29% of Tamil Nadu’s labourers work in bondage’

International Justice Mission (IJM), a US-based anti-trafficking organisation that works towards rescuing and rehabilitating victims of human trafficking has joined hands with local authorities in four districts of Tamil Nadu for more than a decade to reduce the incidence of bonded labour across labour-intensive industries. In an interview with Meera Vankipuram, IJM founder and CEO Gary Haugen, and regional director for South Asia Saju Mathew, reveal that Tamil Nadu has a 29% prevalence of bonded labour and assert that trafficking will reduce only if perpetrators know that they face a serious risk of going to jail. Can you tell us about the United States' End Modern Slavery Initiative?

Haugen| It is a global fund to address slavery around the world. It seeks to end impunity, engage businesses in cleaning up supply chain and to achieve sustainable freedom for survivors.
Slavery has been abolished in several countries. Can you define it in the modern context?

What is IJM's estimate of the number of trafficking victims worldwide?
Haugen|The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are more than 45 million slaves around the world. The International Labour Organisation puts it at more than 20 million.
IJM has faced criticism in the past for its brothel raids. Will you continue with such raids?
Haugen|IJM doesn't ever do raids. Only the local law enforcement agency is authorised to do that. Fifteen years ago, when IJM started providing information to law enforcement agencies, some forces in the commercial sex industry that didn't want police involvement in their trade may have complained against us. But I've never seen such complaints in India. We provide information to law enforcement agencies where victims of crime are hidden. And we will continue to train and upgrade the capacity for them to do that in an effective manner, but also in a way that protects the dignity of everyone involved.
What are the local agencies that you work with in India?
Mathew|We work with the district magistrate, collector, revenue divisional officers, tehsildars and the police among other. Often the referral information comes from the victim community.
How does IJM help rehabilitate survivors?
Mathew|It could be providing emergency medical care, or if someone is returning to their native community, helping them with housing, food and provisions. There is also long-term aftercare like schooling for children, opening bank accounts for people to help them save and invest; and counselling and trauma care for victims.
Do you have any data on bonded labour in TN?
Mathew| A recent study we conducted showed a prevalence of 29% of bonded labour in TN, across 13 industries. This means, 29% of the labour force in each district in industries that require extreme manual labour such as brick kilns, rock quarries, rice mills, agricultural farms, and textiles, is bonded labour. IJM has been working in Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram, Vellore and Tiruvannamalai districts. We have supported police in rescue operations, and there have been many arrests and convictions. As a result, bonded labour in these districts has come down to 6%.
Haugen|When perpetrators of bonded labour are unable to get away with the crime, they stop doing it. Our experience across the world shows that slavery and trafficking drops dramatically when impunity is eliminated and when people know they face a serious risk of going to jail.