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In the movies we see examples of oaths, pledges and fealties, gaining very little in exchange for life long services which are near impossible to get out of. In movies and shows, such as Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings, they might seem heroic, but in real life it takes a darker turn.

Bonded labour – a form of unfree labour, and you can say a form of modern day slavery. Even though it is deemed illegal by international law, this form of forced labour is still very much alive in countries across the globe with roughly 20 million people in its grasp. Bonded labour can be defined as a way a person provides his services to pay off a debt, with not knowing what his services might be. This is supposedly a thing of the past and some theorize it as pre-capitalist, but McGrath argues that “’free’ wage labour is actually only one option among many that the capitalist class may choose to employ” and that the reasons might not only economical, but could also be social and political. How is it still possible, even though it is illegal and supposedly abolished, that it still exists? For an answer we will look at India. According to Morgan and Olsen, over 11.7 million people are in forced labour with the majority in India.

Poverty, discrimination, and weak enforcement is what allows bonded labour or debt bondage to go on in India. Indian people are born in to a caste system. The system is slowly becoming less of a standard, but in agricultural areas it’s still very prevalent. The majority of the bonded labourers are born in to the Dalit caste system, which is considered the lowest in the caste and primarily worked with their hands in agriculture, construction or sanitation. While this might explain just the tip of the iceberg, it is a mentality that should not be overlooked. Just as this caste system, these workers are born in to the debt of their parents. Often new loans are taken on to pay off past debts which basically allows for never-ending contract. Even if they aren’t born in to debt, these people are often born in extreme poverty and try to get out of poverty by taking up a contract.

Without a formal contract, no salary or wages, or any idea what is still owed to their ‘employers’, these workers, which consists of entire households, have to work for up to 16 hour a day. With no knowledge of their rights, these workers are outside of the vision of the government, and as such enforcement of the international law is hard to up hold.

Sadly practices like these are still present in this world, and are most likely here to stay ,which is a hard truth. “One might consider forced labour and unfreedom as an ever-present possibility within capitalism, even though some of it predates capitalism.” (Morgan and Olsen, 2014)

Mario van der Meer

Word count: 492


McGrath, S. (2005). Unfree Labor, Capitalism and Contemporary Forms of Slavery, pp. 2.

Morgan, J. and W. Olsen. (2014). ‘Forced and Unfree Labour: An Analysis’ International Critical Thought 4(1), pp 4-7.


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