Silicon Valley’s Online Slave Market

Up to 90% of households in Kuwait employ domestic workers. A government law passed in 2015 guaranteed these workers new rights, including one day off from work each week. In the aftermath of this new legislation, their employers became disgruntled by the limitations that were now imposed upon them. This marked the birth of a new industry boom – an online community where domestic workers are sold and exploited like slaves. In Silicon Valley’s Online Slave Market, BBC News Africa goes undercover to explore the inner workings of this criminal enterprise.

This new form of human trafficking is made possible with the use of popular apps endorsed by major companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram and Apple. Under this black market system, a domestic employee is susceptible to repulsive abuses. If they dare to quit their jobs, they can be imprisoned.

In order to expose this corrupt network hiding in plain sight, the documentary crew launches an ambitious undercover sting operation. Two reporters take to these apps and pose as a couple in need of a full-time domestic servant. They browse internet listings for human beings which run alongside apartment rentals and used car sales. Candidates are not presented as merely providers of professional services; once hired, they essentially become the buyer’s property.

The undercover team meets with a seller who offers up a 16-year old girl who has been taken from her home in Guinea, West Africa. Much of the film consists of their quest to save this vulnerable underaged girl from a horrendous fate. They enlist the assistance of local authorities and social workers, capture the nefarious activities of the slave trade with their hidden cameras, speak with additional victims who have barely escaped years of abuse, and work to hold the world’s most popular social media providers accountable for their role in this crisis.

Silicon Valley’s Online Slave Market is a sobering account of the indignities suffered by those who are helpless in the whirl of this popular online slave trade. The documentary crew’s mission to save one girl from these perils injects the film with a tremendous sense of urgency.

Directed by: Jess Kelly