Why Slavery?

A series of groundbreaking documentary films uncover the lives of men, women and children living as modern slaves in all corners of the world. Whether it is the deeply flawed Kafala System in the Middle East or the prolific number of children bought and sold in India, WHY SLAVERY? shines a light on the millions of lives lived in the shadow of enslavement.

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Episodes Season 1

  • 1. North Korea's Secret Slaves: Dollar Heroes

    The North Korean regime maintains one of the world's largest forced labour systems. The government, short of cash due to international economic sanctions, sells its own people as labourers to work in companies in Russia, China and a dozen other countries around the world - including member states of the European Union. Experts estimate that since Kim Jong-un has come to power, the number of ‘Work Brigades’ has risen to more than 150,000. While in North Korea they are lured with a promise of high wages and glory for their families. Once enrolled, they find themselves in very foreign territories. Often unable to speak the language, they work up to 14 hour days, under harsh conditions, for little pay. Their wages are transferred directly to the government. They live under constant surveillance by Korean agents and local supervisors, and their contracts last for years. The film is based on covert footage and conversations with workers, middlemen and employers in Poland, Russia and China. The workers’ emotional tales show the cynicism and inhumanity of this system. The beneficiaries are the North Korean state, which finances its nuclear programme with money generated through this forced labour. However, this film also shows how construction companies, food manufacturers and shipyards in dozens of countries around the world are complicit in this gigantic scheme of modern-day slavery. Filmed over two years, this documentary shows how the North Korean regime and the forces of globalization have made a Faustian pact: Underpaid workers toil for the dictator's nuclear program while the United Nations and the European Union look away.

  • 2. Maid in Hell

    On May 28th 2016, it is nighttime in Nairobi, as flight MS849 arrives in Kenya. On board is a woman returning home from her job as a maid in Jordan. 35 year old Mary Kibwana, a mother of four, is in a wheelchair- 70 percent of her body has been burned. She is picked up by an ambulance and rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital. At the hospital, her relatives gather, not knowing if she will survive. They hear her recall a shocking story of events that unfolded in Jordan. What Mary experienced turns out to be beyond imagination. Every year, thousands of women from poorer countries in Africa and Asia return from the Middle East with similar horrifying accounts of trying to find work and ending up trapped in modern slavery; unpaid for their labour they experience severe beatings and sexual assault as a norm. These women have become trapped in the Kafala System- a set of laws governing migrant labour in the Middle East that binds labourers to their employers. Their passports are confiscated and trying to escape means they risk harsh punishments or imprisonment. Woven into this system is a network of unscrupulous employment agents who intentionally put hundreds of thousands of women at risk of physical assault, harassment and extreme exploitation for personal gain. Most often the perpetrators of these crimes will never see the inside of a courtroom. Poor and often illiterate women are up against rich and powerful families in the Middle East. An uneven battle forces most victims to simply give up and try to forget the trauma they experienced. But not in the case of Mary Kibwana. The images of her burned body cause a national outcry in Kenya and two weeks later her brother-in-law gets on a plane to Jordan and rallies activists and politicians to seek justice. It is one of the first high profile cases that reveals the truth about an employment system hiding a reality of torture and humiliation. Giving unprecedented access to one of the most frightening and brutal forms of forced labour in the modern world, Maid in Hell exposes the secretive inner workings of the Kafala System. By following employment agents who vividly describe the trade, as well as maids who struggle to find a way home after both traumatic and degrading experiences, we come to understand the horrific reality faced by thousands of women each day.

  • 3. Selling Children

    In the world’s largest democracy - India - millions of vulnerable children are bought and sold, given only what they need to survive another day. Throughout Indian society the mechanisms of bonded slave labour are insidious, powerful, and nearly impossible to escape for children who have become trapped in a system driven by profits. Our Indian director looks behind the overwhelming statistics, revealing how the lack of education and persistent poverty provides a breeding ground for modern slavery. In this episode we follow the lives of children who have been denied a childhood and an education to be sold to work in mica mines, to pick tea leaves at plantations, to work as domestic helpers, and even sold as brides when they are just young girls. Their stories trace back to their families, exposes how perilous circumstances and a deep lack of knowledge about the meaning of slavery results in the selling of children.

  • 4. A Woman Captured

    Filmmaker Bernadett Tuza-Ritter, had little experience of modern slavery until she met a Hungarian woman named Eta. Eta boasted about her live-in domestic worker - Marish - believing the fact elevated her social status, she agreed to let Bernadett meet and film Marish in her home. This meeting would prove to be a serendipitous twist of fate, for both Marish and Bernadett. Over the course of two and a half years Bernadett acts as a first-hand witness to the relentless torrent of abuse and humiliation Marish is subjected to. With such rare access, Bernadette captures with startling intimacy, the debasing effect of the enslavement of another human. As a result A Woman Captured opens up the dark world of modern slavery behind closed doors. Marish’s life is also changed by the encounter, as the courage she draws from Bernadette’s presence, enables her to escape. The film begins with Marish, awoken to the sound of Bernadett’s voice, she explains “I feel as if I have not slept at all.” Filming Marish as she works, sleeps, and interacts with Eta, it quickly becomes apparent that Marish’s life does not reflect that of a typical domestic worker. Instead the incessant abuse, humiliation, and controlling rules which Marish endures, hint at the darker reality of her enslavement. A Woman Captured follows Marish in her daily routine, capturing the innumerable insidious ways in which she is degraded at the hands of Eta. After ten years, the weight of this abuse is shown to haven taken a toll on Marish - her worn face carrying the aged markings typical of a woman twice her age. This intimate portrayal depicts the claustrophobic way in which Marish lives; denied permission to leave the house and subject to vitriolic mistreatment inside its walls, we truly witness a woman captured. A glimmer of hope is offered by Bernadett’s presence. Over the course of two and a half years of filming, Bernadett slowly becomes Marish’s sole friend and confidant. This relationship proves to be pivotal for building Marish’s confidence to escape, to become a free woman and to reunite with her estranged daughter. This intimate portrait offers a rare insight into the pernicious ways in which a person’s sense of self can be slowly eroded under conditions of modern slavery. Masterfully this film also offers hope by capturing the pure joy that can be found in living life as a free person.

  • 5. I Was a Yazidi Slave

    Can there be justice after genocide, sexual violence, and slavery? In August 2014 an Islamic State massacre of unimaginable proportions took place during the rapid invasion of the Yazidi people in Sinjar, northern Iraq. Young Yazidi women were separated from the old and taken to the Galaxy Cinema in Mosul. There they were paraded, selected, enslaved, tortured, and systematically raped. Somewhere only 11 years old. In this film international lawyer Philippe Sands travels to Kurdish-Yazidi refugee camps in Dohuk and interviews escaped victims of ISIS on how they live in the aftermath of genocidal violence. Back in Europe Sands then encounters the son of Yazidi Kurdish immigrants Dr. Jan Kizilhan, a world-renowned trauma expert. Together they work to bring 1000 women and girls for treatment at Kizilhan’s clinic in Schwarzwald, Germany. We follow the Yazidi women’s journey to recovery and ask how a survivor of unthinkable sexual violence can find justice and a path to rehabilitation. This is their story.

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