Debt and loans are a topic most Americans are acutely aware of— paying off student loans, bank loans, or credit card debt. It’s likely that you are in some form on debt right now. This debt is regulated by banks and other government bodies, however, so there is no danger of your accountant saddling you with an extra $1000 in fees because you were a few minutes late to your appointment.
The reality for those in debt bondage is quite different.
Debt bondage occurs when humans give themselves into slavery as collateral for a loan, a favor, or a debt inherited from a relative. It is designed to exploit the workers in a cyclical process triggered from the debt that they have, and often appears to be an employment agreement; except your manager at McDonald’s will actually pay you with the money that you are owed. Victims are forced to work to repay this debt, while the enslaver continues to add on expense after expense (disguised as interest or living costs). This process creates a vicious cycle where it becomes impossible for the victim to repay their enslaver, and they become trapped.
This process creates a vicious cycle where it becomes impossible for the victim to repay their enslaver, and they become trapped.
According to Urmila Bhoola, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, as of 2016, debt bondage is one of the most prevalent forms of modern slavery in the world despite its illegality. There are many reasons a person may fall into debt bondage—poverty, systematic inequality, discrimination, and labor migration. It is so easy for people who are suffering financially to turn to debt bondage, especially those who don’t have access to a justice system or other types of law enforcement.
According to research done at Mercyhurst University, migrant workers can be especially vulnerable to debt bondage. Hired by foreign agencies, often from different countries, they are promised fair incomes and good working conditions—however these employers rarely deliver and force their victims into debt by instituting immigration feels, housing fees, and others to keep their workers in poverty and incapable of repayment.
Debt bondage is a form of control used by traffickers, and while it can seem less serious than examples of traffickers using physical and emotional violence on their victims, it has proven to be equally as debilitating. Traffickers are able to convince their victims that they owe a huge amount of debt, and the victims have little other choice than to believe them and do as they say. This is an ideal tactic for traffickers because it is so hard to identify from the outside, and keeps its victims silent, dependent, and enslaved.