Thought slavery was abolished? Think again. Millions of people are forced to work without pay worldwide.
“There are more slaves today than at any point in human history” – Ben Skinner, A Crime So Monstrous
Slaves are people coerced by violence or by threat of violence to work for no pay. In the Ashanti region of Ghana, children are forced to work in unsanitary and unsafe conditions in small scale, unlicensed gold mines called galamseys for no pay (SSF identified 150 such children within the Ashtanti region). Their masters, the galamsey bosses, often are in debt bondage themselves and thus perpetuate this vicious cycle.
The following scenario is common among galamsey operations and highlights the need for intervention: a potential galamsey boss takes out a loan to operate on a potential site. Since his mining operation is to be unlicensed and unlicensed and illegal (galamsey mines operate on sites that have been concessioned to major mining interests), the boss must take out a high interest loan (as high as 50%) from a loan shark rather than seeking financing through more traditional lenders. As work costs increase, the boss is forced to take out additional high interest loans. The added financial burden of the high interest loan pressures the boss to keep costs as low as possible. Thus, slave labor becomes a more attractive option, and safety and sanitation are often sacrificed. In many cases, the galamsey boss finds himself in debt, substantially increased by compound interest, that is in excess of the value of the mine. Thus the boss is effectively in debt bondage to the loan sharks and must continue to operate the mine with little hope of paying off his loan, and his unpaid mine workers often bear the burden of working a mine that will never be profitable.
The Social Support Foundation has identified this problem and has ascertained that if the galamseys were given official licenses that it would improve the situation in two key areas:
- Licensed mine bosses would have access to traditional debt with comparatively low interest rates, resulting in less economic pressure to use slave labor and cut corners on safety issues. This would also serve to prevent bosses from falling victim to unscrupulous lenders and would result in them avoiding the debt bondage trap.
- These mines would be regulated by the same official institutions that regulate large-scale mining, creating safer work zones for workers, eliminating child labor, and enforcing wage regulation.
The Social Support Foundation has identified two barriers to licensing galamseys:
- The land on which the galamseys illegally operate has been leased to AngloGold Ashanti, the large scale gold mine which is licensed to mine much of the Ashanti region.
- Being an illegal enterprise, galamsey bosses are reluctant to engage with non-profit or governmental institutions.
SSF has begun two initiatives to overcome these barriers and work towards licensing galamseys:
- SSF has approached AngloGold Ashanti to release certain areas for small-scale mining. To date, Anglo Gold has agreed to sit down with SSF with their mine-sites master plan and discuss areas of interest.
- SSF has approached galamsey operators and has formed a grassroots coalition of galamsey bosses to discuss issues of child labor, slavery, and safety conditions while engaging them in discussions of licensing and engagement with AngloGold Ashanti.
In addition to working directly with the mining interests, SSF also engages communities in which the children are at risk of being trafficked for slave labor. SSF identifies these communities and sensitizes them to the dangers of child trafficking (traffickers often use promises of education to lure parents into relinquishing their children) as well as works with communities in the areas of capacity strengthening and empowerment.
As part of this holistic approach, SSF actively seeks to rescue and rehabilitate people that have fallen victim to trafficking and have been working as slaves. This includes post-slavery reintegration counseling and alternative livelihood education.
Galamsey mining, however, is a vocation that is an entrenched institution that has deep cultural roots in the Ashanti region. Many challenges remain. SSF believes that the approach of engaging all stakeholders in an atmosphere of cooperation, rather than participating in vilification and finger pointing, will lead to more open dialogue on both sides of the issues and therefore a greater chance for a resolution that all parties can sign their names to, thus leading to a sustainable solution to the issues of child slavery and trafficking.