What Is Debt Bondage?

A piece for the Yale Daily News by Lily Yan takes a look at bebt bondage:

The International Labour Organization defines bonded labor as a “system whereby people are required to repay a debt by working for their creditors,” much like indentured servitude. An employer advances a loan to the laborer (to pay for weddings, funerals, medical expenses etc.) and requires the laborer to repay the debt by working for the employer. While on paper this seems like a contractual agreement, in reality bonded labor is an exploitative practice that shackles marginalized, poor laborers into greater and greater debt.

… Laborers can’t pay off their debts because their creditors/employers pay them barely subsistence wages, with little or nothing left over to repay the debt. Employers charge exorbitant interest rates, include recruitment, transportation and food costs for relocating laborers to work sites, and are the sole record-keepers. This, combined with the illiteracy of many bonded laborers, creates an exploitative situation in which employers easily violate or ignore contract terms and use “debt repayment” as coercion to keep laborers working. Thus debts are sometimes passed down as “family inheritances,” with children working to pay what their parents could not.

Bonded labor, like many humanitarian issues, is intimately connected with a host of other societal ills. Laborers are what Anti-Slavery International calls chronically poor, for they suffer from “a combination of material deprivation (income), capability deprivation (ill health, lack of skills, education) and vulnerability,” according to the organization’s Web site. This poverty is closely correlated with landlessness in rural areas, as those who have no land to live off are forced to find other means of sustenance. In addition, as entire families must often work to repay debt, children of bonded laborers seldom have the chance to receive an education or develop marketable skills needed to escape unskilled labor.

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