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‘Do not even try to escape’. Activists free people from slavery in Daghestan’s brick factories

4 April 2017
Brick factory in Daghestan (Vasily Ilyinsky/ Ria Novosty)

Brick factories across Daghestan make use of illegal slave labour despite attempts by activists to stop them. Local authorities are either unwilling or unable to stand up to the traffickers and their criminal bosses. We spoke to activist Zakir Ismailov about the problem.

Two men from Russia’s Far East ,Vladimir Mukhotin and Aleksey Polushkin, were freed from labour slavery in Daghestan on 20 March. Human rights movement, Alternative, carried out the operation to save the two.

About ten people have been freed from labour slavery in Daghestan so far in 2017. All them worked in illegal brick factories across the republic.

The freed people had been forced to do the same work for months or even years on end — produce bricks. None of them received any money for the work. Not everyone can escape. Victims of labour slavery reach out to Alternative themselves, or else their relatives ask for help after becoming suspicious of the situation.

OC Media Talked with Zakir Ismailov, a Daghestani activist at Alternative. For the past six years, while working at Alternative, more than 500 people have been freed from labour slavery at brick factories in Daghestan.

OC Media: How do these people get to Daghestan?

Zakir Ismailov: Everyone has the same standard story. There is a particular group in Moscow — we call them recruiters — which includes both Daghestanis and Russians. They approach men. If the men are drunk, they offer them more drinks. They promise them work on the Caspian: they are attracted by the fact that the work will be at the sea, it is warm there. The salary is 15,000–20,000 ($266–$354), they will have free weekends. In the end, these men come here and end up at the brick factories. You have to understand that the recruiters do not work by themselves. They receive orders from here, Daghestan. Healthy men are needed or maybe a woman to cook is needed too. Women are also taken into labour slavery, although less often than men.

OC Media: Are they being sexually abused?

Zakir Ismailov: We have had only one such case. We freed a 19-year-old woman and her 20-year-old husband from slavery. She was three-months pregnant.The factory foreman had sexually assaulted her. They are mainly looking for women to work as cooks or maids. However there are some women who produce bricks with the men. If you go to any factory right now, women will be working in the same way.

OC Media: Does this mean that they are all slaves?

Zakir Ismailov: It will be clear only at the end of the season. If the work is not paid then they are labour slaves. Almost 80% of those who come here to work and end up in the factories do not have any official documents. But you may ask: how do they go through two federal posts on their way from Moscow to Makhachkala? Buses have to stop at these posts and all passengers must register. There are about 7–8 buses from Moscow to Makhachkala every day from just one bus station. At least 5–7 people in these buses are future labour slaves at the brick factories. It continues every day. So how do they come without any documents? The foreman or someone from the factory will meet them. They pay for their travel expenses, bring them to the factory, and tell them that now they should work to pay back the money for their travel. While their tickets may cost ₽3,000 ($53), they are told that they were ₽15,000 ($266).

They say: ‘You will work 2–3 months for free and then you will be paid ₽7,000–₽8,000 ($124-141) a month. We will pay you at the end of season’.

As we witness, they are not paid.

Brick factory in Daghestan (Vasily Ilyinsky/ Ria Novosty)

OC Media: When you hear all these stories, and you see on TV how people find their missing relatives in brick factories in Daghestan, you get the impression that these factories are purely criminal enterprises, and only labour slaves work there.

Zakir Ismailov: This is criminal and they are labour slaves. We have only two legal brick factories. One of them works with German technologies. People are queueing up to work there.

OC Media: In which cities and regions of the republic are there most labour slaves in brick factories?

Zakir Ismailov: The most problematic zone is Kaspiysk, the village of Kirpichny [Russian for brick], it has this name; then the Karabudakhkent District and Kumtorkala District. We have freed people from Southern Daghestan as well, but now we do not have the chance to go there, to check what is happening there at these factories.

We also have Kizlyar and Tarumovka districts, which are  problematic in the north of Daghestan. There are really serious people running those factories. Once we went with journalists to the village of Yasnaya Polyana, in Tarumovka District. In the beginning, everything was normal. The leadership of the district police was there with us — a senior district officer and several other officers — and an FSB officer. Then suddenly a man arrived in a luxury car, the head of the factory. He came out of his car, the journalists were filming everything, and in front of everyone, including the police, he beat an officer. The police officers who work in that area did not even come closer.

The only person, who interrupted him was the FSB officer. This case proves that these people with fancy cars aren’t afraid of anyone. This man wasn’t punished.

OC Media: Is there at least one case related to labour slavery which was solved and the guilty were punished?

Zakir Ismailov: No. Not a single case in Daghestan.

OC Media: Why do the workers of these plants not run away and do not ask for help from the police?

Zakir Ismailov: Firstly, they are afraid. When they begin to work, they are already intimidated, psychologically pressured.

They say things like: ‘We have information on you; we will find you and your relatives. It will only get worse. Don’t you ever dare to escape, we will call where necessary, they will catch you and bring you back’.

People used to escape in the past. Police officers would bring them back to the factory. They had an agreement with the leadership of the factory. They are hiding workers from us, as if there are no slaves in the factory.

People are in a republic away from their own. They are guarded almost all the time. Among the workers there are so-called prikormlennyye (the spiked): if they learn that someone wants to escape, they inform the leadership. It is almost impossible to escape during the day, as there are foremen, watchers. And how can you leave at night without money, documents, when everything is unfamiliar and foreign?

This is a ‘carousel’. We free let’s say five people, and the head of the factory already calls recruiters in Moscow: ‘they took five people; bring me five.’ We won’t be able to solve this problem. This problem needs to be solved by the leadership of the republic.

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