Russia Has Over a Million Slaves

Russia Plans to Fight Slavery: The Country Has More than a Million Slaves
Ivan Ovsyannikov
June 26, 2018

The Russian government has tabled a law bill in the State Duma that would ratify the protocol to the convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) outlawing forced labor. Russian officials claim ratifying the protocol is a formality, because there is no slavery in Russia. However, the government itself employs forced labor. PROVED has written about how the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) sells the labor of inmates to commercial companies, although it is forbidden by the convention. The Walk Free Foundation (WFF), an international human rights advocacy group, estimates there are over one million slaves in Russia.

The Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (No. 29) was adopted by the ILO in Geneva in 1930. The Soviet Union signed it only at the dawn of the Khrushchev Thaw in 1956. In 2014, the convention was supplemented with a protocol introducing  new restrictions on the use of forced labor. In particular, the original convention had stipulated people could be forced to work for public purposes. Such voluntary forced labor was widely practiced in the Soviet Union. Blue- and white-collar workers spent their weekends laboring at so-called subbotniks, while university students were sent to the fields of collective farms to harvest potatoes, carrots, and cabbages. The protocol to ILO Convention No. 29 deems this coerced labor a criminal offense.

Post-Soviet Russia has not ratified either the first or second versions of the convention. The Russian Labor Ministry has decided to correct the omission and tabled a law bill in the State Duma approving the statutes in the protocol to the convention.

The protocol requires signatories to take vigorous measures for eliminating slavery. They must pay compensation to victims of compulsory labor, educate law enforcement officers and employers about prohibited labor practices, and develop strategies for combating the slave trade.

The Labor Ministry’s draft bill says slavery has been banned in Russia as it is, and so it does not suggest any special measures for combating compulsory labor nor does it amend existing laws.

Seventh Place in Terms of Slavery
Experts claim, however, that Russian officials are disingenuous. In fact, in its 2016 survey, the WFF estimated there are least one million people in Russia subjected to some form of slavery, i.e., 0.73% of the country’s total population. Russia was thus ranked seventh in the WFF’s 2016 Global Slavery Index of 167 countries in terms of absolute number of people subjected to modern slavery. According to the index, only India (over 18 million), China (approx. 3.4 million), Pakistan (approx. 2.1 million), Bangladesh (approx. 1.5 million), Uzbekistan (approx. 1.2 million), and North Korea (1.1 million) had more slaves than Russia did.

slavery indexAn excerpt from the 2016 Global Slavery Index

Russian officials have not analyzed slave labor in Russia and do not acknowledge the problem. In their way of thinking, the president has not given them any instructions on the matter and nothing needs to be done, explains Yelena Gerasimova, director of the Center for Social and Labor Rights.

“I cannot say the government is a party to the scheme, but it closes its eyes on it. Russian Criminal Code Articles 127.1 (Human Trafficking) and 127.2 (Use of Slave Labor) are vaguely worded. While the ILO has a clear definition of slavery, the Russian police often do not understand what we are talking about. They ask us, ‘What slaves? Where are the shackles?’ But no one has ever kept slaves in shackles, for they have to work,” adds Oleg Melnikov, head of the grassroots organization Alternative.

The Government Protection Racket
Slavery includes forced marriages in which women are used as domestic servants, prostitutes forced to work in brothels, and migrant workers whose passports are confiscated by employers. As Gerasimova notes, however, Russian police, prosecutors, and labor inspectors refuse to acknowledge the problem and do nothing to identify people subjected to slavery.

She cites the example of the slaves of Golyanovo, twelve men and women freed from the basement of a grocery story on the outskirts of Moscow in 2012.

“The police were running protection for the store, which had kept people in bondage for years. They had their papers confiscated and were not paid for their work. Golyanovo is the tip of the iceberg,” argues Gerasimova.

The Russian government is willing to sell the manpower of inmates to commercial clients. For example, as PROVED discovered, Arkhangelsk Commercial Seaport LLC, a subsidiary of Evraz, purchased “workers from the inmate population” at the local penal colony for 860 rubles a day per person [approx. €12 a day]. The contract was posted on the government procurements website, although Arkhangelsk Regional Governor Igor Orlov hotly denied the deal. Now it is clear why. The ILO convention permits courts to impose work as a punishment, but it forbids leasing inmates to private companies.

Russian convicts usually work within the FSIN’s own system. Thus, the FSIN’s Main Industrial and Construction Department used inmates to build an entire residential complex for penitentiary service employees on the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk. Ironically, the complex is located on Work Safety Street.

However, the temptation to pursue public-private partnerships in the field of hard labor is too great. For example, FISN officials in Krasnodar Territory not only make no bones about their cooperation with business, but even brag about it. Inmates there sew uniforms for regular police and the Russian National Guard, cobble shoes, produce construction material, and are employed in woodworking and animal husbandry. Krasnodar Territory subsidizes businessmen who buy the goods produced by convicts. The entire enterprise is part of the territory’s official industrial development program for 2017–2020.

The Slave International
Forced labor is popular not only in the Russian penitentiary system but also in the outside world.

Melnikov describes a typical path to slavery.

“People from the hinterlands who go to Moscow and other major cities to improve their lot can end up as slaves. Someone approaches them on the streets, offering them a job in another region working on a rotational basis. He offers them a drink. Two days later, they wake up as they are arriving in Dagestan, Kalmykia or Stavropol Territory. Usually, the slaves work in cottage industries. The victims are told they have been bought. When they try and escape, they are captured and given a beating in front of everyone,” he says.

Moscow has recently been deluged with young women from Nigeria. Allegedly, they have come to study, but ultimately they are forced into prostitution. The farther workers are from home, the more vulnerable they are, adds Melnikov.

Fly-by-night firms, registered in Russia, recruit laborers in the rural regions of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. So-called foremen act as intermediaries between the firms and the local populace.

“They are often ethnic Russians from Central Asia or elders of the local communities, the mahallahs. They bring young men and women from the villages and hand them over to the managers of the companies that operate as agents. From the viewpoint of the UN and international law, this is human trafficking. But the migrant workers themselves do not see it that way. Many of them regard it as the natural order of things, an act of initiation. If you have not worked as a migrant laborer, you’re not a real man,” notes Andrei Yakimov, an expert on migrant workers.

People who are employed in this manner usually sign no work contracts with their employers. They do not know the names of the companies where they work or the names of their supervisors.

“A female cleaner from Uzbekistan knows only that she works for someone named Feruz. Feruz is her foreman or her foreman’s manager. At most, she will have heard that somewhere at the top of the food chain her work is supervised by someone named Andrei Nikolayevich, say. If I am an unskilled worker named Abdullo who has not been paid his wages, I am going to find it hard to figure where my money is. The foreman, the manager, his managers or contractor could be holding on to it. The chain of command can consist of dozens of links, especially in the construction business,” Yakimov explains.

There is no one to whom the migrant work can complain. If the migrant worker’s ID papers have also been confiscated, his or her enslavement is complete.

Slave labor is employed in different sectors of the economy. In Dagestan, slaves are sent to work at brick factories, while in Moscow they are employed as shop clerks, beggars, and prostitutes. In Novy Urengoy, they work in construction, while in Tver Region they are employed in sawmills.

Employment Off the Books
Yakimov argues that slavery in Russia is one of the shapes taken by undocumented employment. Russian nationals are fine with the fact that foreigners from Central Asia do the dirty, poorly paid jobs. These workers never turn to the authorities for help, fearing they will be punished for not having residency papers and work permits.

Russian nationals sometimes also avoid turning to the authorities, since many of them are employed on the black market and have not signed employment contracts, either. State Duma MP Oleg Shein has calculated that 34 million able-bodied Russians are employed in the illegal labor market, earning 10 trillion rubles [approx. €136 billion] annually. They constitute 40% of Russia’s entire workforce, says Shein. Such workers risk ending up as forced laborers, according to the wording of ILO Convention No. 29.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE (July 24, 2018). The 2018 Global Slavery Index has updated the figures for modern slavery in Russia. It has this to say in particular about slavery in Russia and efforts to combat it. Continue reading “Russia Has Over a Million Slaves”

Grassroots Recycling as a Threat to Russian National Security and International Football


Football fans! You might want to know that this past Saturday, the monthly neighborhood collections of recyclables, organized by the Razdelnyi Sbor environmental movement, an entirely volunteer-run organization, were cancelled, apparently by the police or higher powers, in four of Petersburg’s districts (Central, Admiralty, Krasnoye Selo, and Kalinin), allegedly, because they were a “security threat” to the ongoing FIFA Confederations Cup.

Ironically, this same grassroots movement, which poses such a (non-)threat to national security in neighborhoods many kilometers away from the brand-new stadium on Krestovsky Island where some of the cup’s matches are being played, including the final—a stadium that was built at the cost of unbelievable cost overruns (i.e., kickbacks) and completion delays, precarious migrant labor (including slave laborers shipped in from North Korea, one of whom was killed in an accident on the site), and the demolition of the old Kirov Stadium, a nationally listed architectural landmark designed by the great constructivist architect Alexander Nikolsky—made a deal with cup organizers and FIFA to collect and process recyclable waste at the stadium after matches.

Meaning that, at the stadium itself, this same grassroots movement was seen not as a threat, but as a cynical means of showing fans that FIFA and the Russian government were all about “international best practices.”

This is a ridiculous, telltale story that someone other than lowly unread me and my crap blog should be reporting.

By the way, under normal circumstances, readers of my Facebook news feed would have got a message from Razdelnyi Sbor about Saturday’s collection points, a message I cut and paste and disseminate faithfully every month, because I want everyone I know to go the one-day collection points in their neighborhood with their recyclables, and because my partner and I go to our neighborhood spot in the Central District every month ourselves.

Last year, I even bought a Razdelnyi Sbor t-shirt, to support the cause and occasionally serve as a living, breathing, walking, talking advertisement for it.

I guess I’ll have to think hard about whether I want to wear the t-shirt again. I don’t understand how you can serve the authorities at their Big Event while letting down the ordinary people who support you in their neighborhoods with their volunteer labor and their recycling month in and month out.

A friend of mine was arguing on Facebook just yesterday that VK, the homegrown Russian social media where Razdelnyi Sbor has its community page, was where it was at, as opposed to snobby Facebook. But in the relevant recent posts on Razdelnyi Sbor’s VK page about the cancelled collections you won’t find word one criticizing the authorities for acting in such a brutal, stupid way towards a completely beneficial grassroots campaign. I would imagine the page’s moderators hastily scrubbed any such complaints, if there were any. I’m sure there were some.

This is the real Russia, about which I almost never read anything in the western media and, sometimes, in the Russian media, either. It’s a country where recycling enthusiasts (just like cycling enthusiasts, for that matter) are imagined as a threat to national security and as “agents of the west,” except in the one instance where they can make the authoritarian state’s Big Event seem more PC to foreign football fans, dishing out big euros for tickets, merchandise, food and drinks, and rooms. TRR

A huge thanks to Comrade Darya A. for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Razdelnyi Sbor’s website

Read more on this topic:

The Joseph Brodsky Law

Let’s call it the Joseph Brodsky Law, especially since it was drafted in that incubator of shamelessness and obscurantism known as the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, in Brodsky’s hometown.

I have an acquaintance who was laid off seven months ago from his job of many years in the marketing department at a reputable, Soviet-era instruments manufacturing company. He has been diligently looking for a comparable job (or any good job) since then, but has found nothing.

Part of the reason his company tanked was that the wise guys (pun intended?) who now own it, diversified into real estate development and construction during the “boom” times a few year ago, and lost tons of money building luxury high-rises somewhere in the middle of Leningrad Region which no one wanted to move into.

Igor will be thrilled to learn his country has plans to label him a “social parasite” and assign him to a life of slave labor because he, a hard-working, pleasant, smart, decent guy, had the bad fortune to be born in a country where, in reality, “labor” and hard work have always been vilified and criminalized, whether by the serf-owning noblemen of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the vanguard of the proletariat during the twentieth century or the new overlords, the Ozero dacha co-op and their minions from the worlds of organized crime and petty officialdom.

rus_lit_60_05Joseph Brodsky, convicted social parasite and Nobel Prize winner

By the way, this is yet another reason the abomination known as the Joseph Brodsky Memorial Apartment Museum, which seems closer than ever to becoming a reality, now that the Friends of Brodsky have finally made a deal with the nasty old neighbor lady from the Brodsky family’s communal flat in the Muruzi House who was holding out on the Friends of Brodsky and asking for too much for her portion of the flat, should never be opened, much less have been contemplated in the first place.

The nasty old neighbor lady has been the only (albeit inadvertent) heroine in this tedious, drawn-out saga, because she has been the only one of the players trying to prevent the building of a needless, unwieldy monument to a man who, whatever his other extreme personal and political quirks, would hardly have wanted to return—whether in the flesh, in the spirit, as a bronze suitcase with his severed head propped on top, as yet another salon of old knickknacks and furniture (aka the Russian writer’s museum), etc.—to a city which is not only run by a, so to speak, legitimately elected ex-KGB officer and where homophobia is not merely legalized but almost functions like a quasi-state ideology, but where the law that was used to put Brodsky away when he was just a punk poetry slammer is now being revived, if only, so far, on the “exploratory” and “thought experiment” level.

BrodskySimunKonstantin Simun, Memorial to Joseph Brodsky, Philological Faculty, Saint Petersburg State University

The Brodsky Museum should not be opened if for no other reason than that all these creeps from the Mariinsky Palace and the Smolny (you can fill in their names), so keen on grinding gays into the dirt and stigmatizing the jobless, among their other hobbies, will show up for the grand opening. And the Friends of Brodsky will have invited them there. God knows that is exactly how Brodsky would have wanted to be remembered—as a door mat for thieves and crooks to wipe their feet on while accumulating cultural capital. (They already have a lock on the real capital, the shiny stuff you can buy swanky digs in London with.)

Finally, note that the only person who talks any sense, in the article, quoted below, is the guy from the Communist Party. Go figure.


In a move reminiscent of the Soviet era, Russian lawmakers have proposed introducing a penalty for being unemployed, and called for amending the Constitution to make labor the duty of each citizen, Russian media reported Monday.

The bill, drafted in the municipal legislature of St. Petersburg and soon to be introduced before the State Duma, would make “employment dodging” an offense punishable by community service, Izvestia reported. The daily claimed to have obtained a copy of the draft bill.

The move would echo the practice of the Soviet Union, whose Constitution enshrined labor as the “right” and also the “duty” of each citizen. It would also echo a law that the former Soviet republic of Belarus adopted recently, making “social parasitism” — a Soviet-era term for unemployment — punishable by a fine, in a bid to crack down on tax evaders.

Joseph Brodsky, one of Russia’s most prominent poets and its last Nobel prize winner in literature, was convicted of social parasitism during a 1964 trial, over the course of which the judge famously wondered who had recognized him as a poet.

Izvestia reported that under the new bill, adult and able-bodied Russians who have been out of a job for more than six months “when there is appropriate work available,” could be sentenced to up to one year of community service.

St. Petersburg lawmaker Andrei Anokhin was quoted by Interfax as saying that jobless Russians should apply to state-run employment agencies, and the “state should provide everyone with work.”

“Then it would be much easier to track down those who avoid working,” Anokhin was quoted by Izvestia as saying.

A lawmaker on the State Duma’s labor and social policy committee, Valery Trapeznikov, said that his panel would review the proposal, adding that Russians who do not work are costing the state income tax losses, the report said.

Communist State Duma deputy Vadim Solovyev referred to the proposal as “unconstitutional” in comments carried by Interfax.

“The introduction of a criminal penalty for being unemployed would mean violating the Constitution and international agreements,” Solovyev said Monday, noting that Russia is bound by its ratification of the International Labor Organization’s convention prohibiting forced labor.

Mikhail Yemelyanov, a Duma deputy from the A Just Russia party, said that he is confident the proposal will not survive a parliamentary vote. “This initiative cannot be approved because it is meaningless,” Yemelyanov told Interfax on Monday.

Meanwhile, Federation Council member Alexander Ryazantsky offered an alternative to the proposed penalty in comments to Interfax, suggesting that the unemployed should lose their rights to certain social benefits, such as advanced medical coverage and pensions.

source: Moscow Times

P.S. Kommersant reports a bill has been introduced in the State Duma that, if passed, would ban the use of hunger strikes “by way of resolving collective and individual labor disputes.”

You cannot make this stuff up, but they can. Have a gander at yesterday’s post, about the work-to-rule strike in Moscow medical clinics, where recent and current hunger strikes by Ufa health workers are also mentioned.



Christmas has come and my pocket is empty.
My novel’s finished, but the publisher’s iffy.
The Koran has made the calendar itchy.
There’s no one to visit, no one to worry.
Not my pal, whose kiddies just bawl.
Not my folks nor the broad down the hall.
Everywhere money’s the end and be all.
I sit on a chair, trembling with fury.


Ah! the poet’s accursed craft.
The telephone is dumb, a diet’s at hand.
I could borrow at the local, but that’s
like borrowing from a dame.
Losing one’s independence is much worse
than losing one’s innocence. I suppose
it’s a vicarious pleasure to dream of a spouse,
to say to oneself, “It’s high time.”


Knowing my status, my betrothed
hasn’t changed hers five years in a row.
Where she is nowadays, I do not know:
The devil himself couldn’t make her spill.
She says, “It’s useless to grieve.
Feelings are what’s important! Agreed?”
And from where she sits, that’s keen.
But she, it seems, is more fond of the swill.


I’m altogether skeptical of kith and kin.
My extra stomach offends the kitchen.
To top it off, my personal opinion
of man’s role in life makes them bristle.
They consider me a bandit
and make a mockery of my diet.
With them I enjoy no credit.
“Cut him a piece of gristle!”


I see my unmarried self in the windowpane.
One simple fact I’ll never explain
is how I’ve survived until Christmas Day,
Nineteen Hundred Sixty-seven A.D.
Twenty-six years of jolts and bumps,
scrounging for money, the judge’s thumps,
learning to play the deaf-mute, to primp
for the Law like a lady.


Around me life flows like molasses.
(I have in mind, of course, the masses.)
Marx is vindicated. But, following Marx’s
theory, long ago I should’ve been slaughtered.
Whose balance this favors is anyone’s guess.
My existence is a philosopher’s mess.
I somersault from this age without a net.
Please forgive me my hauteur.


Meaning, there’s every reason to rest assured.
The cry “Mount your horses!” is no longer heard.
The nobles have been squashed to the last earl.
Pugachev and Stepan Razin are long gone, honey.
The palace is taken, if you believe the rumors.
Dzhugashvili lies, a pickled cucumber.
On the forecastle all the cannons slumber.
The only thing on my mind is money.


Money is hiding in safes and in banks,
in stockings, in ceilings, in toilet bowl tanks,
in fireproof tins, in money order blanks.
Nature is drowning in money’s mere!
Packs of the newest notes make a commotion
like the distant crowns of birches, acacias.
I’m overwhelmed by hallucinations.
Give me some air!


Night. The rustle of falling snow.
A shovel gently scrapes the pavement below.
In the window opposite, an icon lamp glows.
I loll on the sofa’s steel springs.
I see only the icon lamp. But the icon is
out of sight. I draw closer to the balcony.
The snow covers the roof with a blanket,
and the houses stand like someone else’s.