Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Michael McDonnell
The introduction to the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report notes, “The common denominator of trafficking scenarios is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for profit. A victim can be subjected to labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, or both”. In Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo, Rhacel Parreñas explains the identification of the majority of Filipino women working as hostesses in Japan as victims of trafficking, and how the clampdown in visa sponsorship that resulted has in fact been detrimental to their freedom overall. According to Parreñas, the women she encountered who came to Japan to work, came of their own free will and many already knew what to expect from having spoken to women who have previously made the journey. They enter Japan with legitimate entertainer visas and employers willing to sponsor them.
She states that rather it is the restrictive conditions of these visas that make women more susceptible to forced labour and exploitation. For example, in order to be granted a permanent spouses visa, the applicant has to remain married to a Japanese citizen for five years creating a situation where the wife is indebted to the husband. If an employer asks a worker to do a job she is not comfortable with for whatever reason she cannot leave the job without becoming an undocumented illegal worker, becoming reliant on an employer to provide both work and protection from being found out. These unbalanced relationships are, according to Parreñas, what increase the likelihood of forced labour and abuse, not the position as a Hostess itself.
This exploitation of vulnerable workers exists all around the globe. In Bangladesh, workers, more than 85% of whom are female, in clothing factories many making goods on behalf of international sportswear companies are still paid below the minimum wage, are forced to work overtime, and are sometimes verbally and physically abused. Attempts to protest or strike are met with police brutality. Their dependence on this money to support their families prevents them from leaving.
The anti-poverty charity War on Want, who are involved in ending the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers in the clothing industry, advise against boycotts of the goods produced in these factories as it could lead to job losses for the people they are trying to protect. War on Want are instead pushing for a change in the practices of these sportswear companies and the guarantee of improved pay and conditions for the workers.
The labeling of migrant workers from the Philippines as victims of trafficking by TIP led to a 90% drop in women being sponsored to work in the hostess industry further reducing their options for advancement. The answer to this problem is not to crack down on the employment of foreign workers in this industry but, much like in the case of the Bangladesh, to improve the conditions for the workers. By giving more control to the women working in the hostess industry to choose their own employers and to change jobs if they want the likelihood of exploitation would be greatly reduced.
Parreñas, Rhacel. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
War on Want. (2012). Race to the Bottom. Available: http://www.waronwant.org/attachments/Race%20to%20the%20Bottom.pdf