Why Modern Slavery is a Big Issue That the Government Needs to Address

Did you know that slavery still exists, even until now? This is why the national government is being called to strictly enforce the laws that protect working Filipinos.

According to the 2023 Global Slavery Index of Walk Free, an international human rights group, eight out of 1,000 Filipinos are victims of modern slavery, which is defined by the group as “forced labor, forced marriage and human trafficking, among other slavery-like practices.” Moreover, data from the International Labor Organization states that 1 million Filipino men and women leave the country every year to work abroad, while a total of 10 million Filipinos live and work abroad.

And based on numbers, many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been found to be modern slaves—trafficked and subjected to servitude, debt bondage and forced labor in Asia and in the Middle East.

The Partido Manggagawa Chairman Renato Magtubo notes that many Filipinos have resorted to doing informal work to sustain themselves and their families. By doing so, they are usually exposed to unsafe working conditions. 

The solution? The national government will need to make sure that the Labor department’s inspection is thoroughly carried out. Aside from this, it has to be ensured that the compliance system in businesses is up to standard, particularly when it comes to workers’ wages and working conditions.

What Constitutes Forced Labor?

While there are no provisions on forced labor in the Constitution or the Labor Code, Republic Act No. 10364 of 2012 defines forced labor as “the extraction of work or services from any person by means of enticement, violence, intimidation or threat, use of force or coercion, including deprivation of freedom, abuse of authority or moral ascendancy, debt-bondage or deception including any work or service extracted from any person under the menace of penalty.”

Simply put, if a person were made to work or provide services against their will—whether through violence, enticement, coercion, and the like—it counts as forced labor. Moreover, the law “prohibits the use, adoption, recruitment, and transfer of persons for the purpose of forced labor and slavery,” as it is a criminal offense to do so, even for the accomplices involved.

In a corporate setting, this translates to employees having the freedom to change jobs and the right to quit—provided of course, that the proper steps are followed. This includes serving a written notice at least one month in advance. Moreover, cases wherein migrants are trapped in debt bondage, or workers being kept at sweatshops and being paid little or nothing constitutes forced labor.

How Companies Can Fight Modern Slave Labor 

Companies play a huge and crucial role in solving the problem of modern slave labor in the country, given that this problem will cease to exist if they are compliant with the rules and regulations set by the government. Thus, companies should always make sure that their practices abide by the Labor Code of the Philippines and all relevant legislations and laws. 

Practical examples include paying employees their well-deserved salaries on time, not paying workers below the minimum wage prescribed by the law, and making sure that workplaces are safe to work in. Companies should likewise follow proper regularization procedures and safeguard their employees’ mental health.

What Employees Can Do Against Non-Compliant Companies

Despite all the labor laws and regulations that already exist, many companies still do not comply with the regulations and even manage to avoid getting caught. But from an employee standpoint, no company is above the law, which means that they can actually report the violations of their employers to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). 

While it can be terrifying to report employers to the government and the risk of retaliation could be high, workers need to learn to fight against it. Not doing so allows such companies to continue doing violations that are already harmful to their physical and mental health. And in some cases, these violations could already even be infringing on your basic human rights.

For concerns and complaints, DOLE has a designated hotline that employees can call to report labor law violations. All employees have to do is dial 1349. Employees can also opt to head to DOLE offices in their area to file their reports.