10 JANUARY 1931, Page 14


[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] SIR,—Mr. J. H. Harris in his letter in your issue of Decem- ber 13th, takes a more optimistic view of the Draft Convention on Forced or Compulsory Labour than some of us take. Some of its Articles are very excellent, for instance, " Forced or compulsory labour exacted as a tax . . . or for . . . public works . . . shall be progressively abolished " {Article 10) and Only adult able-bodied males . . . of not less than 18 or not more than 45 years may be called upon for forced or -compulsory labour" (Article 11). (During 1930 I saw very many under eighteen and well over forty-five on unpaid work on roads in Kenya.) Also the workmen's compensation provision in Article 15 is good.

But the Convention excludes from the term " forced or compulsory labour " in Article 2 " minor communal services of a kind which, being performed by the members of the community, in the direct interest of the said community, can therefore be considered as normal civic obligations incumbent upon the members of the community, provided that the members of the community or their direct representa- tives shall have the right to be consulted in regard to the need for such services."

There is no definition of what constitutes a " minor " communal service, nor is there a definition of " community." I anticipate that the protection of this section of the Con- vention will be invoked to continue the system of forced unpaid labour on the roads in the Reserves in Kenya and in Uganda, which has given so much occasion for criticism in the past.

So long as forced labour, especially unpaid, is allowed to continue, homes will be invaded to haul out men ; the burden will fall on those least able to resist; bribery and corruption will continue to be resorted to to secure exemption, and an instrument will remain in the hands of authority for the suppression of " obnoxious " individuals. If forced or com- pulsory labour is not good enough for us in England, it is not good enough for our subject races in East Africa.—I am, Archdeacon of Kavirondo, Kenya Colony.