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Economics of Power: Debt Bondage and Labour in Brick Kilns of Pakistan

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 11 (2665 words)
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Time and again, h uman history has been marked by the contentious practices of slave trade. Despite officially being abolished and outlawed in the late 19 th century, slavery continues to exist in the modern world. S o much so that an estimated population of 27 million people (Bales, 2000) across the globe are still bounded in shackles, sinking countless feet in debt each day, as they are forced to work relentlessly in criminal conditions – helpless to all the abuse meted out to them.

 Slavery has slipped through the fine cracks of modern neoliberal ideals, forming its own shadow economy in the midst of some of the world’ s major developing states , chiefly export providers and manufacturers of raw goods which operate on laissez faire economies . Albeit, the present practice of slavery has transformed immensely from its pre -modern definition, it continues to function as an illicit conglomerate, predominantly found in countries facing pre -existing issues of poverty and education. Thus, being highly rampant in most of South and East Asia, with giants like India, Pakistan an d Ne pal making up the world’s largest pool of slaves in the world.

This paper aims to probe deeper in the practice of slavery as bonded labour in the brick kiln industry situated in Pakistan . Further discussion will follow an analysis on the (re)emergence of slavery in the modern world . C onsequently , the role of modernity, colonialism , capitalism and globalization will also be scrutinized in this process , as well as the social factors that provide undete rred support to this enterprise. Moreover, the paper will also explore strate gies that can be adopted in order to provide relief and mitigate damages caused to the people who have been suffering for decades in this crisis of human security.

Introduction

With the advent of modernity and the birth of the nation state, Adam Smith’s theorization of the free market economy and the invisible hand are constantly at play . Smith claimed the free economy system to be self -regulatory and a beneficial arrangement for society at large , however it also resulted in a sudden rise in principles of economic competition, accumulation of wealth , mass exploitation, g rowth followed by periodic crises , as well as divisions based on po wer and wealth among the masses; the capitalist, the labour and the consumer class (Hall, 2013) . Presently, t he lack of any international economic intervention is feared by leaders across the globe as it might significantly disrupt the operations of the ‘‘free market’’ , but it is also important to  understand that this belief is central to the neo -liberal agenda of the 21 st century (Bennett, 2014, p. 96) .

Due to this social marginalization based on class differences (instead of racial differences as in pre -modern times) are higher than in previous recorded history, where workers are viewed as mere dis posable inputs, used solely to increase output production and fuel the vested interests of employe rs. The current global trends of exploitation, unfair expropriation of wealth and unfair imposition of debt that are taking place on a macro level stems from the pre -modern practices of slavery.

Debt Bondage and Labour in Pakistan

Debt bondage is the most common form of modernized slavery in South Asia (Bales, 2000) . In Pakistan alone , there exists an estimate population of 1 0 million people, mainly landless migrants and the poor who are suffering in forced servitude via debt bondage (A. Ercelawn, 2004) . Further, a sizeable chunk of countless other s may still be unrecorded . It is worth mentioning that these conditions are deeply entangled within the dominant structures of the feudal and class systems prevalent in the country, particularly in rural areas in the manufacturing and agricultural sector of the economy. Debt bondage functions when a person pl edges their service and labour against a loan of a large sum of money for an undefined period of time , the nature of the job may or may not be disclosed. It so happens to be that cheap low wage labour is frequently unable to pay off the original debt, whic h can then be passed down to younger gener ations , as a result enslaving families and relatives.

Those who try to escape or runaway can be punished by seizing or selling children into further debt bonds. The fact that ownership of slaves is now illegal does not bother slaveholders because slaves are so inexpensive and widely available – due to surges of unemployment in these regions as well as the lack education and awareness of labour laws – they are not worth securing permanent ownership. Hence, they a re primarily viewed as disposable inputs. Most slaveholders and employers may often be closely linked with tiers of the higher social class, politicians, landlords , and government officials who are able to twist administrative laws and the judicial system with ease (A. Ercelawn, 2004) . Moreover, there is a complete physical control exercised on the labour force . In most cases of debt bondage, ind eed the very life of the debtor becomes collateral for the debt .

This establishes t he clever cycle of debt bondage , which seeks to enslave and trap the weak , rendering them powerless in their own bodies. Due to the fact that all labour provided by the debtor is the collateral property of the lender until the debt is repaid, the debtor is unable to ever earn enough to repay the lender . Usually, a partial sum of the debtor’s income is deducted from their total debt , but through false accounts, high interest s and extortionate schemes of advance payments , the debtor remains crushed beneath the burden of their debt, helplessly paralysed but continuously struggling for a freedom that is forever out of reach. This arrangement i s a hallmark of the plight of the debt bondage workers in the brick manufacturing kilns in Pakistan (A. Ercelawn, 2004) .

According to a study conducted by PILER (Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education and Research) , commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Labour, Pakistan and ILO, there are different categor ies of kiln labour; salaried workers that have particular jobs within the industry such as jalai walas who are responsible for the baking of the wet bricks, whereas bharai and nikasi walas are piece -rate labour ers. Children working kilns particularly in the outskirts of Lahore and central Punjab were noted to be between the ages of 10 -14 ye ars .

The harsh working conditions in the sweltering heat from the kilns and the volatile environment proves to be detrimental on the health of such young and impressionable minds, with no accountability of the toll it takes on their mental and physical health, stunting the growth of a majority of the future generation of the country. The study provides insightful research which con firms the general over view about brick kilns as major holds where debt bondage occurs within the manufacturing industry debt bondage occurs.

The research conducted consolidated most of their time in small to moderate sized kilns that produced upto 4,00,000 -6,00,000 bricks on a monthly basis, whereas larger kilns located in Lahore are noted to produce outputs ranging from 8,00,000 and beyond (A. Ercelawn, 2004) . The sample survey that supports the arguments presented by the study claim that on average, workers were confined to their particular jobs for more than 10 hours a day. Through the interviews, the study provides ample data on the immensely low earnings of the workers, it also alludes to the fact that advances taken in cases of emergencies by families working and living at the kilns cannot be paid back easily (A. Ercelawn, 2004) , for most households it takes over decades to re pay (Lauri, 2016) .

These advances are binding to entire families, affectively holding them hostage for most of their lives. Most brick kiln workers are convinced and often threatened to be hurt if they attempt to flee bondage and that runaways will be tracked down. Workers who make use of kiln housing are at a greater disadvantage because the lack of an alternative shelter minimizes their chances of finding different employment opportunities , further making it easier for kiln -owners to monopolize and take advantage of their circumstances as well impose greater restrictions on their mobility outside the kiln. The dominant reason for debt bondage to be continued as an endless cycle is the fact that ear nings through piece -rates are be low the average cost of living . Social practices that require special or extra expenses such as weddings means more debt , hence the cycle remains eternal . Therefore,

outstanding and even additional debt keeps increa sing . It should also be noted that workers are often prone to commit acts of violence upon themselves, with recent and continuing reports in Punjab indicate that young men and women are selling kidneys to repay large debts so they can escape their current lifestyles . On the surface, these emerging forms of slavery may seem like consequences of modernization and globalization, however upon further analysis, it can be said that modern slavery occurs as an outcome of the process of modernization itsel f. S laver y is commonly believed to have been abolished but it continues to manifest in the shadows of the global economy. Its beginnings are still rooted in a time long before the advent of modernity.

Currently however, the scenario presented to us is a proliferatio n and elaboration of its earlier forms (Bales, 2000) . Subsequently, the key elements that which slavery arises from are imminent threat s of violence, complete physical control and continued economic exploitation of others’ vulnerabilities — these forms reflect patterns that extend from cross -cutting curr ents of economic expediency, cultural influence (Bales, 2000) , which are further aggravated by social structures of class, corruption on macro levels and normative traditions found in most developing states. It is important to highlight that debt, in itself, is not the main cause of bondage . Rather, it is supported in parallel by the exploitative force s that emerge from social, legal, and economic uncertain ty, and cultural inequalities and injustices. For marginalized communities , debt may be a ‘free’ choice that leads to an imprisoned life – to quote cultural anthropologist and researcher, Antonia de Lauri “ they might ‘choose’ their indeb tedness, but they don’t do so in conditions of their own making ” (Lauri, 2016) .

The Emergence of Modernized Slavery

According to Kevin B ales, a scholar and activist working at the forefront of contemporary anti – slavery movements around the world, who has also served as president of Free the Slaves, there are a few important factors that lead to the emergence in new forms of slavery that must be understood to further analyze the overarching implications of the phenomenon. One of the primary factors is the dramatic rise in the world population after the Second World War. It is worth mentioning that the current population across the globe has almost quadrupled since then and clustered particularly in the South Asian region, where more than half the population is well below the age of fifteen. The South Asian diaspora is already consumed by poverty and lack of education so slavery is mo re rampant and widely practiced . Another aspect that needs to be highlighted is the aftermat h of colonialization that brought destitution and became a means of expropriation of wealth in these regions, consequentially plunging them further into the abyss of poverty. It also made slavery a major part of historical tradition for the indigenous popu lation (Bales, 2000) .

Hence, paving the way for new emergent forms of slavery in contemporary South Asia . Moreover, most of diaspora communities including Pakistan have seen nothing but economic turmoil, a multitude of civil wars, military operations and unstable governments in the form of dictatorships, over the last 50 years. On the other hand , traditional ways of life are primarily supported by raw export of goods that are locally manufactured at low prices but sold at high er profits to service foreign debt s also contribute to drive millions of peasants into slavery (Bales, 2000) . In these ways, the processes of modernization in the world have created a profo und impact on indigenous populations i n rural areas of Central Punjab and Northern Pakistan during the period of the Afghan refugee crisis which continues to be a major problem even today (Bales, 2000) .

Thus, the slavery of modern Pakistan and India reflects the hi storical feudalism, corruption and instability that took hold of these countries during and after colonization by the British Empire , and is also reflected in new forms of bondage that have grown from them in present times. Slavery has transformed but it has not ended. It has merely adapted as the world shifted to newer systems, with support from the factors discussed above, adopting pre -modern mechanisms in newly formed structures within the global economy . The ideology of the nation -state continues to promote, create and organize trade. Despite the abolition of ownership of slavery, it is still prevalent as an economic activity particularly in informal and unregulated regions of the world, i t has grown over the years due to the conditions that permit the se forms of servitude .Whereas, globalization and modernization it itself has played a significant role in fostering such conditions (Bales, 2000) .

Conclusion

Many organizations including PILER, ILO as well as governments and scholars are presently working to mitigate and provide relief to the more vulnerable populations that form a vast majority of the world, but they have barely just scratched the surface . The work that has already been done and the policies that are still being developed have created significant amount of awareness that has shed light on the impact of globalization on slavery and this extreme version of exploitation. There is consensus in the idea that the most powerful tool to combat slavery is education, perhaps the more positive aspect of globalization that we can benefit for in this fight is the fact that globalization also functions as a mass transfer of information (Bales, 2000) .

The challenge for many countries greater for they are responsible to bring their legal systems up – to-date with reference to this crisis of human exploitation . Furthermore, law enforcement agencies must understand and recognize these varied forms of slavery, public awareness campaign s should address these issues at a higher scale within the local structures of these counties. In the end, humans are known to always find new ways to enslave b ecause mankind thrives to attain power in whatever they do , but there is a great need to continue the fight against slavery , to challenge the global mechanisms, root out and eradicat e them. It is true, that slavery might never be completely eradicated, but like many infectious diseases, it might be suppressed and controlled and prevented.

Works Cited

  • A. Ercelawn, M. N. (2004). Unfree Labour in South Asia: Debt Bondage at Brick Kilns in Pakistan.
  • Economic and Political Weekly , 2235 -2242. Retrieved from
  • Bales, K. (2000). Expendable People: Slavery in the Age of Globalization. Journal of International
  • Affairs (53(2)), 461 -484. Retrieved 03 28, 2019, from //www.jstor.org/stable/24357761
  • Bennett, G . M. (2014). New Keywords – A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society. In G. M. Bennett,
  • New Keywords – A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society (p. 96). Blackwell.
  • Hall, S. (2013). Chapter 3. The Beginnings of Modern Economics. In S. Hall, Formations of Modernity (p.
  • 146). Cambridge Polity Press.
  • Lauri, A. D. (2016, 07 21). Brick kiln workers and the debt trap in Pakistani Punjab . Retrieved 03 29, 2019,
  • from openDemocracy: -trafficking -and –
  • slavery/brick -kiln -work ers -and -debt -trap -in-pakistani -punjab/

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Economics of Power: Debt Bondage and Labour in Brick Kilns of Pakistan. (2019, Dec 04). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/economics-of-power-debt-bondage-and-labour-in-brick-kilns-of-pakistan-essay

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