International enterprises, sex work, organised crime groups, and exploitative recruitment agencies have dominated the discussion on modern slavery in recent years. However, while this work is important, it is just the tip of the iceberg. It misses the diversity of relationships and perpetrators colluding to make modern slavery, and particularly bonded labour, a public secret in the twenty-first century.
Across the world bonded labour is taking place in formal and informal industries, such as brick kilns or quarries and in restaurants, tea shops, nail salons, or carpet-making. In areas of South Asia, some families marginalised by customs and traditions are living in poverty and turning to illegal moneylenders to cover emergency costs, such as a sudden illness. This leads some to become trapped in a cycle of bonded labour. Financially illiterate, they are forced to pay off the debt by working for the moneylenders directly or for third parties linked to the moneylenders, who may be local landlords or businesses in local activities such as brickmaking, farming, stone breaking and garment making, and in some cases trafficking.