Let me tell you about my week in Bangladesh.
First of all the city. It defies description - no street lights no signposts, no traffic lights no statues no city splendour. (And no plastic bags anywhere - they were banned last year!) But millions and millions of tricycle rickshaws weaving in and out of motorised two-person taxis, cars and trucks. Every street is in gridlock, with horns blaring in one continuous screech.
The city buildings in Dhaka are mostly incomplete - waiting for another floor to be erected to house another garment sweatshop. The windows are cunningly blacked out after 8pm so no-one can guess that women are still working there through the night. Everywhere, at every moment of the day and night the city teems with humanity.
I kept on reminding myself this is the 21st century when I stepped over rats, dodged the excrement, and walked around the dead dogs, in the narrow paths leading to the slums. This, a city where poverty is inescapable. A country of over 130 million people living in an area one third the size of Japan . It has some 3,600 factories, crammed with over 2 million workers making many of the clothes that we buy on our high streets and shopping malls.
What I saw and the testimonies I heard from the women and men working in the informal and formal economic sectors is modern day slavery. Nothing less. And most of us don't give a bloody damn. The buyers want everything cheap. The factories are willing to satisfy the buyers and we in the West look for the ever present bargains. Knowing little of the story behind the clothes we buy.
Never in all my years of travel have I visited slums so horrific. Constructed on stilts spanning dank toxic waste dumps - this labyrinth of boardwalks hosts hundreds of tiny rooms. Less than 12 feet square mostly with a big bed that can sleep up to 4 people. Nothing else. The lavatories (holes in the floorboards) are next to where they cook the rice. The water is undrinkable and laced with arsenic. This dump costs them almost half of their weekly pay which, I might add is less than a dollar a day.
But the women are now organising. They are struggling for their rights, fighting for the freedom of speech, mobilising groups against unfair and undemocratic globalisation, assisting the poweress through legal aid and literacy - the list goes on.
Every day in Bangladesh I met with resilient people, down-trodden they may be, treated as economic slaves certainly, but they realise that there is hope in urging global support for those like themselves who are now visible.
Never ever think the answer to this dilemma is in the words "Well, at least they have a job'. It is not a job when you don't get a day off a week or you work 15 hours a day. It's not a job when sick days are not allowed or when you have no rights and if you speak out to protest about the abuses or ask for legal rights you are immediately fired. It is as damn near to slavery as is possible
This dehumanisation of the new global workforce is emerging as the overwhelming moral crisis of the 21st Century. This issue has become the great new civil rights social rights justice movement of our time!