The Ekhanya official newsletter of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (‘SACBC‘), speaks of a groundbreaking ministry against human trafficking. Perhaps the most groundbreaking thing about this ministry, which the SACBC says has been praised by the South African government and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (‘ USCCB ‘): is its radically alternative, bizarrely utterly unusual definition of human trafficking.
Having recently finished my final exams for final year law, my understanding of trafficking is that it requires a sale and purchase of an illegal or prohibited product. For instance, there is trafficking in narcotics: that is to say the illegal drug trade. There is also something called human trafficking. Human trafficking for sex slavery is a major form of human trafficking. In antiquity this was referred to as the white slave trade. Human trafficking is differentiated from prostitution by all major organisations. People smuggling is also generally differentiated from human trafficking, although technically speaking in linguistic terms at first glance: people smuggling is maybe a form of human trafficking: the trafficking is voluntarily, and cannot be classed as a form of slavery, and unlike real human trafficking: does not entail the selling or buying of the human being but rather the selling or buying of illegal passage for that human being making it not in fact human trafficking.
The reason why at first glance one might associate illegal migration assistance with human trafficking is that the word traffic connotes movement: trafficking however refers not to movement but to sale. Drug-trafficking refers to the sale or buying of drugs. Human trafficking refers to the sale or buying of human beings: it refers to the ownership of one human being over another human being and the sale of that ownership to a third human being or organisation of human beings. Slavery itself is hard to define. I gave a gander to an extraordinarily long article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica deluxe version of 2012, on slavery, in preparation for writing this article. It was primarily concerned with legalised slavery. It looked at the history of slavery from ancient humanity to modern times. It was not however concerned with human trafficking, but rather purely with legalised slavery and historic slavery. The best definition of a word is often a contextual utilisation focused definition. This or that word is utilized for this or that purpose legitimately, and illegitimately utilised for this or that purpose in certain contexts by certain speakers in a manner which is nonetheless comprehended in those circumstances.
So how do the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference define human trafficking in their newsletter relaying a workshop on human trafficking hosted by their so-called ‘groundbreaking' human trafficking ministry?
Apparently they consider any cheap migrant labour, to be human trafficking?
Seasonal and migrant labour periodically streams into South Africa from neighbouring countries, to work in the agricultural sector of the economy. Some of these temporary immigrants are clandestine or illegal immigrants. In some cases there have been allegations that some farmers might mistreat some farmworkers whether South African or foreign. Illegal immigrants might also be paid a smaller amount than South Africans are. This is not a situation unique to South Africa, but occurs in most Western and other nations. Some have referred to such working conditions as slave like, or slightly more accurately considered these to be inhumane working conditions.
Whether legal or illegal, such migrant workers flow through the South African border every year, pay a taxi fare when they enter the country, and willingly go to work. They brave poor working conditions where these exist, and work extraordinarily hard for every small wage. The reason why they do such a thing is that they would not be able to support themselves at all were it not for this poor quality of employment, which nonetheless puts food on the table.
I recently investigated farmworker wages, given the recent strikes in the agricultural sector in the Western Cape for higher wages. South Africa by large part still utilises human labour in the agricultural sector. Most Western countries have fired the majority of previous agricultural workers over a time. These agricultural powerhouses tend to be mechanised powerhouses. An agricultural economist has stated that the wages which were proposed by government and which are being enforced upon the sector would have the effect that agriculture would have to mechanise, and remove the matters of human labour from the equation or face liquidation and bankruptcy. The Economist stated that certain produce would only be agriculturally viable in neighbouring countries should such a move go-ahead. In many cases the only wage which can be paid a seasonal farmworker is a wage which an ordinary person might look down upon as petite. South Africa has always had allegations of abuse of farmworkers and other manual labourers. Differentiating propaganda and special interests from true allegations, however, is a different story.
‘Mission to End Human Trafficking
‘Sister Melanie O’Connor HF of the Counter Trafficking in Persons office (CTIP) recently conducted workshops with priests, religious and laity in the dioceses of Aliwal North and Dundee. While participants in Dundee did not immediately recognise the concept of human trafficking, Aliwal North identified the problem of unaccompanied and undocumented migrants from Lesotho in their area.
‘Many of these are being exploited for farm or domestic work, receiving as little as R 200 a month, and are also physically abused. Participants agreed that such conditions are slave-like, amount to human trafficking and need to be looked into. The CTIP office which is a joint venture of the SACBC and LCCL (Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life) has received praise from the South African government and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for its ground-breaking ministry against human trafficking. ‘
(Ekhanya volume 6: official newsletter of the SACBC, for November 1, 2013)
Originally I thought that their first paragraph was a quotation, as they had indented it, following the practice for quotations. After subsequent conversation with the organisation however, and what I hope is not indifference, but rather: their lack of comprehension of my differentiation between their quotation and their own statement: I have come to terms with the fact that neither the first nor the second paragraph is a quotation by Ekhanya. Rather they constitute together one press release/article. This official newsletter does not state that many of these are simply allegedly exploited, or that it is only possibly human trafficking. Ekhanya states that ‘Participants agreed that such conditions are slave-like, amount to human trafficking…’ That suggest that the CTIP were in agreement with the participants, or else that this was an expected or welcomed outcome.
There is no correction in the press release/article as to what ordinarily would be considered human trafficking, that is the buying and selling of human beings. It is common for the phrase slave-like to be used outside of the context of slavery, so I will not focus deeply upon this. Merely stating that something has a semblance to something else is not portraying that other thing as the something else. However, where there is no sale or buying of human beings: and this is called human trafficking, such seriously impedes real efforts to prevent human trafficking. Disobeying minimum wage laws or laws relating to basic conditions of employment and liveable working conditions is certainly not something of trivial matters. This is not however human trafficking. There is no buying or selling of human beings.
One might expect that this error is due to Ekhanya and is in no way attributable to the department dealing with human trafficking. This was my first assumption.
I thus wrote to the office for media at the SACBC whose responsibility it is to distribute Ekhanya.
‘Dear office of media, for the SACBC
’I find this article/press release on human trafficking concerning. Human trafficking is the trafficking in humans. It requires a buyer and a seller. Low wages might be against the minimum wage or any number of things, but these cannot conceptually be termed human trafficking. Please rectify this serious error on your part.
‘Marc Evan Aupiais.
‘Editor, SACNS. ’
The response I got was far from satisfactory:
Fr S'milo Mngadi, gave me the following unsatisfactory and insufficient reply:
‘Thank you for communicating your concern. However, we were reporting on what the participants of the workshop “agreed” upon. We do not hold any opinion on the matter.
I asked for rectification, and gave reasons: reasons hampered by the fact they merely indented for seemingly no reason:
‘You quoted their views, and after their views stated that such is human trafficking outside of quotes. As someone who has studied and passed Public International Law, at tertiary level, I am deeply concerned by this. Furthermore, it does not instil confidence in the human trafficking organisation if a press release linked with it does misplace the concept of what Human trafficking is. Is it now policy that funds to fight human trafficking will be used to fight low wages paid to migrant labourers? This is a serious and grave error. It has certainly made me personally reconsider any support of the SACBC program which looks like a joke due to the release given. Trafficking of human beings is not comparable to low wages given migrant workers or even very poor working conditions or assault. It is like comparing rape and corporal punishment in schools. Both are forbidden in law, but such a comparison makes a joke of rape. The quote of slave-like is possibly not so serious: it does not say the migrants are slaves. Saying something has a semblance to human trafficking, okay. Saying it is human trafficking undermines any efforts to combat human trafficking.’
(I have corrected three typos which I had made: namely: dors (does), make (makes), instill (instil). These do not however in any way affect the meaning of what was communicated.)
Receiving no response, I continued:
‘In the very least it is good etiquette to note an error in something portrayed. The quoted part was theirs. That outside of quotes was in your power. Either way it undermines SACBC as more interested in politics than in actually combating bona fides, real human trafficking. Whether wrong or right, what your service displayed outside of quotes as human trafficking with no correction is deeply concerning. Yes, you are a press release office, but I would expect at least some level of fact checking. I clearly am wrong. And clearly campaigns by SACBC to end human trafficking are not actually about human trafficking at all. Am I wrong to infer as much from your nonplussed response?’
(Typo in spelling of etiquette corrected: it stated ettiquette, where etiquette was the intended word).
It has been over two hours since these emails and I have received no response whatsoever. I understand that the indentation was not in fact a quote but simply an indentation for whatever purpose it served. However, my concern is still very real. Is this the manner in which such office educates about human trafficking, by teaching that which does not fall in the definition to be human trafficking? Is this what such organisation wants South Africans to see as its purpose: claiming to fight human trafficking but in fact fighting to improve working conditions and to gain higher pay for workers. Is this all union activity in the guise of fighting human trafficking? These are concerning questions which I do not feel have been answered by the inadequate response of the SACBC Communications Department.
It is the Cardinal Napier story all over again. I asked for an interview as to whether or not his paedophilia interview with the BBC and responses subsequent to it to various media outlets: meant that he had in fact moved paedophiles from parish to parish in the 1990s. I certainly got the first retraction of the statement he had made to the BBC, but as I stated in my article, inclusive of his retraction, which I published a day ahead of anyone else: I felt that the question which I posed had not been answered in any meaningful manner. Cardinal Napier has still not informed me as to whether or not he assisted in any sort of cover up for paedophiles.
I hope that the SACBC does not intend to deeply insult the human dignity of those who are human trafficked, by comparing ordinary workers’ rights issues which nonetheless are serious: with actual human trafficking. Their quiet when desirable department of media has yet to give me a response on this. I hope that one will be forthcoming in the near future, that I shan’t hold my breath is nonetheless implied in this matter.
After publication we gave the SACBC a link to our article. Their representative to media, Fr S'milo Mngadi, informed us that he considered it 'unfortunate' that we had published our article for the perusal of the public. Fr S'milo Mngadi stated that what the SACBC media office relayed of the CTIP organisation's actual activities and use of resources, did not represent the CTIP organisation's publically stated policy, to which he offered a hyperlink. Indeed, if their policy were that of a labour union or migrant worker importer, the SACBC's CTIP organisation's actions would not be newsworthy.
The fact however that they state their purpose is fighting human trafficking when they use their resources in unison with SACBC, spreading misinformation about what human trafficking is, and pushing matters in the political sphere under the guise of Human Trafficking focus is what causes our deep unease. Our organisation's editor informed the SACBC that it is part of our ethical mandate at SACNS to be appropriately critical of, and hold accountable public organisations and figures, and that our article was in the public interest and fair comment.
As such, we do not believe that informing the public of discord between claimed purpose and actual actions of an organisation is an 'unfortunate' publishing of information. This is especially the situation, where such an organisation, as CTIP apparently exploits the cause of the most vulnerabe, the human trafficked, for other purposes such as promoting wage differences. On what do we base this? The SACBC's own words.
We at SACNS find it 'unfortunate', furthermore, that media should be patronised or seemingly threatened rather than properly treated with respect. We informed the SACBC that we three times gave them opportunity to comment or clarify if their portrayal of their own CTIP was wrong. We then waited two hours before publication, in which time they certainly had seen our concerns that from what they were saying: the public were in fact being duped on what CTIP do with their resources.
Slavery: colloquially: legalised forced labour, or in some modern political definitions: unlawful forced labour, is different from human trafficking, which is sale and purchase of the ownership of human beings. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably. Cheap migrant labour is neither human trafficking or slavery. Indentured or peon labour is forced labour to pay off a debt: there is no evidence of this being the case in the South African agricultural setting, and it is clear from all accounts that migrant labourers regularly return to their place of origin, meaning that none of the three definitions are applicable. Labour law and inhumane conditions might be issues, however this is a matter then not of human trafficking but within different areas of law and political discourse. Essentially, it is not human trafficking.
Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice in any way or form. Marc Evan Aupiais is a Roman Catholic: This is stated in the interests of full disclosure. The church which is referred to in the article is the Roman Catholic Church, specifically that in Southern Africa.