The Global Slavery Index 2013, published by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australian-based organization dedicated to eradicating modern-day slavery, reveals that there are more than 200,000 slaves in Indonesia.
The Walk Free Foundation’s inaugural Global Slavery Index, which was released at Chatham House in London on Thursday, estimates that there are more than 21 million slaves in Asia, accounting for more than 72 percent of the global total of 29.8 million. The index ranks Indonesia 16th with an enslaved population estimated at between 169,650 and 217,350.
However, in number of slaves per capita, the archipelago of 240 million ranks 114th out of the 162 countries surveyed.
Three other Southeast Asian nations also appear in the top 20 of total population in slavery, with Thailand ranked seventh, Myanmar ninth and Vietnam 15th.
Per capita, the African nation Mauritania ranks first, having 140,000 to 160,000 slaves out of a population of only 3.8 million.
The organization defined modern-day slavery as a practice where its victims are denied their freedom and exploited by another person for profit, sex or the thrill of domination. It added that in 2013, modern-day slavery takes many forms and is known by many names, including human trafficking and forced labor.
A statement from Walk Free Foundation made available on Thursday said that within Indonesia, debt bondage is a common practice in many sectors used to keep people enslaved.
Forced and child labor are also rampant, particularly in the palm oil industry.
“Indonesia’s geography — as a country made up of over 17,000 islands — as well as its cultural and topographical diversity, make law enforcement, monitoring and detection very challenging, especially in areas outside of Jakarta,” the foundation said.
“We also must not forget the even larger number of Indonesians facing exploitation outside of the country,” Nick Grono, CEO of Walk Free Foundation, said.
Current data from the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers records that there are around 6.5 million Indonesian migrant workers abroad.
“Indonesian nationals who have sought work abroad [through both regular and irregular channels], particularly in the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, have been sexually exploited, found in forced labor, domestic work, construction, fishing and hospitality,” the foundation reported.
Illegal status makes Indonesian migrant workers particularly vulnerable to exploitation and slavery.
The foundation said that Indonesia had recovered remarkably since the Asian Economic Crisis, but under-employment and unemployment remained at high levels, which left workers with no choice but to accept poor working conditions.
The foundation acknowledged the Indonesian government’s development of a new anti-trafficking action plan for the period of 2009-2014 and the establishment of a National Action Plan for the Worst Forms of Child Labor.
“Most governments don’t dig deeply into slavery for a lot of bad reasons. There are exceptions, but many governments don’t want to know about people who can’t vote, who are likely to be illegal anyway. The laws are in place, but the tools and resources and the political will are lacking. And since hidden slaves can’t be counted, it is easy to pretend they don’t exist. The index aims to change that,” said Kevin Bales, the lead researcher on the Global Slavery Index.
Responding to Indonesia’s ranking in the index, National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) commissioner Natalius Pigai said that the number of people who had fallen victim to modern-day slavery in Indonesia could be far bigger than 217,000 and that the number “could even reach into the millions.”
“Many small to medium scale enterprises in Indonesia use forms of slavery by breaking existing employment laws. Even the government seems unable to monitor these companies due to lack of law enforcement officers and the companies’ reluctance to report their employment data to the authorities,” Natalius said.
He said that currently there were around only 11,000 officers monitoring hundreds of thousands of companies in Indonesia.
A notorious case of modern-day human bondage was discovered earlier this year in a factory in Tangerang, one of Jakarta’s satellite cities. As many as 34 workers from Lampung and Cianjur in West Java were freed in May from a kitchenware factory in Bayur Opak village, East Sepatan district, Tangerang regency, where they had experienced long working hours and torturous treatment meted out by their employer.
They were forced to work 18 hours with only two meals a day without pay despite being promised a monthly wage of Rp 600,000 (US$53). “The Tangerang case is only the tip of the iceberg,” Natalius said. (hrl)