With a symbolic slave market, initiatives in seven cities in Germany protest against forced labor.
Slave trade is by no means just a thing of the past: protest action on Friday at the Brandenburg Gate Photo: promo
"300 euros, who offers more?" the woman shouts. She stands on a small box in front of the Brandenburg Gate. What seems like an auction of expensive antiques in an unusual place is actually meant to represent slave trade. The bids are for people standing chained, heads bowed, between a cage of garden fences. "I bid 350!" shouts a man dressed in black and wearing a gold mask. Since no one else bids, he wins the bid, enters the cell and is allowed to pick up his personal slave.
With this action, the initiative Together for Africa draws attention to the issue of modern slavery. Such slave markets are being held simultaneously in seven cities in Germany, including Cologne, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Munich, Bochum, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin. Together for Africa is an alliance of 20 aid organizations that works primarily to improve living conditions in the continent.
Modern slaves are people who have to work and live under degrading circumstances. Forced prostitutes and child soldiers are also among the approximately 40 million people worldwide who are victims of modern slavery. Refugees and people without papers are also often affected, as they find themselves in extreme situations of need.
Why are we talking about slaves? Isn’t the problem simply exploitation? "The term modern slavery is indeed irritating," explains Susanne Anger, spokesperson for Together for Africa. According to the definition, people are modern slaves if they are employed without legal protection and receive about one-third of the lowest wage in the country where they work. "The term modern slavery suggests that it is a better slavery. In fact, it is more perfidious because the chains of the slaves have become invisible," Anger said.
With the demonstration, the campaign is focusing especially on the situation of 21 million forced laborers worldwide. They are the largest group among the victims of modern slavery. The problem also affects Germany. "In slaughterhouses in Lower Saxony, Eastern Europeans in particular work for a fraction of the minimum wage and under inhumane conditions," explains Anger. "Companies point to their subcontractors and thus shirk their responsibility."
The initiative also aims to raise awareness among consumers of the circumstances under which many consumer goods are produced. Many everyday products and foods are produced under inhumane conditions. Cheap food often conceals exploitation and unregulated employment conditions. The products affected include cut flowers from Kenya, meat from Germany and fruit and vegetables from southern Europe.
Especially in Southern Europe, there has been a large increase in forced laborers in recent years. In the wake of refugee developments, working in fields under inhumane conditions has become part of everyday life for many people. This is because they usually have no prospects of regular employment.
Slave market in the USA, ca. 1860 Photo: dpa
Southern Europe in particular has seen a large increase in forced laborers in recent years.
"Even if you can’t make much of a difference as an individual consumer, buying products with a Fair Trade label would be a first step," advises Anger. "We demand that politicians check that laws are being observed and hold companies accountable for the actions of their subcontractors."
On the site slaveryfootprint.org, it is possible to calculate how many slaves* have to work for a certain lifestyle by asking questions about consumption habits. According to the website, the average is 60.