Statement on International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is a chance for us to remember the terrible consequences of depriving our fellow human beings of their dignity and rights.
In the popular imagination, slavery is often tied to the transatlantic slave trade that is rooted in the colonial experience. It would be foolish, however, to think that slavery is relegated to the past and alien from the world today. As the subjugation of workers in Dubai attests, slavery is still used by an elite class of people to pursue their own ends.
The need to always be vigilant against any exploitation of people can be seen in the United Kingdom’s recent passing of a modern slavery bill to hold corporations accountable for inhumane labour practices. The bill will ensure “that perpetrators convicted of slavery or trafficking face the toughest asset confiscation regime.” The maximum sentence for the most serious offenders has also been increased from 14 years to life imprisonment. These clauses are an important bulwark against the expansion of the slave trade.
What about Singapore? We might not have slavery here, but we do see systemic injustice against migrant workers. Most recently, it was revealed that foreign workers do not receive adequate nutrition. It is not acceptable that such an important part of a worker’s life be left to the discretion of employers. The Ministry of Manpower should implement rules to ensure that migrant workers are given proper food.
The new liquor laws [Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act], set to take effect on 1st April 2015, further complicates our engagement with migrant workers. While the government has assured that the laws will be enforced fairly, the legal precedence for discrimination is incredibly troubling. By declaring Little India — a migrant worker hangout — a liquor control zone, with additional regulations, we are set to segregate migrant workers from Singaporeans.
To stand against slavery and all the conditions that permit it to take root, we will have to make a concerted effort to improve the working conditions of our migrant workers. Punitive measures alone will not do. Only then can we have a humane and multi-ethnic community that cherishes the contribution of everyone in society.