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What is Bonded Labor?

Bonded labor, also known as debt bondage, is a disturbing form of modern slavery where individuals are forced to work to repay a debt. Often, the terms are exploitative, trapping workers in a cycle of endless labor. It's a violation of human rights, affecting millions worldwide. How can we break these chains of injustice? Continue reading to explore the avenues for change.
Ken Black
Ken Black

Bonded labor is a form of debt slavery that is created when an individual begins to work for another person who holds a debt from that worker. It is also known as debt slavery. Once a bonded labor situation has been created, some individuals find it impossible to ever break out of it.

Bonded labor begins when an individual goes to another individual to borrow money and agrees to work in exchange for the money. Often, the person will be required to live on the property so that the debt holder can keep track of their whereabouts. It is also common for all members of an immediate family to share in debt bondage situation. That means that even though some of those enslaved did not borrow the money, they are still serving as slaves.

The purpose of bonded labor for the individual holding the debt is to get a cheap source of labor.
The purpose of bonded labor for the individual holding the debt is to get a cheap source of labor.

The purpose of bonded labor for the individual holding the debt is to get a cheap source of labor. In most cases, the terms are so unfavorable to the slave or indentured servant that getting out will take most of their lives, if it can even be done at all. In most situations, if the slave dies before the debt is repaid, the rest of the family will still have to continue working for the debt holder until the debt is determined to have been paid off.

In some cases, those who are serving a debt holder in a bonded labor situation may seek to borrow money for other things as well. This further increases the debt and gives the debt holder even more power. In the end, the goal is to create a person who feels that the debt holder is their only source of hope in the world.

A person enslaved in a bonded labor situation may receive some money for their efforts, but this is just a token payment. In most cases, it is understood that the true value of their work is going to pay for the debt they owe. In practice, the true value of their work is never paid or fully counted toward the debt.

Further, the conditions under which indentured servants work can be very harsh. Some have reported working 13 hours or longer during a normal day. Many may be crowded into very small living conditions. If they marry, their spouses also become slaves to the debt holder. Work may include domestic chores, farm work, industrial work or even working underground in the sex trade.

While the practice of bonded labor, also spelled bonded labour in Great Britain, is still taking place in many areas throughout the world, it is illegal in most countries. Some jurisdictions may choose to not enforce the laws on the books. Others may have a hard time proving the situation in court. Therefore, even where it is illegal, it is able to thrive.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is bonded labor?

Bonded labor, also known as debt bondage or debt slavery, is a form of modern slavery where individuals are forced to work to repay a debt. The terms of repayment are often unclear, unfair, and illegal, trapping workers in a cycle of debt that can be impossible to break. This exploitative practice violates human rights and is often characterized by little or no pay, excessive work hours, and poor living conditions. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), millions of people are estimated to be in forced labor, many of whom are in some form of debt bondage.

How does someone become trapped in bonded labor?

Individuals may become trapped in bonded labor through various means, often starting with a loan or advance that they accept under terms that are exploitative. This can happen due to poverty, lack of employment opportunities, or a crisis that forces them to seek financial help. The debt often increases over time due to high interest rates or additional costs imposed by the employer, making it impossible to repay. The laborer's freedom is restricted until the debt is paid off, which, due to the unfair terms, may never happen.

Where is bonded labor most prevalent?

Bonded labor is most prevalent in South Asia, particularly in countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. However, it is a global issue and can be found in various industries worldwide, including agriculture, brick kilns, carpet weaving, and domestic work. The Global Slavery Index provides insights into the prevalence of modern slavery, including bonded labor, with an estimated 40.3 million people in modern slavery as of their 2018 report.

What are the consequences of bonded labor for individuals and communities?

The consequences of bonded labor are devastating for individuals, leading to physical and psychological harm, loss of freedom, and denial of basic human rights. It perpetuates poverty and social inequality, as victims are unable to access education or improve their socioeconomic status. For communities, it can hinder economic development and reinforce discriminatory practices against marginalized groups. Bonded labor also distorts markets by providing unfair competition to legitimate businesses that pay fair wages.

How can bonded labor be eradicated?

Eradicating bonded labor requires a multifaceted approach, including stronger legal frameworks and enforcement, empowerment of vulnerable populations through education and economic opportunities, and advocacy to raise awareness. International organizations like the ILO work towards the abolition of forced labor through conventions and protocols. Additionally, consumers can play a role by supporting ethically sourced products and companies that ensure fair labor practices in their supply chains.

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Discussion Comments


this is horrible. i think this should end.


The website has got a lot of informative stuff about inhuman ways of slavery.


It helped with my summary for English and now I know more about it.


I think this site is very good because it gives me all answers to most questions that boggle my mind.

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    • The purpose of bonded labor for the individual holding the debt is to get a cheap source of labor.
      By: Andrii Salivon
      The purpose of bonded labor for the individual holding the debt is to get a cheap source of labor.