Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest pleaded with governments and businesses to do all they can to end modern day slavery during an address to business leaders in Yangon on Friday, December 14.
“We cannot rest until we extinguish this evil,” Mr Forrest said during his address at the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) building in Lanmadaw township.
“We are all a little bit harmed by the existence of even one slave in the world,” added Mr Forrest, who is the third wealthiest Australian and founder of Fortescue Metals Group, the fourth-largest iron ore supplier in the world.
Matthew Friedman, project manager at United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), told the audience of several hundred that slavery is not an obsolete concept.
“When a person loses control of their life, when they’re not getting paid, and they can’t leave that situation – what else [can] we call it?” Mr Friedman asked. “It’s slavery. Call it what it is.”
Mr Friedman said that there are more than 20 million slaves in the world, compared to 11.3 million over 450 years of the African slave trade (1450-1900).
“There are more slaves in the world now than any time in history,” he said. “That’s an embarrassing thing for me to say.”
Mr Friedman cited specific scams that affected Myanmar citizens abroad. In one scheme, he said that Myanmar men and boys are tricked onto boats in Thailand and forced to stay on for four years.
“They’ll work 18 to 19 hours a day – and to be able to work that much they’re drugged. So this has a terrible effect on their bodies,” Mr Friedman said. “At the end of this four-year period they ask for their [pay]. But the captain says ‘You’re from Myanmar. I don’t have to pay you. Go away.’ ”
Police Colonel Ral Lyan Mone, from the Central Body for Suppression of Trafficking in Persons, overviewed the anti-trafficking programs undertaken by his agency and the co-operation taking place with neighbouring countries.
Col Ral Lyan Mone said forced marriage was overwhelmingly the most common fate met by Myanmar slaves overseas, according to 2012 statistics. He said other slavery scenarios for Myanmar victims included children forced to beg in Malaysia, physically abusive domestic work in Thailand, and prostitution in China.
“Most people when they think about human trafficking they think … a woman or a girl who is forced into prostitution … there are 4.5 million people [worldwide] in this situation”, said Mr Friedman.
“The typical scenario is a girl who is tricked or deceived … away from her home, put into a forced prostitution situation and forced to have sex with anywhere from five to 10 people a day, seven days a week until she gets a disease and is often cast out. It’s a horrible thing.”
Both Mr Forrest and Mr Friedman urged that support from the business community was essential to fight modern day slavery.
“Either donate your time or funding to help out,” said Mr Friedman.
The presentation was organised by the anti-slavery organisation Mr Forrest founded, Walk Free, and UNIAP. It came ahead of the historic MTV EXIT modern day slavery awareness concert in Yangon on Sunday December 16, which Walk Free and UNIAP are also involved in.
“Slavery does not have a right to exist in this world,” Mr Friedman said.
“There’s not a single person in this room who can come up with any justification why it should be there. So let’s all work together and see if can knock it out.”