Thursday, June 02, 2016

Modern Day Slaves in the Netherlands

Yesterday I read an article from (never mind their English) on the shockingly large number of modern day slaves in the Netherlands.

The outlook is bleak (Image: 2016 Global Slavery Index)


Slavery has a long tradition in the low countries, but always out of sight. The worlds first multinational was the VOC, the Dutch East India company. Two main sources of income were the colonies and the slave trade, intricably linked. A few years ago a former prime minister boasted of the proud tradition of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie and conveniently forgot all the human suffering that helped pay for it.

Our king has his own golden carriage, built in 1898 and drawn by four horses, it is used on special occasions. One side shows a painting of black slaves kneeling before their white queen, offering gifts. In 2011 two members of parliament objected but our current PM - a history major - found the suggestion to remove the scene "bizarre" and "was not in favour of rewriting history by destroying the golden carriage." [1]

Perhaps it is a sign of the times that this May three prominent actors stepped down from the official Santa Claus news, uncomfortable with how Dutch public television is handling the discussion on the future of Black Pete. [2]

The Australian Walk Free Foundation recently released its 2016 Global Slavery Index. Worldwide an estimated 45.8 million people is a modern day slave, which is insane. That large number by itself is hard to understand and put in perspective. So I zoomed in on my own tiny "flat as a pancake" native Holland and I was startled just how bad things really are.

There are an estimated 17.500 modern slaves in the Netherlands, most of them forced to work in agriculture, construction or as sex slaves. It's an intolerable fact of life that there always will be people who are held as slaves against their will. But this many in a country of only 17 million people? Don't think of it as 0.1%, that does sound neglible small, but as 1 in 1000. All of a sudden the issue is not so tiny anymore.

By comparison, the UK with almost four times as much people has 11.700 modern day slaves. The UK enacted the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015, which requires large companies to report on steps they have taken to safeguard supply chains from modern slavery.

So does it really matter the report states the Netherlands has one of the strongest responses to modern day slavery. When was the last time you believed a politician who swore, he had every intention to...

[1] Remarkable because neither the PM nor the king would ever entertain the thought offering president Obama a ride in that carriage. The Wikipedia entry [intentionally] highlights the controversial nature when you realize what has been omitted. The article describes the carriage having painted panels, but not what is depicted on them or that some find those images offensive. The accompanying photograph only shows the upper half of the panels, leaving it impossible to make out what the scene is about. Our king should donate the Golden Carriage to a museum. As a symbol of unity he should not glorify our colonial past.

Now you see it...
...and now you don't.

[2] You can never escape your past but you can try to ignore it, which is what we Dutch seem to do. In mid-November Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) arrives from Spain by steamboat to bring children gifts so the tradition goes. Blacked-up servants called Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) help him. The festival of Saint Nicholas, which gave rise to Santa Claus, is generally considered a corner stone of Dutch national identity. Everyone except a majority of the Dutch says Black Pete is a racist stereotype. A heated and rather unpleasant debate has been going on for some years now. In 2013 the United Nations appointed a rapporteur, only adding fuel to the fire.

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