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BBC Interview


“A brief, clear introduction to the tragedy of human trafficking in the 21st century.

A 10th-generation Parisian who lives in London, Villa brings a welcome global perspective to her overview of present-day slavery and how readers can fight it. She has served for more than a decade as CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which promotes human rights, and she draws heavily on that experience as she describes the brutal fates of the estimated 40 million people worldwide who are “forced to work, through fraud or threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence.” Roughly 30 percent of the victims are trafficked for sex while 70 percent are trapped in involuntary labor. She includes oral histories of three survivors, two of whom suggest the range of forms modern slavery takes: Deependra Giri, an educated Nepalese man who signed a two-year contract for an office job in Qatar only to have to surrender his passport when he arrived, which meant he couldn’t leave when his employer paid a fraction of the agreed-upon salary; and Marcela Loaiza, a dancer in Colombia lured to Tokyo by a con man who promised to make her famous but whose associates demanded, once she got to Japan, that she pay them $50,000 by working as a prostitute and threatened harm to her family if she didn’t comply. Some of the crimes Villa describes, like sex trafficking, have garnered wide attention, but other shadowy practices are less well known. These include the Kafala, or sponsorship, system in place in the Persian Gulf region, which allows employers to confiscate migrant workers’ passports and deny them exit permits until the company says they can leave. In the most useful parts of the book, Villa instructs readers on what they can do to support anti-slavery efforts, including donating to groups like the Human Trafficking Legal Center, which provides free lawyers for victims. Villa’s use of real names and photos of survivors lends credibility to stories that might otherwise be too shocking to believe.

A vital guide for teachers, nonprofits, and others seeking to understand the global fight against slavery.”


“I discovered sex trafficking through filming SOLD, and Monique’s book is an eye opener on the human experience of slavery. She keeps the survivors’ voices and weaves them with a global insight into modern slavery. I don’t usually feel hopeful when I read about the issue, but this book had that effect on me. A tour de force.”

Gillian Anderson, award-winning actress

“As a survivor myself, I know firsthand how Monique’s fierce and relentless drive in fighting modern slavery and empowering those who have endured it has been transformative. Her knowledge and expertise, strengthened over many years of being at the frontline of this fight, is stamped every page of this book, a real page turner.”

Evelyn Chumbow, survivor of human trafficking

“In this well-argued, moving and passionate book, Monique Villa lays out the appalling nature and scale of slavery today. In giving voice to the slaves themselves, showing both their sufferings and their extraordinary humanity and resilience, she underscores her call to action for us all to end this modern scourge.”

Margaret MacMillan, Historian

“Monique Villa’s years of experience as an esteemed journalist, along with her tenacity and passion to protect those who suffer in modern slavery, is so clearly demonstrated in this book. She has led the way in the fight against slavery, bringing so many along with her.”

Kevin Hyland, former UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner

Modern slavery touches us all, in the cheap fashion we buy, the minerals used in our phone, the bag of prawns in our freezer, the chocolate we consume, and when we get our car washed or our nails done. By telling the stories of three survivors of human trafficking, Monique Villa illustrates the horrors suffered by an estimated 40 million people worldwide, 25% of whom are children.

The International Labour Organisation estimates human trafficking is worth $150 billion a year. Whereas a slave in the 19th century cost the equivalent of $40,000, the price now is $90, meaning slaves can easily be discarded when they become too ill to work.

Villa describes the conditions endured by 30 million children in Indian factories, working 22 hours a day, sleeping beneath their work stations, and beaten with hammers by factory owners. She tells of a little boy, rescued by an Indian charity, who cannot understand why the NGO staff are nice to him. He asks they are trying to pacify him so they can take his kidneys.

Seventy percent of trafficked people are forced labour or in debt bondage, often tricked into working under the Kafala system in the Arabian Gulf. Their passports are confiscated and their wages withheld or never paid. They live and work in dangerous conditions, and when they return home, they must pay off the money-lenders whom they used to buy their flights. Interest rates of 60% are common, meaning it is impossible to ever repay the debt. The Arabian slave trade pre-dates the Atlantic one, yet not a single Arab academic has published a paper about the Arabs' role in trafficking millions of black Africans over the centuries. The amnesia continues to this day.

An estimated 30% of trafficked people are sex slaves. Virtually all women and girls who are trafficked are raped: violence and domination are key to control, convincing the slave that no one cares about them. Given that 90% of cases, girls have been sold by a family member, this is a likely assumption. Although Villa does not delve into this enough for fear of making sweeping generalisations, there is a clear link between societies in which females are regarded as inferior, and the likelihood women will be bought, sold and mistreated.

In more enlightened societies, traffickers are adept at recognising vulnerability in children in care homes. Villa has hair-raising stories of teachers and social workers in the first world turning a blind eye to the mistreatment of children by their own families, thereby making them vulnerable to grooming by traffickers; or children turning up to school exhausted and covered in bruises, having been sold to men perhaps twenty times during the night. Officials also ignore the tattoos or brands showing which pimp owns the girls. Victims of trafficking are betrayed and made to feel helpless at every stage: no wonder so many become drug addicts.

Human trafficking is not possible without a web of corruption, stretching from flight attendants to immigration officials to police and judges to parole officers to CEOs who refuse to confront the truth about their high profit margins. Legal redress is made difficult by the widespread ignorance of trafficking in the justice system: there are fewer than 15,000 cases against traffickers worldwide annually. Very few men having sex with children are prosecuted, and many tell the girls to their faces that they do not believe they are slaves ("You're just trying to get more money from me").

Evidently, consumers don't wish to acknowledge that their t-shirt has been made by a child slave. Even informing a customer that they are buying slavery-free products induces feelings of guilt and makes them less willing to buy. Yet, Villa concludes, pressuring businesses is one of the best ways forward. She offers practical suggestions for action the reader can take, as well as changes that might make it easier to keep victims from slipping back into slavery.

My only criticism is the lack of insight into the mind of a factory owner who beats a five-year-old with a hammer, or a judge who takes a bribe to ignore evidence of sex trafficking. Perhaps their motivation is no more complicated than greed. No wonder so many of Jesus's parables concerned this human trait.

Following California's example (the Transparency in Supply Chains Act), several other countries have begun to legislate. However, without enforcement, these are mere gestures. Reading this book will leave you feeling disgusted, but hopefully, ready to be a thoughtful and well-informed consumer.

Rebecca Tinsley on Independent Catholic News