Country Study
10 of 167Prevalence Index Rank

Bangladesh

  • 1,531,300 Estimate number living in Modern Slavery
  • 0.95% Estimate percentage of population living in Modern Slavery
  • 44.12/100 Vulnerability to Modern Slavery
  • B Government Response Rating
  • 160,996,000 Population
  • $3,123 GDP (PPP)

Prevalence

How many people are in modern slavery in Bangladesh?

It is estimated that 1,531,300 people are in modern slavery in Bangladesh. This estimate reflects data from a random sample, nationally representative survey conducted by Walk Free Foundation in partnership with Gallup in 2015.


Country Findings of Prevalence

1,531,300

Estimate number enslaved


Survey results found that forced labour (80%) was more prevalent than forced marriage (20%) in Bangladesh. Furthermore, forced labour was particularly prevalent in manual labour (24%), construction (22%), drug production (13%) and farming (11%).

According to the survey, forced labour largely affected men (85% men as compared to 15% women) while forced marriage disproportionately affected women (88% women as compared to 12% men). This reflects the wider trend for forced marriage, wherein 29% of girls under the age of 15 are likely to be married in Bangladesh, the highest figure for child marriage worldwide, and 2% of girls are married before the age of 11.[2] Although the 2015 survey was unable to breakdown sectors of forced labour by gender, pre-existing literature on labour exploitation with a particular focus upon the garment sector indicates that of the four million Bangladeshis employed in the sector, 85% are estimated to be women.[3]

Survey data regarding forced marriage reflects wider trends in the literature, wherein 29% of girls under the age of 15 are likely to be married in Bangladesh, the highest figure for child marriage worldwide, and 2% of girls are married before the age of 11.[4] However, although pre-existing literature on the manufacturing industry, in particular the garment sector, stands in contrast to the finding that forced labour affects men as reports state that of the four million Bangladeshis employed in the sector, 85% are estimated to be women.[5] Pre-existing research suggests that modern slavery in Bangladesh primarily affects the manufacturing of garments, shrimp and dry fish farming and production, commercial sexual exploitation, child marriage and drug production.

Survey data suggests that while forced prostitution is a problem affecting nearly 390,000 people, or 3% of the population enslaved, information about the age of victims subject to forced prostitution is not available. However, it was found in 2015 that many girls as young as 9-10 years old were trafficked for the purposes of forced prostitution within Daulatdia, the largest brothel in Bangladesh where over 1500 women and girls work.[6]

Anecdotal evidence suggests that children are also at risk of organ trafficking in Bangladesh; in 2014, 15 children were killed and harvested for their organs in the town of Herun.[7] This is an issue that was not covered in the 2015 survey.

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton. During the annual cotton harvest, citizens are subjected to statesanctioned forced labour. Monitoring by international organisations has meant the government has begun to take steps to improve the situation, however, reports from the 2015 harvest estimate that over one million people were forced to work.

Photo credit, Simon Buxton/Anti-Slavery International

Vulnerability

What factors explain or predict the prevalence of modern slavery in Bangladesh?

Within the Asia region, Bangladesh is the 11th country most vulnerable to modern slavery. Endemic poverty, natural disasters, and widespread corruption each contribute to this vulnerability. Poverty motivates men, women, and children to enter into hazardous work within and outside the country, and creates the perfect conditions for human traffickers to recruit and exploit victims.[8] In 2010, 31.5% of the population were living below the poverty line.[9] This, in addition to propensity for natural disasters in the region creates instability, particularly among the rural poor – and has been the catalyst for many families marrying their children at an early age.[10] In January 2016 alone, natural disasters have already claimed the lives of five people and injured 90.[11] Natural disasters have also displaced an estimated 543,000 Bangladeshi people in 2014.[12]


Average Vulnerability Score

44.12/100


CountryCivil & Political ProtectionsSocial, Health, & Economic RightsPersonal SecurityRefugees & ConflictMean
Bangladesh46.7846.0433.6350.0244.12

Conflict is another issue creating vulnerabilities in Bangladesh. Inter-communal violence often targets Indigenous, Hindu and Buddhist communities and has led to the internal displacement of least 431,000 people as at January.[13] Added to this is corruption, which compounds these issues. Bangladesh ranked within the top 30 most corrupt countries as estimated by Transparency International in 2015.[14]

Poverty, social and environmental instability and pervasive conflict are some of many vitiating factors which contribute to the risk of slavery in Bangladesh. These factors motivate workers in manual sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, and farming or fishing to work in dangerous conditions; a phenomenon tragically symbolised by the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, which claimed the lives of 1,137 workers in the garment manufacturing complex.[15]

From the 'Less than Human' series. A large cargo boat is seen in Songkla Port, Thailand. 09/03/2014. Photographer Chris Kelly worked undercover to expose the link between prawns being sold in big name supermarkets, and the slaves who live and work on Thai fishing boats miles out to sea.

Photo credit, Chris Kelly

Government Response

How is the Bangladesh Government tackling modern slavery?

In 2016, the Bangladeshi government ranked fourth in region for the strength of its response to modern slavery – yet it must be borne in mind that the implementation of programs and policies to combat modern slavery in practice are not cohesively implemented in Bangladesh. As an example, Prime Minister Hasina pledged at the Girl Summit in 2014 to take steps to reduce child marriage in Bangladesh and committed to end marriage of girls under 15 and reduce the number of girls between the ages of 15 and 18 who marry by 2021, and to end child marriage completely in the country by 2041.[16] However, acting on this commitment has been postponed by debates surrounding the age of marriage and news media have noted that one year following the Summit, little real impact had been achieved.[17] Thus, although Bangladesh is making considerable effort in responding to modern slavery, there remains room for improvement.


Government Response Rating

B


In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, improving the working conditions of the garment manufacturing sector became a focus of government developments; these developments included the signing of the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity in the Ready-Made Garment Sector in Bangladesh, the establishment of the ‘Accord’ and ‘Alliance’ programs which increase accountability.[18] However, the Government must take action to ensure that workers’ voices are heard through these forums and that their rights to unionise are protected[19] – particularly for female workers, as many Bangladeshi women involved in unionisation experience retaliatory violent threats and assaults.[20]

There is also room to improve the provision of victim services, allowing and supporting victims to participate in court processes regardless of their roles as witnesses,[21] ensuring activities in national actions plans are sufficiently funded, and enhancing the consistent application of child friendly services in the criminal justice process.[22]

Rajshahi, Bangladesh, January 2013. Dipa is 13 years old and has been engaged in prostitution for five months. She used to go to school, but stopped in class three after her family could no longer afford to send her. Her two sisters are also engaged in prostitution, but clients prefer to visit Dipa as she is the youngest of the three. She gets between four or five clients and earns about 1,200 Taka (US$15) a day.

Photo credit, Pep Bonet/ NOOR

Footnotes

  1. Kevin Bales, Blood and Earth, (Spiegel and Grau, 2016), pp. 72-74. 
  2. Bangladesh: Girls Damaged by Child Marriage', Human Rights Watch, June 9, 2015, accessed 04/05/2016:  https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/09/bangladesh-girls-damaged-child-marriage.
  3. Baptist World Aid Australia. The 2016 Australian Fashion Report, (Baptist World Aid Australia, 2016), p. 24, last accessed 21/04/2016:  http://www.baptistworldaid.org.au/assets/Be-Fair-Section/FashionReport.pdf
  4. Bangladesh: Girls Damaged by Child Marriage', Human Rights Watch, June 9, 2015, accessed 04/05/2016:  https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/09/bangladesh-girls-damaged-child-marriage.
  5. Baptist World Aid Australia. The 2016 Australian Fashion Report, (Baptist World Aid Australia, 2016), p. 24, last accessed 21/04/2016:  http://www.baptistworldaid.org.au/assets/Be-Fair-Section/FashionReport.pdf
  6. "Sex, Slavery, and Drugs in Bangladesh", VICE News, May 16, 2015, accessed 04/05/2016:  https://news.vice.com/video/sex-slavery-and-drugs-in-bangladesh
  7. Nigel O'Conner, 'Bangladesh organ trade continues unabated, targeting children, the poor', Al Jazeera America, December 26, 2014, accessed 04/05/2016, 
  8. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Bangladesh Country Narrative , (United States Department of State, 2015), pp. 359-361, accessed 26/05/2016: 
  9. "Bangladesh", World Bank, last accessed May 4, 2016,  http://data.worldbank.org/country/bangladesh
  10. Human Rights Watch, Marry Before Your House is Swept Away: Child Marriage in Bangladesh, (Human Rights Watch, 2015), pp. 8-9, accessed 04/05/2016,  https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/bangladesh0615_web.pdf
  11. Bisajyoti Das, 'Quake Strikes North East India, Bangladesh; 11 dead, nearly 200 hurt', Reuters, January 4, 2016, accessed 04/05/2016:  http://news.trust.org//item/20160104013241-etuqz/?source=fiHeadlineStory
  12. "Bangladesh", International Displacement Monitoring Centre, last accessed May 4, 2016,  http://www.internal-displacement.org/south-and-south-east-asia/bangladesh
  13. Anne-Kathrin Glatz, Bangladesh: comprehensive response required to complex displacement crisis, (International Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2015), accessed 04/05/2016:  http://www.internal-displacement.org/south-and-south-east-asia/bangladesh/2015/bangladesh-comprehensive-response-required-to-complex-displacement-crisis.
  14. "Bangladesh", Transparency International, accessed May 4, 2016,  http://www.transparency.org/country/#BGD_DataResearch_SurveysIndices
  15. Rana Plaza collapse: dozens charged with murder', The Guardian, June 1, 2015, accessed 04/05/2016:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/01/rana-plaza-collapse-dozens-charged-with-murder-bangladesh
  16. Human Rights Watch, Marry Before Your House is Swept Away: Child Marriage in Bangladesh, (Human Rights Watch, 2015), pp. 28, accessed 04/05/2016,  https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/bangladesh0615_web.pdf
  17. As above, p.80 ; see also Heather Barr, 'One Year After the Girl Summit', The Huffington Post, July 21, 2015, accessed 04/05/2016:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heather-barr/one-year-after-the-girl-s_b_7841728.html
  18. Björn Skorpen Claeson, Our Voices, Our Safety, (International Labour Rights Forum, 2015), p. 69, accessed 11/05/2016:  http://laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications/Our%20Voices, %20Our%20Safety%20Online_1.pdf
  19. As above, p. 70, 89-90, 93. 
  20. As above, p. 26-28, 64-65, 75-77. 

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