A Story About Modern Slavery

With International Women´s Day on March 8th, human rights is a topic that is close to my heart and one of the main issues I have been researching for many years now. In one of my previous posts from November 24th 2017, What is Gender Equality in The 21st Century?, I discussed the current state of gender equality and referred to for instance the World Economic Forum´s Global Gender Gap Report 2017.
The 2018 version of WEF´s Global Gender Gap Report can be accessed here: WEF The Global Gender Gap Report 2018. Research on gender equality is a human rights question, and the need for this kind of research indicates how much work there still is to do worldwide before we can speak about gender equal societies. With females representing around 50 % of global population it is actually ridiculous that we even have to discuss the fact that females have the right to equal treatment and possibilities as males. Equally or even more concerning is that in addition to females facing many kinds of discrimination for instance in workforce around the world, our world deals with serious human rights violations such as modern slavery.
According to ILO (International Labour Organization), forced labour i.e. modern slavery includes any work that is performed involuntary and under the threat of any penalty if the individual refuses to participate in this kind of activity. With a few exceptions to forced labour, such as work in emergency situations, the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention No. 105 clearly prohibits the use of forced labour for instance as a means of labour discipline. Finland ratified this agreement on May 27th 1960. Almost 59 years ago.
Nevertheless, the current employment system in Finland, led by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland allows for corporations/organizations to employ unemployed citizens of the country with state allowances/subsidies, thus signifying that this kind of system makes modern slavery possible: in Finland, a modern welfare society where citizens currently have access to many public services that are financed mainly through a progressive taxation system, all unemployed people and job seekers have the right to receive state allowances while in-between jobs. What makes this problematic, however, is that unemployed people can basically be employed by companies/organizations with fixed-term contracts without paying any kind of salary.
Year after year politicians from certain political groups in Finland have been discussing how these company subsidies should be abolished and made illegal, yet no one actually does anything. Empty talk.
In the meanwhile, the Finnish state is allowing for companies and organizations to legally employ and recycle unemployed people with fixed-term contracts and without any kind of obligation to pay a salary or to even insure the unemployed worker, who during this fixed-term “employment” period continues to have the right to receive state allowances while working up to 30 hours per week for an organization that pays him/her no salary, and that usually “employ” another unemployed individual as soon as the maximum fixed-term period of the previous unemployed has come to an end.
This is all legally taking place in a western country that has been a member state of the European Union since 1995.
How does this kind of system support sustainable economic growth?
How does it support the birth of new employment and jobs?
How does it improve equality on the job market?
How does it improve the purchasing power of consumers? 
How does it improve the national economy of the country?
The system was first legalized and introduced after Finland’s great slump in the early 1990’s, when the state had to devalue its old currency and save a few banks from bankruptcy, which led to disastrous consequences for many Finnish citizens and entrepreneurs.
What this kind of system leads to in a welfare state is:
  • A growing gap between the rich and the poor.
  • Less new jobs, since unemployed people are forced to work for free and thus preventing companies and organizations from new (paid) job openings.
  • More inequality on the employment market: some people get paid for their work, while others do the same jobs for free (on a state allowance).
  • It leads to increasingly much poverty among population, since state allowances are at a level that are officially below the poverty rate in Finland and living with such conditions on a market like Finland is definitely worsening the purchasing power of consumers/citizens/unemployed people who must try to live under such economic conditions, regardless of amount of previous educational level or years of work experience.

A country´s labor force participation rate on the employment market is one of the key indicators for a country´s sovereign credit ratings that are officially being issued by credit rating agencies such as Moody´s, Standard & Poor´s, and Fitch Ratings. Hence, in national economy, general unemployment rates have a direct impact on the credit rating and state lending terms of a country. The better the official credit rating of a country, the better the terms and conditions for state loans.

For example S&P Global Ratings´ Sovereign Risk Indicators 2018 Estimates takes into consideration factors such as nominal and real GDP, investments rate on GDP and unemployment rate of a country in its country risk analysis. Furthermore, S&P country risk assessment includes four sub-factors: economic risk, political risk, financial system risk, payment culture and rule-of-law risk (S&P).

When a country like Finland wants to keep or improve its country credit rating, it is thus important for its government to enhance workforce participation on the labor market, whereby a low unemployment rate gives the country more credibility on international lending markets and helps it attract investors. It is, however, questionable when a country uses certain methods to “clean up” its unemployment records, such as removing unemployed people from the unemployment statistics if and when they participate in labor market activities such as basically forced labor with state allowances in corporations and organizations around the country. Is this not a distortion of facts and reality?




UN Millennium Development Goals 2000: I. Eradication of extreme hunger and poverty

Previously I wrote general facts about the UN as the world ́s most important co-operational organization. Now, and in my upcoming posts, I will focus on the current main strategic goals of the UN.

The first UN Millennium Development Goal is the eradication of extreme hunger and poverty. The UN, in cooperation with nations worldwide, has already managed to reach this goal.

However, the work against hunger and poverty still continues:

– In the past decades, remarkable progress has been made in decreasing poverty, especially in East Asia.

– Still, about 1,4 billion people worldwide live in extreme poverty => with under 1 € (1,25 USD) per day. Some 1 billion people suffer from hunger. Every day.

– Most of the people living in hunger and poverty are children and youth.

– 70 % of people in extreme poverty live in rural areas.

– Global food prices doubled in 2006-2008. Although prices have gone down afterwards, they are still on a higher level than before the food crisis. High food prices exacerbates the situation of the poor.

– Decreasing/removing poverty obliges wealthy and growing/emerging economies to act more selflessly, e.g. through equalizing the rules of world trade. Developing countries, on the other hand, have to commit to good governance, the eradication of corruption, and respecting human rights.

(Source: UNA of Finland booklet. 2011).

Furthermore, the differences between different countries, regions, rural and urban areas vary largely. Still, every fifth person worldwide suffers from extreme poverty, and each 3,5 seconds one person dies from hunger. Imagine that. Sad numbers, despite the progress that has been made: worldwide, 700 million people less live in extreme poverty, in comparison with the situation in 1990. In numbers, the amount of people living in extreme poverty went down from 2 billion to 1,4 billion between 1990-2008. And the percentage of the poor decreased from 47 % to 24 % during the same period of time.

Still, every 8th person on our planet goes to bed hungry. The number of undernourished worldwide is about 842 million people. Every 6th child worldwide is undernourished, of whom every 4th suffer from severe health and mental developmental disorders. (UNA of Finland. Printed Material. 2014).

How can individuals and states be helpful in removing worldwide hunger and poverty? Very often us who do not face these problems directly in our daily lives forget about, or at least neglect, these severe problems that more than a billion people worldwide have to face in their daily lives. Many of whom are children. Do we have tunnel vision? Are we blind to face reality?

I remember a hot Summer evening, walking back to my accommodation in the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia. A small local boy ran after me, begging for money, claiming that he needed one dollar so that he could buy milk for his little sister. He continued following me, reaching out his hand so that I would give him the money he asked for.

Actually, most part of the journey was the same. Everywhere I went, people were begging for money. I didn’t count, but afterwards I thought I should have calculated how many beggars went by during my stay in Cambodia. Some I gave money, but had I given every beggar what they asked for, I would have run out of money in no time. Realizing that, and seeing the behavior of other tourists, I sometimes felt heartless. I was not able to help them all, at least not in the way they wanted me to.

Yet, in some way I helped. I traveled all the way to their country, supporting the growing tourism industry of Cambodia. And now I am sharing some of my experiences through writing, which I hope will influence at least some people.

The beggars and the poor in different countries and regions are not begging for fun. They need help, and support. If they had other means, and knew better ways of improving their lives, they would act differently. But like in Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation, and hierarchy of needs, we all need to be able to fulfill our very basic needs first: to get enough water and food to survive. As long as this need is neglected, an individual will use whatever possibilities he or she knows to satisfy the very basic needs of life, clean water and enough nourishing food, in order to survive.

Us who have never experienced the lack of clean water or food can not really understand those who suffer every day. If we claimed to really understand what it feels like to be hungry every day, and not having enough to eat, we’d be lying.

So, how can each one of us help in eradicating poverty?

According to macroeconomics, the best way to eradicate poverty is to create employment. Poverty alleviation through sustainable strategic business models, with an emphasis on the word sustainable, is certainly one way of helping the poor. Giving people the opportunity to work themselves out of poverty, with a fair pay. I ́m not going to get into depth with this issue in this post, but we all know that sustainable and ethical business takes care of labor rights, and does not employ children.

There are many other ways of helping the poor: supporting reliable organizations that employ professional staff involved in different kinds of projects aimed at removing poverty and improving the lives of the poor(est).

Micro-lending, direct support, and money sent home by family members working in other countries are also ways of helping. Adopting a child from a poor country (can be a long and difficult process).

There are many ways to help, and help is always possible. “Where there’s a will there’s a way”.

Can you come up with others than those already mentioned in this post?

“It’s impossible, said pride.

It’s risky, said experience.

It’s pointless, said reason.

Give it a try, whispered the heart”.