are subject to some form ofmodern slavery in the world today. The Index presents a ranking of 167 countries based on the proportion of the population that is estimated to be in modern slavery. 58%
Of those living in slavery are in 5 countries India* China Pakistan* Bangladesh*
Uzbekistan (* Based on nationally representative Gallup survey data)

The countries with the highest estimated prevalence of modern slavery by the proportion of their population are North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India, and Qatar. In North Korea, there is pervasive evidence that government-sanctioned forced labour occurs in an extensive system of prison labour camps while North Korean women are subjected to forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation in China and other neighbouring states. In Uzbekistan, the government continues to subject its citizens to forced labour in the annual cotton harvest.

Those countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Several of these countries provide the low-cost labour that produces consumer goods for markets in Western Europe, Japan, North America and Australia.

Data from the Global Slavery Index

The Global Slavery Index

Ten countries have three-quarters of the world’s 30m slaves, according to the first Global Slavery Index, published by Walk Free, a campaign based in Australia and supported by philanthropists. Its definition of slavery includes coerced work (including provision of sex) and children forced into marriage. Data on these provide the indices for its ranking of 162 countries.  Mauritania comes out worst, with an estimated 4% of the population enslaved. Most are born into slavery—a deeply rooted practice. Children are owned by the same people who own their parents, to be used or sold. Some of India’s 14m enslaved people were also born into slavery, based on caste or other obligations. Others are trapped in debt bondage. This practice has been a crime for nearly 40 years, but the laws against it are poorly enforced.

Definitions of slavery are controversial; many countries fiercely resent charges of inaction. But Kevin Bales, the lead researcher, says that not one government from the ten worst performers (in prevalence) has so far contested his findings. Europe’s slavery rates are the lowest, but even in Britain, one of the lowest-ranked countries, the survey reckons up to 4,600 people are enslaved. They include trafficked women and people, often with mental or family problems, who are coerced into working in construction gangs.Next year’s survey aims to sharpen the data. But without more determined efforts from governments and lawmen, it is unlikely to paint a happier picture.

Slavery: Dry bones, Economist,  Oct. 19. 2013, at  66

Reparations for Slavery – Caribbean Slaves

british-west-Indies.gifBritain ended its slave trade in 1807, and freed the slaves in its Caribbean colonies by 1838. The British government borrowed £20m, then around 40% of the budget, to meet 47,000 claims for loss of human property. The former slaves got nothing.Close to two centuries on, Caribbean politicians want redress. The Caribbean Community (Caricom) which links former British colonies with Suriname and Haiti, established an official reparations commission in July 2013 and has approached a British legal firm, Leigh Day, for advice…Among the precedents for financial reparations, West Germany and Israel signed a financial agreement in 1952, seven years on from Auschwitz. In June this year, after legal action by Leigh Day, Britain conceded payments averaging £2,600 ($4,000) each for 5,228 now elderly Kenyans who were brutally mistreated during the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s. Britain’s courts will not now consider claims for atrocities occurring before 1954. Unpicking wrongs from 60 years ago is hard enough.

Who should pay? With the slave owners all dead, Caricom wants taxpayers’ money from Britain, France and the Netherlands… Figures quoted for the current equivalent of the £20m paid to slave owners vary from £16.5 billion to £76 billion. A widely reported demand in 1999 was for $777 trillion to be paid to Africa over five years. More than ten years on, that would still be around ten times global GDP.

Who should be paid? Caricom is talking about compensation at a national level. Based on the numbers with slave ancestors, that would funnel the lion’s share of the money to America and Brazil—with a good slice to Brixton and Birmingham.  There is potential for divisive squabbles. In Trinidad and Guyana, descendants of Indian indentured labourers outnumber the black population. Sat Maharaj, Trinidad’s most prominent Hindu leader, argues that the Indo-Caribbean population also deserves compensation. He asks whether it should also come from Islamic countries that imported slaves, and from African countries where local merchants sold slaves to Europeans.

Slavery reparations: Blood money, Economist, Oct. 5, 2013, at 42