Gulnara Shahinian is a UN special reporter on the issue of trafficking and modern day slavery. She argues that one of the biggest obstacles in fighting the issue may be how we talk about the issue. Sex trafficking is disproportionately represented as the human trafficking problem, but the human rights violation of modern day slavery is so much more.
I have spent the past five years talking to people in forced labour, domestic servitude, bonded labour, servile marriages and child slavery. These forms of slavery remain invisible, since people are silenced by discrimination, fear of retaliation and lack of awareness. These modern forms of human slavery and criminal acts are often excused as tradition, culture, religion or poverty, or dismissed as nothing more than bad labour practices.
The slavery industry relies on the invisibility of those it preys on. Those trapped are not visibly shackled, but they do live their lives under the control of others.
For the world to tackle slavery effectively, we need to recognise this industry in people in all of its manifestations. Human rights are equal and inalienable. I have met organisations working on ending forced marriage, or on the abuse and exploitation of domestic workers and children, who feel they are unable to call these abuses slavery as the word is too loaded and they would put their work at risk. This must stop. Slavery is slavery, no matter what form it takes.