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CAUTION: This Is Emotionally Challenging Material

In a 2016 article entitled How the Blockchain Can Address Slavery, Portia Burton talks about how “…exploited labour props up our modern economy” and the role of Blockchain technology in creating a clear trail of  “…open ledgers which makes it easy for all parties to track what’s happening in the supply chain. This makes it harder for human trafficking to go unnoticed.”

The question of slavery and human trafficking is an uncomfortable one.  I remember watching the movie ‘Roots’ when I was about 10 and it touched me deeply.  How could humans steal and traffic other humans?

What touched me even more deeply years later, was the meek realisation (as a comfortably-situated white woman living in inner city Genoa, Italy), that slavery was still alive and kicking.

My Italian husband had just died.  I’d bought a run-down apartment in the centre of the Old City in Genoa: an area which seemed quaint and antique, shabby and ‘full-of-potential’.

After months of passing privileged and ignorant judgement on these street-working, hustling women, I finally started to befriend some of them: chatting about the weather and other absurd niceties as I took my dog out for its daily morning and afternoon crap.

I came to understand that these women were trafficked also.

They may not have arrived on a ship with chains, but they arrived with the understanding they were to be trained to be dental assistants or aged-care workers or similar, with a view to sending money back to their families in their countries of origins, only to find they were trapped in a rort – a fraudulent scheme managed by local underground agents with a system of interchange all over Europe.

The women only ever stayed around for a couple of weeks before a new set of heavily made-up faces would be chewing gum, leaning on door jambs and eyeing me and my dog with a certain cynicism – the other women had been moved on to the next city.

This cyclic system continues to this day, with fresh flesh adorning European city streets every month or so…

Promises broken, passports sequestered, massive debts encumbered for airfares, and drug habits introduced: all to be ‘repaid’ by working for the man – on their backs, so to speak.

They pay a rental premium on the bed, a cut to the pimp, a cut to the local protection agency, a cut for the place of residence and who knows who else takes a piece of the pie…

(Consensual vs. Trafficked Sex Workers: Listen to the interview with Leah Callon-Butler)

Some women spoke of taking literally YEARS to repay their ‘debts’ and of course, with this type of lifestyle, there was no ‘home’ really to go back to… Shame and self-loathing their psychological companions, they then became the ‘madams’ training the new girls.

The vicious Circle of Survival self-perpetuates.

Italy is a destination and transit country for women, children, and men trafficked internationally for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Women and children are trafficked for forced prostitution mainly from Nigeria, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Albania, and Ukraine but also from Russia, South America, North and East Africa, the Middle East, China, and Uzbekistan. Chinese men and women are trafficked to Italy for the purpose of forced labor. Roma children continue to be trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced begging. Men are trafficked for the purpose of forced labor, mostly in the agricultural sector in southern Italy.  – U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June, 2009 

So as illegal ‘aliens’ with no ID, no rights, no recognition and no means of removing themselves from the system, how can Blockchain technology provide ID solutions for these women?

With a smart phone, and an internet connection these women have the ability to store or record their identity on the Blockchain, thereby removing any question of who they are just because their documents have been confiscated: giving back their self-sovereignty. They could potentially get the power back…

This is one powerful way that Blockchain could potentially address one of the issues of modern slavery… but it would be fully dependent on governance – the action or manner of governing a state or organisation.

‘This technology is only as good as the laws and the good will of the Italians to stop human trafficking.’

– Portia Burton

Listen to the full podcast with Portia here


Brought to you by Amy-Rose Goodey & Abheeti Kathryn Pass

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