The word “slave” evokes memories of one of the lowest points in human history; an era when millions of unsuspecting human beings were stripped of all rights, bought, sold, transported across continents and forced to work against their will under deplorable and inhuman conditions – without pay or appropriate compensation. This dehumanizing practice is now illegal in every country on the planet, but continues to manifest itself in what has been aptly termed “modern-day slavery.” Practices reminiscent of slavery have been recently reported in countries such as the United States, Russia, and other countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Lebanon – just to name a few. The case of a Chinese migrant worker in Sweden who was forced to work under “slave-like” conditions in a restaurant, adds Sweden to the list of countries where modern-day slavery remains a reality.
A 37-year-old Chinese chef, identified as Jiang Zhaloin, collapsed from exhaustion on the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city. The migrant worker collapsed after being forced to work long hours without appropriate compensation. He migrated to Sweden in May 2010 to work as a chef in a restaurant and ended up working 80 hours a week – from 9am till late at night – without overtime pay, sick leave benefits or vacation allowance. He was paid 14,000-15,000 kronor ($2,127-$2,280) a month, but paid almost half of his salary back to the employer – as rent for a “cramped two room apartment” arranged by his employer. The apartment was shared with four other workers employed by the same employer. [Source].
The exploitative conditions under which the Chinese migrant worker worked came to light when he collapsed on the streets. He was reportedly diagnosed with stress-related psoriasis.
The victim’s migration to Sweden was arranged by a Chinese agency. He paid the employment agency 70,000 kronor ($10,500).
The Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Workers’ Union (HRF) condemned the actions of the restaurant and asked the unscrupulous employer to pay the victim a sum of 391,000 kronor ($59,400) in compensation. The employer agreed to pay. The victim is expected to have received compensation by 15 October 2011.
International human rights standards expressly prohibit slavery or servitude. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states in Article 4 that: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude…”.
Jiang Zhaloin was held in servitude in modern Sweden.
The steps taken by HRF to secure indemnity for the victim should be applauded. Employers and employment agencies should not be allowed to operate with impunity.
The story of Jiang Zhaloin should encourage other migrant workers forced to work under unacceptable and illegal conditions to seek help.
Sweden, a respected member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and party to key international human rights treaties that prohibit slavery and promote decent work, has a legal obligation under international law to protect victims of practices akin to slavery within its borders.