[caption id="attachment_181865" align="alignleft" width="298"]My brother and I started working during the tobacco harvests when I was seven and he was eight. There wasn’t really an alternative. My father was a tobacco worker and his earnings weren’t enough to cover the costs of our school supplies and clothes. It was the only way to make ends meet.
We would work during the summer months of December, January, February and March. We worked in the fields, loading and unloading the driers and helping wherever we were needed. We would see other children playing while we had to carry on with our work.
My brother and I knew that it was our way of contributing to the family’s income, and to our education. We also knew that almost inevitably our future was to continue working in the fields. So, we worked to be able to go to school and to earn our own money.
[caption id="attachment_181851" align="alignleft" width="630"]Fast facts
• Latest statistics, compiled in 2019, showed that 371,771 children, or 5.3% of Argentinian children between the ages of 5 and 15 were working.
• The ILO Offside project offers child labour awareness training to civil servants like Daniel, and other stakeholders working in Argentina’s agricultural areas.
• The project is funded by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL).
• An estimated 160 million children worldwide - almost one in ten - are engaged in child labour.
• Over the past few years, conflicts, crises and the COVID-19 pandemic, have plunged more families into poverty – and has forced millions more children into child labour.
• On World Day Against Child Labour, 12 June 2023, the ILO is calling for universal ratification of ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age. This would provide all children with legal protection against all forms of child labour, alongside ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which was universally ratified in 2020.
[caption id="attachment_181530" align="alignleft" width="130"]My name is Jonas. I am 46 years old and come from a small town in Lithuania near the border with Poland. Work is hard to find in my country and it’s poorly paid when you get it. I was in debt because of a loan for medical bills for one of my children. So money was tight.
One day I was approached by a man called Mindaugas, who said he could find me a job in the UK that would pay me more in a week than I could earn in Lithuania in a month. He made it all sound very good and said I could get a good life there. It was a hard decision to leave my home country and quite scary but I needed the money.
I could not afford the fare but he told me that I could pay him back for the transport and accommodation once I started working. I had to trust him.
Along with several other Lithuanians we drove to the UK in a van. It took more than two days.
When we arrived, we were met by a man called Marijus who took us to a house on the coast. It was very cramped with lots of people living there. They said they would find work for me and that I would have to open a bank account so that my wages could be paid into it.
It took a while to get a job and they kept telling me to be patient. I had no food and my debts were piling up. After a few weeks they took me to a factory where they prepared chickens for the supermarkets. It wasn’t pleasant and it was repetitive but I was very relieved that I was finally working for decent money.
In the first couple of weeks, I was paid with cheques – not into my new bank account. I had to go to a shop where they cashed them for you. They charged commission, of course!
Marijus had his men follow me and as soon as I got the money they would force me to hand it over to them. I was very frightened and feared that if I did not do as they said, they would beat me up and take it anyway. I gave them all of my wages for the week – about £260. They took £220 and gave me £40 back ‘to live on’, they said. They told me I still owed about £1,000 for the transport to the UK and my accommodation and food so far, so I should get used to it.
They were charging me about £60 per week for a bed in a shared room, sleeping on the floor with three others but they said if I did not live in the house they provided, then I would not get work. I was trapped!
[caption id="attachment_181520" align="alignleft" width="630"]Death threats
Then one day we were followed back to the flat. Marijus and his men forced their way in and threatened me. They started rifling through all my things and found what was left of the money I had brought with me from home. They took it and then found some cash withdrawal slips I had from a new bank account I had opened. They were furious and demanded my new bank card and passport. When I refused, they beat me and knocked me unconscious. They searched the flat and found my bank card but I had hidden my passport in my pillow case. I told them I’d lost it. I didn’t want to give that up or there would be no chance of escape.
Marijus yelled at me: “You came here not to earn and save but to manage and get through.” In other words, he was telling me I was nothing more than their slave and was brought to the UK to earn money for them and not for me. He said if I talked to anyone I would disappear and that if I tried to get back to Lithuania, they would find my family and kill them.
I guessed money was passing through the bank account they set up for me and suspected this had come from prostitution and drugs, so I put a block on it. When they found out, I received texts threatening my life.
[caption id="attachment_181521" align="alignleft" width="630"]Rescued
Then one day at the factory, I was interviewed by a woman who said she was from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority - the GLAA. She said they were trying to find out if workers at the factory were legitimate and being treated and paid properly. I didn’t tell her anything at the time because I didn’t know if I could trust her but later I called and told them everything. They told me about the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for trafficking victims. Then it dawned on me. I had no idea that’s what I was until it was explained to me. Me – a victim of human trafficking!
They explained I’d been brought to the UK to be exploited. I was being forced to work. I had no control over my life. That’s what human trafficking is!
• Jonas’ story is real, names have been changed. Jonas was rescued by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
• The GLAA works to protect vulnerable and exploited workers in the UK. It regulates the recruitment of workers in supply chains in agriculture, horticulture, shellfish, related processing and packaging, to make sure companies respect the law.
• The ILO has collaborated with the GLAA throughout the years, including in the framework for the Fair recruitment Initiative, the 50 for Freedom campaign, and to facilitate training on the detection and investigation of forced labour cases by law enforcement officers.
• An estimated 27.6 million men, women and children were in forced labour around the world in 2021, including 17.3 in the private sector. Every country is affected.
• Forced Labour generates USD 150 billions of dollars in illicit profits. Industries and businesses face unfair competition and states loses billions in tax income and social security contributions.
• The ILO’s Forced Labour Protocol is a legally-binding treaty that requires governments to take effective measures to prevent forced labour, protect victims and ensure they have access to justice and remedies.
• This story was originally produced for the ILO’s 50 for freedom campaign, calling for countries to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol. To date, 60 countries have ratified the Protocol.
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