In a lucky country

By Laura Kenny
Picking fruit by Pixabay

In Thailand there are ghost ships

filled to the brim with migrant

 

men from Burma and Cambodia

bought and sold to the sea

 

like animals for as little as £250.

Twenty-hour days spent tripping

 

on nets and methamphetamines,

slipping in fish guts and fitful naps,

 

barefoot and shirtless, invisible.

Contorted calloused fingers cull

 

trash fish—infant fish, inedible

fish—for fishmeal, food for farmed

 

prawns. They feed the need for cheap

seafood, a multi-million dollar export

 

industry, on a daily ration of rice.

Too ill to work thrown overboard,

 

a disposable commodity. Once a man

was tied, I heard, limb by limb

 

to the bows of four boats and pulled

apart like a wishbone.

 

That couldn’t happen in a lucky country.

 

 

In the forests of northeast India

children slave underground, largely

 

in illegal mines for mica, a mineral

noted for reflection and refraction

 

of light, used in pearlescent pigments

in paint for luxury cars, and in shimmery

 

cosmetics. Children as young as four

scrape silicate flakes from walls

 

with sharpened sticks and carry

back-breaking loads through slippery

 

tunnels. Above ground, young girls

squat barefoot in clouds of glitter,

 

like figures in a souvenir snow globe,

sorting mica from debris, weathered

 

faces caked in dirt. They suffer snake

bites and skin infections, silicosis

 

tuberculosis, collapsing slag heaps.

Whole families are bonded to the mines,

 

by grinding poverty and debts owed

with interest.

 

That wouldn’t happen in a lucky country.

 

 

In Australia migrant workers on 417

visas, work in low-skilled jobs

 

on farms picking and packing produce,

and in factories for meat and poultry

 

at a relentless pace for as little as

$3.95 an hour, cash in hand,

 

no documentation, wages stolen

by unscrupulous middlemen.

 

An underclass routinely harassed,

assaulted, not allowed to go to the toilet,

 

Trapped in a web of deceit and

exploitation. They sleep in dog beds

 

and in barns, shipping containers,

and overcrowded share houses.

 

Farmers who play by the rules

and pay correctly are dropped by fast

 

food giants and supermarkets.

“Buy Australian,” we are told.

 

We care where our food comes from;

we don’t question how it got there.

 

That shouldn’t happen in a lucky country.

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