A crucial tenet of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that all humans should be free of slavery, abuses, violence and fear. Yet human trafficking is still a $150 billion industry affecting 46 million people across the world, akin to a “modern day slave trade.” Trafficking commonly masquerades as an opportunity for a better life or good work to its victims, before victims are forced into brothels or indentured servitude. A report last week found Zimbabwe was one of the worse affected by this phenomenon with nearly 100,000 estimated victims (or 0.64% of its population). Over half of these victims are female, and around a quarter are children. The Global Slavery Index has also observed that vulnerabilities in the region were increased by worsening economic conditions, violent conflict and territorial displacement, and humanitarian or environmental crises. While modern slavery is still prominent in many countries, the injustice is especially prominent within Zimbabwe, where the sentencing and governmental response seems more lenient.
In 2014 the Zimbabwean Government enacted the Trafficking in Persons Act. However it has been criticized for not meeting its own minimum standard, for failing to implement an action plan, and for having a definition of trafficking which is inconsistent with the UN. Infamously, seven suspects accused of trafficking 1,000 women from Zimbabwe to Kuwait in May 2016, were granted bail of 300 USD. Furthermore, the Zimbabwean Government blocked the Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance and the Zimbabwe Activist Alliance from petitioning the Kuwaiti Government to return the trafficked women. As of March 2017, 161 women have been rescued and bilateral talks are ongoing. Throughout 2016 and 2017 there have also been a number of high profile cases about thousands of workers not being paid for years by powerful companies such as the Grain Marketing Board, the National Railways of Zimbabwe, and Mbada Diamonds.
So what are the solutions? To begin with, the Zimbabwean government could take a more proactive approach to preventing and punishing these crimes. This would require both a tightening of their legislation and a more pro-active commitment to follow it. There are also a number of social justice organisations within the country which are challenging the government and companies to end servitude; for instance the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice links impoverished workers with legal experts. There are also international means to challenge human trafficking. The International Organisation for Migration is working with global partners to challenge the causes of trafficking, alert vulnerable individuals to the dangers, arrest perpetrators, and empower survivors. The US in particular has called for sterner action from Zimbabwe and promised to provide them support, while US embassy charge d’affaires, Jennifer Savage, has encouraged everyone to be more conscious of the “background and practices of the companies we use.”
The modern slave trade persists due to the vulnerabilities of the millions who are displaced or in poverty and the lethargic actions of some governments in tackling it. Zimbabwe can do more to address this very real issue within their borders, through a multi-faceted alliance between national and international organisations. However, this effort will require a far greater commitment than they have currently demonstrated.