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Silk slaves: India’s bonded laborers are pressured to work to repay money owed

In India, the average silk worker is paid less than $3 a day — small compensation for an industry estimated to be valued at over $14 billion globally. Part of the workforce is trapped in bonded labor, a form of modern-day slavery in which people work in often terrible conditions to pay off debt.

Bonded labor was made illegal in India in 1976, but it never went away. A 2018 report estimated around 8 million people in India were unpaid workers or held in debt bondage, though some campaigners believe the true figure is much higher. Exactly how many are involved in the silk industry is unknown.

In January 2020, the CNN Freedom Project visited Sidlaghatta, a silk hub some 65 kilometers northeast of Bangalore, Karnataka, and met Hadia and Naseeba. This mother and daughter were forced by their “master” to work 11 hours a day, for which they earned just 200 rupees (about $2.75) to repay a 100,000-rupee (about $1,370) loan that had since doubled in size.

Naseeba had been working for three…

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