05/09/2013, 00.00
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Jakarta, civil society in uproar over 34 "slave" workers

by Mathias Hariyadi
Last week, police discovered a group of young people forced to live in inhumane conditions. The owners were "covered" by law enforcement. Five people arrested, two others are fugitives. Indonesian President promises immediate inquiry, but the population is outraged and concerned about current development model.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A veritable wave of indignation is sweeping through Indonesian civil society, deeply concerned by the story of the 34 workers from West Java forced to work in complete slavery. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called on all parties to take immediate action and asked people to denounce similar situations. "Things like this are intolerable," added the head of state, at the same time inviting the Labour Minister to "take serious action". However, in spite of slogans and statements of principle the problems of ensuring an economic growth that respects the rights of the individual and the workers remain.

For years, in Indonesia the word "slavery" has been regarded with contempt as a legacy of barbaric practices of the colonial past. The discovery, which took place last week, of a "lager" in Sepatan - Tangerang regency, about 20 km from Jakarta - where 34 young people were detained and forced to work in terrible conditions has raised the issue and huge controversy.

The police found them in a factory for recycling of waste materials, in precarious sanitary conditions in a large room with no windows, dirty, undocumented and with their few personal possessions confiscated (above) by the owner. To make matters worse, some "deviant" officers of the Tangerang Police protected the boss "in secret and at length", helping him to keep the shocking story hidden.

The workers (all natives of Cianjur, West Java province) spent more than four months without anyone to look after them, until two young men - Andi Gunawan and Junaidi, both 22 year olds - were able to escape, making the drama public. They denounced the situation to the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the Agency for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras). They described living in a room of 6 feet by 8, with only one bathroom. They had to work at least 18 hours a day, having only two miserable meals and little to drink.

The Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, through its spokesman, stated that it does not admit practices of slavery, forced labor or exploitation. The government has promised prompt intervention and the police have already arrested five people accused in various ways of having held the young workers in inhumane conditions. Two other people are still on the run. But so far this has not been enough to appease the wrath and indignation of public opinion, angry and worried by recent events in business development on the Asian continent, already marked by the dramatic story of the 800 workers who died in the collapse of the tower housing slave labor factories in Bangladesh .


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