By Susan V. Ople
(Published in Philippine Panorama, Dec. 23, 2012)
What is the difference between forced labor and human slavery? Forced labor and slavery is defined by the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003 as the extraction of work or services from a person by means of enticement, violence, intimidation or threat, use of force or coercion, including deprivation of freedom, abuse of authority or moral ascendancy, debt bondage or deception.
Given this definition, forced labor is slavery and vice-versa, with no legal distinctions between the two under our law. In deciding which cases fall under the category of forced labor trafficking, two key elements must be considered:
1. There is work or service; and,
2. Such work or service is extracted from a person by means of enticement, violence, intimidation or threat, use of force of coercion, deprivation of freedom, abuse of authority or moral ascendancy, debt bondage or deception.
The second element is important because it refers to the means to keep a person working against his or her will or to make sure that said person is trapped under exploitative circumstances. A working draft of the Manual on Trafficking in Persons for Forced Labor soon to be launched by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) states that “where workers were induced by deceit, false promises and retention of identity documents or forced to remain at the disposal of an employer, this becomes a case of forced labor.”
Why do people need to know about modern slavery? Because it exists in the Philippines and throughout the world, but we seldom refer to it by its proper name. Forced labor or slavery was the subject matter of an intense communications planning workshop organized by the Blas F. Ople Center and The Asia Foundation from December 3 to 4 at the Astorial Plaza Hotel in Pasig City. This writer thanks Ms. Maribel Buenaobra of The Asia Foundation, Ms. Jan Chavez-Arceo of DoJ-IACAT, and POEA Deputy Administrator Jaime Jimenez for lending their full support to this workshop.
Our participants belonged to the communications units of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the Justice Department’s Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) Secretariat, Department of Labor and Employment and the Office of the Vice-President as well as the Ople Center and Visayan Forum Foundation. The objective of the two-day workshop is to formulate a strategic communications plan to raise public awareness about forced labor trafficking.
We all agreed that the level of awareness about forced labor is extremely low. It seems that the main preoccupation is on human trafficking as a whole and sex trafficking or exploitation in particular.
Unfortunately, forced labor trafficking has been with us for decades. How many workers here and abroad are unable to leave their work out of fear of reprisal or because of unjust, never-ending debts? The International Labor Organization believes that forced labor represents a severe violation of human rights and restriction of freedom. A worker must always be free to choose whether to stay on or leave his or her work.
Facilitator and communications specialist Deedee Espina guided our participants through the communications planning process. Former Philippine Star editor and public relations specialist Sammy Santos discussed issues management and the news cycle while my daughter who runs BizWhiz Training and Consultancy, taught us about the power of Facebook as a communications and education tool.
An overseas worker from Syria named “Marie” shared with us her tragic story as a modern day slave in Aleppo. She described how her employers would slap her face, bang her head on the table, and deduct five dollars from her monthly wage whenever she committed a mistake. Her companion, also a Filipino household worker, suffered frequent beatings courtesy of their employers. They escaped with only the clothes on their back, walking barefoot on the street, penniless and in dire fear for their lives. Both domestic workers ended up in a deportation facility for three months prior to repatriation.
Marie’s emotional story served as our inspiration as we started mapping out a communications strategy to raise public awareness about forced labor trafficking. Hers was the classic case of an OFW deceived into thinking that her employment was a decent one. In fact, “Marie” thought she was going to Dubai to work as a babysitter but ended up arriving in Damascus, Syria. A licensed recruitment agency was involved in her deployment.
On the second day of our workshop, the boyish and super smart Atty. Yves Gonzalez, head of the MMDA Twitter team, shared his 5 principles in using Twitter. We learned how social media could bring an institution closer to its constituency. This corner wishes to acknowledge with thanks the help of The Asia Foundation, DoJ-IACAT and the POEA in helping us put this workshop together.
Hopefully, the strategic communications plan that we drafted will gain the approval of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking and its member-agencies. Unless more people understand what forced labor is all about, how can we hope to end it? (Send comments to [email protected] Visit www.facebook.com/preventtraffickingnow to understand what forced labor trafficking is all about. Follow me on Twitter via www.twitter.com/susanople)