|Jan 24, 2013 - Issue 501|
Slavery Exists, and in 2013,
The estimate today is that there are some 27 million slaves in the world. Now, no one knows exactly how many there are, because, since slavery is outlawed around the world, it is a rather clandestine enterprise. Modern slavers don’t advertise.
They don’t have to, but their “wares” are not hard to find. Kevin Bales, who authored the book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, is founder of the U.S.-based Free the Slaves, sister group of the oldest human rights organization in the world, the U.K.-based Anti-Slavery International, founded in 1840.
Bales is also a statistician and he believes that the 27
million figure is a conservative estimate for the total number of people
enslaved around the world. This compares with the number of slaves in the
After decades of
abolitionist movements in many nations in the 19th Century, including the
definition includes those who, because of circumstances and usually because of
abject poverty and other conditions that lead to depravity, are forced to
perform work for little or no pay, to the extent that their condition in life
does not improve and is not likely ever to improve. That goes for the
individual and for his or her family.
Estimates are that, in the U.S. during slavery, a slave could be worth $40,000 in 2013 dollars, while a slave in today’s global economy is worth as little as $90. Bales and others have pointed out that it is not worth it for the slave master to “own” a slave today for a couple of reasons: Firstly, it is illegal. Secondly, why take on the responsibility for the food and lodging, for clothing and equipment, for a people who will work for small wages, much of which can be coerced from them by charging for the necessary supplies and equipment needed to do the job at hand?
ways, it is cheaper to force labor today under slave-like conditions than it
was in the 18th and 19th Centuries in
explanation is that there are billions of dollars to be made by using slave
labor, so companies and individuals will set themselves up to employ slave
laborers in the hundreds of thousands and the millions. It is what has happened
in most of the world since the advent of the “global economy.” The
relationships between and among corporations of every stripe and size, in
scores of countries, have quickly developed to take advantage of poverty,
ignorance, sickness, and lack of democratic political
structures, to set up factories, plants, and agricultural operations that hold
out the promise of a real life for potential workers. The workers quickly
realize that they are trapped and there is no escape. The promises are
many millions of workers in shops that employ “sweated labor,” are paid wages
so low that they can barely afford to get to work and back home. In the United
States, the places of “sweated labor” were once the ignition points of union
organization and the places where the workers rose up to demand their rights as
human beings. The result was the union movement and a rising of a giant and
relatively prosperous working class and an affluent middle class. The
relentless attack on workers and unions in
So-called developed countries, the rich countries, may be devoid of actual slave labor, but they benefit from slave labor performed in low-wage countries. Not only do they buy the actual goods produced in slave-labor countries, but the simple fact that slave labor exists and corporations have taken their factories and production to those countries tends to keep a strong downward pressure on wages of workers at home.
Because workers in those countries are paid something, they may not be considered slaves, but their pay often is less than an American plantation owner would have had to pay for food, shelter, and clothing for their slaves (all figured in 2013 dollars). The workers in 2013 who are paid such wages cannot live on such paltry pay. They can’t move to another country. They can’t educate themselves. They can’t feed their families a diet that will make them healthy. They can’t buy needed medicine. They are slaves and their servitude lays low the global working classes in countries that take advantage of the produce of those slaves.
Although the numbers of workers in the U.S. who could be described as slaves or who work in peonage conditions is relatively small, there have been domestic workers who are slaves and untold thousands of farm workers and other workers in the nation’s food system who work for so little that they are deemed wage slaves by many. For these latter, they cannot afford to send their children to school, to buy a house (or even rent a decent home), buy healthful food, and clothe their families properly.
The benefits enjoyed by the people of the rich countries at the expense of sweated and slave labor in other countries are enormous. The answer to the question “where are the modern abolitionists?” is that they are waiting to be educated. Most people do not want to benefit from the suffering of other people (probably with few exceptions), but they do not know what to do. There are dedicated abolitionists who are ready to teach them, but getting the word out to the general public is a slow process.
In addition to Free the Slaves (freetheslaves.net), there are various United Nations agencies that address the crimes of slavery and human trafficking, including the International Labour Organization.
To get an
idea of the extent of slavery in the world, see the interactive map on Free the
Slaves’ website. The map shows the presence of slavery and indicates who
benefits from slavery. The most slaves are to be found in Asia (including
abolitionist group describes North America, Europe,
The crime of slavery and human trafficking is devastating to the slaves, to their families, and to their nations. It debases and destroys their lives and is like a cancer in their societies. And, it is no less a cancer to those in societies that benefit from such abuse, but how does one in a rich nation stop it?
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the