Labor & Workforce

Forced labor, a daily reality in Peru

By Gonzalo Domínguez Loeda

Lima, Jul 2 (EFE).- Carlos Enrique’s first-hand account of forced labor is just one of many in Peru, a country where precarity pushes workers into informal jobs.

“I had to escape, leaving everything behind saying I had to go to the doctor,” the young man tells Efe.

Raised in Chiclayo, on Peru’s north coast, he arrived in Lima, the capital, to make a living for himself.

Alone and oblivious to labor rights in Peru, he began to pick up informal employment that led him to a downward spiral that ended with a job that paid almost nothing.

“I began to suffer from anxiety about eating, I never put weight on. It was just eat, sleep, eat, sleep.”

His nightmare began in 2016, when he was working in a store. One day, three women entered the establishment and, with surprising agility, stole everything from the cash box.

He immediately told his boss, who then accused him of being complicit in the robbery and locked him up in his lodgings, which belonged to her family.

“They took my keys, my DNI (national identity card), the key to the room of her sister’s house, and they supposedly took me to the police station, but we never went to the police station, they took me to her house,” Enrique says.

“They began to say that I had robbed the store, that I had taken (the money) to my father,” he adds.

“I cried until I said enough,” he says. “I will never forget that woman because the most humiliating thing she did was almost make me kiss her feet so she would believe me.”

Under the threat of calling the police, the woman made Enrique work from 9.30am until 8.30pm in exchange for 320 soles ($85), he says. On Sundays he had to pick up extra work to pay his bills.

At that moment, he had no idea that he was being subjected to forced labor.

“I believed what they said, because they were supposedly Christians and good.”

Luis Enrique Aguilar, director of policy and strategy for the NGO CHS Alternativo, says that a recent survey found that 14% of respondents “had been in a situation like this” at some point in their lives.

“Situations like this are not unusual in the country, the economic booms that Peru has had over the centuries have been linked to situations of forced labor, slavery, servitude and human trafficking, but nowadays I believe that it is especially due to the considerable informality there is in the market,” he tells Efe.

According to different studies, informal employment has affected at least 71% of workers in Peru.

Aguilar thinks the situation has resulted from a failure of labor legislation, which allows employers to take advantage of vulnerable workers.

“In the case of forced labor, normally people are looking for employment and, after finding it impossible to secure what they need or want, end up accepting any offer.”

“Between 72% and 75% of the working population is in an informal economy and that makes it practically impossible, in any country in the world, that there can be a sufficient response in this regard”.

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