Modern age slavery and practicing Muslims

February 22, 2013, Friday/ 16:22:00/ İHSAN YILMAZ

I do not think there is an exception to this brutal reality in any country: Some workers have been destined to receive only minimal salaries. In some countries such as the Gulf nations, the situation is particularly bad. Millions from Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere work in terrible conditions without any legal rights and with the constant threat of deportation.

The West and China are not much different. Illegal immigrants especially have been purposefully abused by business owners in the West. I have not even mentioned the catastrophic child labor phenomenon that emerged in the industrializing West. But I want to focus on Turkey and especially practicing Muslims in this piece.

As I have written a few times before, the minimum wage is scandalous in Turkey. It is about $400 per month. Even if both husband and wife work, they cannot live a decent life with two children in a big city on this income. They have to live in terrible conditions and have to rely mostly on bread to feed themselves. While a middle income family usually needs one or two loaves of bread per day, these low-income families need six to eight since they do not have much other food to accompany the bread, other than soup and some vegetables.

Big companies and local governments have “invented” a brilliant means of obtaining very cheap labor without being held accountable; they work with subcontractors. As far as I can see, there are two types of companies that have been growing in size: private security companies and cleaning companies. Big businesses and even some local governments do not employ people directly for these services. They give the job to subcontractors. The big businesses do not care about the working conditions of the subcontractors' workers and their terrible salaries though in fact these workers are actually working for their business.

For instance, a cleaning lady gets only $400 per month, but she usually has to work from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and she has to work six days a week. That is 60 hours per week. What is more, if she finishes her work at 7:30 p.m., in a big city, it means that by the time she gets home, it will likely be at least 9 p.m., and so if she has small children, they will already be in bed. The only time she can have some time with her children is on Sunday. Since there is no prospect of being promoted in this kind of job, it means that this lady will continue to work under these terrible conditions for years. Her only feasible alternative is unemployment.

Big business does not care and cannot be officially blamed because these workers are not its responsibility; it gives the subcontractor a certain amount of money and is not interested in the details of how this work is achieved.

This is how capitalism, the free market, liberalism and neo-liberalism operate. Their followers openly and honestly acknowledge that this is their system and it has some weaknesses. They argue that there is no better system and, in the long run, everyone will benefit from the wealth created by the capitalists. But as the great economist John Maynard Keynes nicely put it, in the long run, we are all dead.

My main problem is with the businessmen, operators and local government administrators, etc. who are practicing Muslims. When it comes to rhetoric, Islam calls for a slave owner to give the same food he eats to his slave and the same clothing he wears to his slave. Can they comfortably say that they are treating their workers this way?

We know that their businesses generate lucrative profits and they are paid very good salaries by looking at their lifestyle -- living in villas, holidays at luxury hotels, driving very expensive cars and so on. Would it be impossible to pay $600 or $700 instead of $400 to their workers? Has this even once crossed their minds, or have they simply become willing followers of the neo-liberal system that they claim to be resisting?

Is being a Muslim businessman equal to being a brutal capitalist with the added activity of frequently going to Mecca on pilgrimage so that God may forgive his sins?