Not This Christmas – Traidcraft Exchange Appeal
For two years Traidcraft Exchange has supported people to break the chains of modern day slavery in India and Bangladesh, as part of our mission to challenge injustice in trade and business across the world.
Modern slavery is all too common – The International Labour Organization estimates that over 40 million people are in some form of slavery today. Of these 40 million, at least 8 million are trapped in debt bondage – where workers are forced to borrow small sums of money to survive, then charged large amounts of interest on the loan, which they repay through their labour. These small debts can take generations to pay off.
But this Christmas, coronavirus is putting Traidcraft Exchange’s work combatting debt bondage under threat. With no other option, thousands are falling back into unpaid slave labour – forced to sell their freedom in exchange for survival.
The Santal tribal community is one of the most discriminated against groups in Bangladesh, plagued by debt bondage – a system of modern slavery which traps generations into debt, robbing families of their freedom, choices and basic dignities.
Few people in the Santal community own land or resources. They work as field labourers, earning a pittance for just a few months a year. To survive the rest of the year, they are forced to borrow small sums of money at crippling rates of interest, in exchange for a promise of future work.
A loan of just 1000 taka – £9.06 – can take three years’ of unpaid work to repay.
For Michail, a father of three, the impact of coronavirus on his family income was immediate.
“We could not do any work during the lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic; we could not even leave our home to search for work.”
“Because of the lockdown and being unable to leave our home, I had to take out a loan from the moneylenders for my vulnerable son’s medical treatment. I don’t know how I will be able to repay this loan or how many years it will take as a debt labourer.”
Thanks to the support of people like you, emergency food aid, soap and masks have helped communities through the initial lockdown crisis. But handouts are no longer enough. As people face growing hardships, with limited opportunities to earn, many are forced to take on more debt just to survive.
Digonto is just 18 months old and the youngest of Michail’s children. He is often ill and Michail fears this is because the family are regularly forced to go hungry.
“Because of the lockdown and being unable to leave our home, I had to take out a 25000 taka loan from the moneylenders for my vulnerable son’s medical treatment. I don’t know how I will be able to repay this loan or how many years it will take as a debt labourer.”
For Michail, leaving slavery behind seems further away than ever before.
“Often when I return from work, I see a moneylender sitting in my home waiting to get the loan money back. Several times I had to repay the loan without buying my son’s medicine.
All this fills me with shame and grief, but I have no alternatives in order to care for my sick child. So, I have to borrow money from another moneylender…and then another…. This is how our lives are lived with complete dependence on debt.”
No one should be forced to sell their freedom to provide for their family this Christmas.
The coronavirus crisis has already taken so much from the most vulnerable communities – but together, we can prevent it from taking their freedom.
If you’d like to donate or learn more about Traidcraft Exchange’s response to the coronavirus crisis, and the challenges facing communities like Michail’s, you can sign up to Traidcraft Exchange’s series of emails
Traidcraft Exchange works to bring people together to fight injustice in trade and business. Through development programmes in South Asia and East Africa, and policy, lobbying and campaigning here in the UK, we help people to escape exploitation and earn a fair wage for the hard work they do every day.
Photos: Traidcraft Exchange/GMB Akash