Slavery may have been banned many years ago, yet millions of people stay captive in forms of modern slavery. This remains true for Pakistan too, as a global survey released on Thursday has placed Pakistan among the top five countries with the highest rates of enslaved people.

There are many ways through which modern slavery functions in Pakistan, which include labour trafficking, bonded labour and debt bondage, domestic servitude in the form of domestic work and forced child labour. International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimating at least one million bonded labours in brick kilns and agriculture each in Pakistan. Abusive domestic work has become a notorious association with Pakistan internationally, with many countries reporting cases of Pakistani domestic workers enslaved by migrant families.

There has been little attempt by the state to curtail these massive violation of fundamental rights. There are reports of brick kiln industries operating as a mafia, making police action against them very difficult. Some legislation has been pushed for protection of domestic workers in Punjab and Sindh but it remains stalled in the provincial assemblies. Trade unions for these workers are weak and defunct, providing very little help.

Neither does it look like things will get any better. Empowering the labour force and providing necessary protection to workers does not seem to be an integral issue for any political party in the upcoming elections. Even Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the workers party, does not dedicate much time in its manifesto to enslaved workers in the brick kiln and domestic industries.

Hopefully this report should pressure politicians to address this neglected issue. What we need is for politicians to not just pay lip-service to combat slavery, but to challenge the status quo to empower labourers. Political parties need to push to strengthen trade unions and give power to workers, before they can claim to work for the rights of people.