Tuesday 10th December 2013
Slaving away Michael Lanigan looks at the everyday factors that facilitate modern slavery in the society we live in.
I Michael Lanigan Deputy InDepth Editor
n the wake of the Lambeth scandal, it is evident that a misguided perception of modern slavery is being conveyed by the media, skewing vital facts for the sake of an attractive scoop. In a case that saw three women kept in bondage for thirty years, the British press focused on the purported political collective aspect of the story, while ignoring the crux of the matter: slavery and the legal systems stimulating its growth. Their eye for a great headline reassured unsettled readers into thinking that exploitation is scarce in our society, only conducted amongst cults and extremists. This has been an immoral calming of nerves, allowing us to believe that such a repulsive act is alien to our society and that we would never allow it to occur without taking appropriate action. Yet we permit it to pass under our radar daily, blind to the fact that it is here on our doorstep and in the institutions that we lovingly support. What surprised everybody is how the detention of the women in Lambeth evaded local attention for so long. However, in order to write an eye-catching tale, major news outlets omitted any explanations or details which would inform viewers as to the actual facts behind forced labour. The truth is that detainment comes through debt bondage, withholding identification, physical threats and psychological manipulation, such as insisting that the victim cannot seek justice in their new country due to an illegal status, or lack of work permit. These are the basic factors which sale conscious tabloids ignore in their coverage of the issue. As a result, there is no dissemination of sufficient information to help prevent further cases from occurring. From an Irish viewpoint, prior to 28th June, the topic’s latency caused many to deduce that it was a non-existent subject in a contemporary Irish context.
However, this date witnessed the revision of a legal loophole in the Employment Permits Act of 2003, in accordance with the International Labour Organisation’s Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (No. 29), and led to a brief period of interest. However, once the legislation came into being, although not properly implemented, we assumed that there was no longer any reason to be concerned about that which we never really were to begin with. As a result, 28th June was not a day of abolition, despite the news depicting it as such. Hence, the matter petered out without any change to standards of practice in the workplace. Actually, the problem is worsening in Ireland. The reason for this is that we continue to ignore key factors contributing to the cesspool of modern slavery. Irish racial and cultural divisions help its effective concealment in plain sight. Rampant consumerism tries to embellish mass production with a façade of benevolence, while companies such Urban Outfitters and Starbucks utilise exploited labourers, despite charitable fair trade banners. These are inconvenient items to tackle, because they are crucial luxurious factors in established capitalist society. Thanks to this complacency, slavery is rife in Ireland, from the entertainment industry to restaurants and especially amongst domestic workforces. Yet why are we so willing to wave off the idea that slavery is still alive in our country? In truth, we know it exists, but shamelessly accept its economic viability, turning a blind eye out of inertia. Like Pontius Pilate, we absolve ourselves from direct associations in order to continue our standard routine. Playing upon this reluctance, the term “slavery” became overly sensationalist according to shamelessly pompous media sources. Sensible analysts scorn the word, if not the idea, strip-
“Rampant consumerism tries to embellish mass production with a façade of benevolence, while companies such Urban Outfitters and Starbucks utilise exploited labourers, despite charitable fair trade banners.”
ping it down to diluted semantics, straying from the core subject and misleading the public in the process. Our passive attitudes and obsession with consumerism encourages major businesses to carry on exploiting voiceless victims. Take for example IKEA, the internationally adored company who have turned affordable shopping into a large subculture. This is a company guilty of using slave labour in East Germany during the 1980s. Yet we still flood to their stores, especially with Christmas looming, satisfied by their public statement of regret, accompanied by a donation to research on the subject (research, not action). It is hardly a commendable act of penance, considering IKEA were more than aware of these unpaid prisoners and made pathetic efforts to ensure they received their entitled wages. The obvious question is what can we actually do to fight corporate exploitation? We all know the answer, but unfortunately it’s not convenient. Despite what they might lead themselves to believe, most people do not care about methods of labour, provided the furniture is cheap. Forgive and forget. It’s too late to let IKEA’s shady past hinder modern consumerist requirements. Donate a few coins to charity, reassure yourself that you can make a difference that way and then sleep at ease in an IKEA MALM bed (only ¤98). Then there is Qatar and its successful bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Due to erect twelve stunning venues for the event, Irish corporations are seizing the lucrative opportunity through the Project Qatar campaign, while promising to honour workers’ rights. This is despite the notorious kafala system, which allows visa-sponsoring employers to withhold migrant workers passports, giving these labourers no hope of seeking fair justice. This is not a niche strategy; this is 1.3 million unskilled migrant work-
ers, 94% of the labour force in Qatar alone. Nevertheless, hazard a guess as to what the controversial debate of the Qatar games is: Which season will suit playing conditions, winter or summer? Major networks will broadcast the games. There will be no boycott, but we do have the Irish contractor’s word on protecting rights in a country where the odds are stacked against social justice. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates 4,000 workers will die before the opening game with a current average of one death per day, typically heart attacks attributed to the intense weather and workload. But how will the healthy, well-paid footballers fare in the punishing heat? That one really keeps me awake at nights, even in my handsome MALM bed (still only ¤98). The fact of the matter is that this heinous violation of human rights does not need to conceal itself, because we allow ourselves to wallow in blissful denial. Why stop if nobody is expressing concern? There is no altruism because our desire for trivial entertainment prevails, proven for every country investing in the turgid Project Qatar. The truth is that Ireland has attempted to challenge overseas exploitation in the June amendment by writing in a clause to indict perpetrators outside our jurisdiction. This is however, a token gesture. If our government can’t deal with internal exploitation, then what hope do they have internationally? Though Ireland ranks 160th in the 2013 Global Slavery Index, and the forced labour bill passed in June theoretically eradicated migrant exploitation in Ireland, there are currently 340 documented cases of non-Irish workers in illegal servitude and over 24,000 more vulnerable to this scourge. What does this say about a modern and progressive Ireland? It says that we are little better than the ante-bellum slave
states of America and far worse than a 21st century nation ought to be. Considering Muhammad Younis still awaits compensation for seven years of forced labour, we can hardly congratulate ourselves. He is but one of many similar cases, having worked as a tandoori chef in his cousin, Amjad Hussein’s restaurant Poppadom in Clondalkin under threat of deportation. With his passport seized by Hussein, Younis earned 51c per hour, working over 77 hours per week, with his only holiday being Christmas Day. After finally managing to escape these conditions, Younis went before the Labour Court and won his case, with ¤92,000 in compensation due. However, in August 2012, the High Court revoked the ruling under the 2003 Permits Act, which does not legally require Hussein to hand over the reparations. At present, Younis is pending an appeal to the Supreme Court, which will likely occur in 2014 and even at that, might require a further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile, a recent Google search reveals that Poppadom is still going steady in their business. While the Oireachtas initially stated outright that this violation of human rights meant an effective scheme was in dire need of rapid devising and implementation, today our government has demoted the issue to that of a lesser priority. Now, six months onwards, the purported legislative change remains a promise, but nothing exceptional has come to volition. The bill to protect migrant’s work permits arrived, but the problem of forced labour remains an ever-present matter glossed over. If we are not motivated to take issue with this now, then how many more cases along the lines of Younis’ will it require before we feel moved to action?
Tidings of comfort Christmas can be a testing time for many. Michael Stone offers some guidance on how to stay mentally healthy the whole year round.
A Michael Stone Staff Writer
friend of mine approached me recently to talk about their ongoing difficulties with mental health. It was an upsetting revelation, not only because it hurts to see a friend going through a tough time, but also because it brought back memories of my own struggle with mental health. This time last year, I was in a very different position mentally. A personal crisis, coinciding with the challenge of adapting to life at university, manifested itself in a crippling depression that often reduced my capacity to engage socially and academically. It’s good to look back at the work done in the past year. I’ve improved my mental state and come to a place where I enjoy and am relatively satisfied with life. Of course, the journey is not over yet and the dark clouds rear their heads from time to time but the progress is encouraging. However, with my friend’s disclosure, it occurred to me that I’m in a position where I have something to offer people in such a difficult place. This year, I have been heartened by the volume of work done to destigmatise mental health in College - between publications, the SU and online initiatives. But there is always more to be said. The recent startling statistic that half of Irish youths experience mental health difficulties at some stage suggests that many of you reading this paper are suffering. I feel it’s worth passing on a combination of reflections on my own experience and the best advice offered to me at the time. When I was struggling with mental health last year, I began to withdraw from the social world and became very selective and conservative about whom I spoke to. This was a mistake, as it only served to increase my feelings of isolation. It’s much more beneficial to treasure time spent with friends, as it will give you a better lift than anything else. Your true friends are those who accept you for who you are and who offer confirmation of this with every encounter. If you feel better about yourself after spending time with people, then they’re great friends.You have no obligation to people who make life difficult for you, who lower your self-esteem, who do not appreciate you. You owe them nothing, so do yourself a favour and move on, you’ll be far better off. In contrast to that, revisit old friendships. In university it’s a common thing for people to feel it necessary to detach themselves from relics of their past – secondary school, hometown, sports teams. This excommunication has unfortunately become associated with ‘embracing college’ but in reality, it reflects poorly on the rejecter and raises questions as to how long-lasting their new friend-
ships will be. Instead of rejecting, resolve differences and embrace the company of those from your past who represent true friends and make you feel comfortable in your own skin. Surrounded by such people, new and old, you will feel safer and more secure at the centre of a network of support. Just as important as time spent with friends is time spent alone. In the helter-skelter world of classes, deadlines, countless opportunities and change, it’s easy to forget the person at the centre of the experience: your good self. Take time to yourself where you are not worrying or fretting. Every Monday at 5pm, the Student Counselling Services (SCS) do an excellent drop-in Mindfulness Meditation. For anyone struggling to find time for themselves, attending even one of these can help you with the wonderful skill of Mindfulness, which can be enacted in a short period of time in the morning, before bed, or even on the bus. Alternatively, spend your free time doing something you enjoy - listening to music, reading, writing, painting, whatever. Your own company should be cherished, not avoided. Central to this is a love of self. Remember that you have a lot to offer and that although you may have faults, they are negligible in comparison to the positive contribution you make. I have found a by-product of depression to be a lack of care for oneself, which only serves to create a self-propagating cycle. Look after yourself through healthy eating, exercise and positive social interaction. By treating yourself better, you can learn to appreciate yourself more and take more pleasure in your own company. It is proven that engaging in an activity that you find enjoyable increases your sense of contentment with life. This seems selfevident but it’s easy to just engage in activities with an end goal in mind – a CV, a sense of obligation an ongoing commitment – but without having an inherent interest in the act. The foundation of an optimal experience is that it’s an end in itself. Enjoying the experience of an activity adds richness to life. Particularly with the onset of the dreaded winter, it’s easy to stay at home, brooding under the covers, passively browsing Facebook and feeling sorry for yourself. However, this is the time to lift your outlook by getting involved. It could start on a personal level; engage positively with yourself by getting out for a walk or a run. Following this, you’ll find a whole world of opportunity in college life; don’t let this overwhelm you. Go to a few different club/ society events and play to your strengths. Try a drop-in debate with the Phil or Hist, go to a Tech Workshop in Players, téigh go
“With the onset of the dreaded winter, it’s easy to stay at home, brooding under the covers, passively browsing Facebook and feeling sorry for yourself.”
dtí Anraith & Arán i seomra na nGaeilge, volunteer with VDP or VTP, go on a day hike or river trip, I could go on. Committees exist in part to welcome new members and people, in general, are social creatures – they’re not going to shun you. Everyone else is not infinitely more settled and grounded than you are. If you’re finding it hard to make friends then engagement is a solution. If you actively participate in something you enjoy, you’ll find you have countless similarities with others doing the same. You’ll hardly notice how quickly friendships fall into place as a result. When you go about changing your approach to life you‘re always going to encounter setbacks. Depression is cruel in how it robs you of your ability to function, making even leaving the house seem like a haunting thought. In order to combat this, you need to congratulate yourself on every little achievement you make in a day and take a positive, adaptive approach to anything that may not have gone your way. It may sound lame but when I set about trying to engage more with life, I started spending my bike journeys home recounting
Illustration: Reed Patrick Van Hook
all of the good things that happened that day and gave myself an internal pat on the back for each one. If things hadn’t gone so well, I would chalk them down to experience or think about how I could avoid the same thing happening again in the future. Depression can exaggerate the size of a problem but adopting mental tactics can counteract it. An approach such as this will make you feel much more optimistic about how life is going. Above all else, try to lessen the burden by talking. I would say the first port of call is your friends; you’ll be surprised at how many of your problems they share and how much of a relief this knowledge will be. Your family care about you immensely and sometimes the detachment college brings – both literal and figurative distances – can make you forget this. If you find it difficult to turn to friends or family, you are not lost; there is a wealth of resources at your disposal. The SCS provide an invaluable service; you will never again have a free counselling service to avail of so no matter what your problem is, take advantage of the workshops and one-on-one
sessions that they offer. They are open, confidential and nondiscriminatory. In the past I have found both their practical approach to life and the provision of an independent wall to bounce ideas off incredibly beneficial. As well as this we have the massively under-utilised S2S, Niteline, tutors and Welfare team, as well as non-College bodies such as Samaritans, turn2me, Pieta and more. There is always someone to talk to so do not hesitate to do so. I hope it doesn’t sound like I am handing out advice from a deep-seated, well-grounded position. I am still trying to follow each of these approaches in my day-to-day life – they’re certainly not gospel, but they help. I do feel that if I had had a clearer vision such as this presented to me this time last year, I would have been able to get myself out of the hole of depression much quicker. The key thing is in starting straight away and not allowing your difficulties to fester and grow. It’s not without difficulty but it’s easier than silent suffering.