Slavery Still Exists: Freedom for the 27 Million

Screaming consumed the West Plaza as a beam of light shot up three miles into the Atlanta night sky from the Georgia Dome.[1] Helicopters flew around the plaza, swooping down over 60,000 college students who gathered around the light. They stood in the frigid January air, each holding a candle and chanting, “Freedom, Freedom, Freedom.” These students had gathered in Atlanta from 56 different countries to attend the Passion Conference, an annual Christian retreat for young adults. On the last night of the event, the 60,000 attendees surrounded the light coming from the Georgia Dome to “Shine a Light” on modern slavery.[2] This was the beginning of the End It Movement, a campaign to end slavery.[3]

Slavery still exists. This message is displayed in bright red font on the End It Movement website.[4] Despite slavery being illegal in every country, there are 27 million people who are currently enslaved into forced labor and sexual exploitation.[5] Modern slavery is the new phase of a constantly evolving institution that, in this century, is present in every country in the world.[6] While international abolition laws have forced slavery to become virtually invisible, rescuing the 27 million who are enslaved is something that is already becoming a reality.

First, we’ll explore how modern slavery looks today in comparison to the past and the causes of this, focusing on the effects this has in abolition efforts.   Then, we’ll look into abolition methods already being used and ascertain the effectiveness of government programs, NGO efforts, and individual abolition. Finally, we’ll focus on long-term solutions to stop the cycle of enslavement through prevention, and discuss whether or not ending slavery is a utopian fantasy or a realistic goal.  

There are four main types of slavery prevalent in the world today: chattel, debt bondage, contract, and forced labor. Chattel slavery is the closest to old slavery; it involves a person being sold, captured, or born into life-long enslavement. Debt bondage is the most prevalent form of slavery, affecting over 10 million people in India. People become bonded laborers when a crop fails or a family member needs immediate medical attention. The family will borrow money from a moneylender in order to survive, and then become enslaved temporarily to pay off the debt, but through deceptive accounting, end up in slavery for the rest of their lives.[7] Contract slavery, the fastest-growing form of enslavement, occurs when slave-owners advertise as legitimate employers, but enslave workers upon arrival. Forced labor, the least common form of slavery, occurs when a government enslaves its own people, such as the political labor camps in North Korea. [8]

Human trafficking—sometimes mistakenly used as an umbrella term for modern slavery—is in fact not a type of slavery, but a mechanism for enslaving individuals. It is defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons… for the purpose of exploitation.”[9] Human trafficking, which involves transporting a slave across a state boarder, only affects 10% of slaves. That is to say that a majority of people is enslaved right where they live, in the developing countries in which they are born. The reason human trafficking is such a common term in Western culture is because 75% of slaves in industrialized countries[10] are transported there through human trafficking.[11]

Even though most slavery does not result from human trafficking, its economic impact is enormous.[12] While $44 billion in profits is made annually by slave labor, $32 billion is produced by slaves that were trafficked and $28 billion comes from sexual exploitation of trafficked victims. [13] These earnings are disproportionate because slaves produce significantly more money in industrialized countries, particularly in the sex industry.[14] Approximately two and a half million people become slaves through being trafficked, so it is a significant problem that needs to be addressed, especially when fighting slavery in industrialized parts of the world.[15]

Beginning in the twentieth century, slavery evolved into a globalized institution that became homogenous in its execution throughout the world.[16] This homogeneity in part distinguishes slaves as cheap and disposable. A population boom, occurring after World War II, affected mainly developing countries, and was a significant factor in the evolution of slavery. The world population has increased by over 400% within the past century[17] and the developing countries in which this population boom has been central are the same countries dominated by slavery today. Throughout the history of slavery, slaves have been fairly expensive—averaging out to $40,000 each in current U.S. dollars. Today, a slave is worth $90.[18] This dramatic change in value causes inhumane treatment to prevail, but the homogeneity that it creates makes combatting slavery a simplified process, as the institution of slavery is more similar throughout the world today than it has ever been.

Slavery is not supposed to exist. In 1981, when Mauritania became the last state to ban slavery, the practice became illegal in every country in the world.[19] In the twenty-first century, India—the largest democracy in the world—is the country with the largest slave population, with 10 million Indians enslaved in debt bondage. Slavery has been illegal in India since the passage of the Bonded Labor Abolition Act in 1976, yet their government remains highly ineffective at combatting the problem.[20] The United States government has similar problems with enforcing its ban on slavery: less than one percent of human trafficking cases are brought to court.[21] This pattern of governments not enforcing their abolition laws occurs in every country in the world. This shows us that illegalizing slavery is not powerful enough to end the institution: “making something illegal doesn’t make it disappear, it only disappears from view.”[22]

One of the ways modern slavery had been made to disappear from the public eye is through being referred to by other names. Terms such as debt bondage, forced labor, and human trafficking dominate the public logos, and they are softer words that take away from the connotative power that slavery entails. Hiding slavery behind different names is not a new invention. In 1865, Frederick Douglas said, “They would not call it slavery, but some other name. Slavery has been fruitful in giving itself names. It has been called “the peculiar institution,” “the social system,” and the “impediment”… and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume.”[23] In January 2013 IJM[24] founder Gary Haugen referred to the old monster as “slavery” and talked about the “27 million slaves” when he spoke before 60,000 college students in the Georgia Dome. Over the course of the four-day Passion Conference, these students donated over three million dollars to organizations that work to end slavery.[25] Hiding slavery behind a softer name is not effective in ending it; calling it slavery calls people to action.  

One of the biggest results of the public dialogue’s disability to use the term slavery becomes part of the biggest obstacle in ending the institution. That is, many people do not believe it still exists. Even many government leaders don’t understand the scope of the problem. One of the reasons for this is that data collected by the UN and the State Department has historically not been dispersed to the populace. “If this problem were a health issue, epidemiologists would be combining every data set available to crack it. But information about slavery has not been shared among agencies or made available to the public.”[26]   This is a significant roadblock in eliminating slavery, because collecting and analyzing information on human rights abuses is paramount in solving them.[27] This lack of readily available information contributes to public ignorance and apathy surrounding modern slavery, which makes it easier for governments to get away with not enforcing laws.[28] And so it follows that the first goal of the End It Movement[29] is raising public awareness.[30] Since the moral battle against slavery has already been won, there is an element of injustice engrained in our global psyche toward slavery. It is my belief that once the world finds out that slavery still exists, an overpowering force will be created in a modern abolition movement.

Gaining more voices in the cause of abolition will pressure governments to carry out laws banning slavery. This can be accomplished through governments investing more money in training law enforcement officers to identify slavery, which will subsequently lead to slaveholders being prosecuted and slaves being freed. While government corruption is one of the main causes of slavery’s persistence, it is not an impossible feat for corrupt governments to attack the evil of slavery.

We see this through the example of Brazil. As a country scarred with the 69th most corrupt government in the world,[31] Brazil has been successful in freeing over 32,000 slaves in its country over the past decade. The Brazilian government worked with citizen abolition groups, NGOs, the private sector, and the International Labour Office of the UN when establishing the government department, Executive Group to Eradicate Forced Labour, in 1995, which specifically focuses on the problem of slavery. In 2003, Brazil established the National Plan to Eradicate Slave Labor, which involved a four year plan. A team of government officials and citizens who oversaw inspection teams called GEFM’s carried out 76 objectives. Through the GEFM’s investigations of slave labor complaints and subsequent arrest of slaveholders, thousands of slaves were freed.   Brazil found that once they started enforcing the law, there were less instances of slavery as slaveholders realized they could no longer get away with it.[32]

Modeling Brazil’s plan is going to look a little different in each state, but what we can learn from Brazil, is that when a country commits to funding programs that free slaves and convict slaveholders, slavery decreases. “Bringing an end to slavery requires the political will to enforce laws, not campaigns to make new ones… The laws against slavery in every country, the lack of any large vested economic interest, and a growing acceptance of human rights, mean slavery can be ended when the public and the governments make it a priority.”[33]

Kevin Bales, CEO of Free the Slaves, believes that government initiatives to combat slavery “should include at least three elements: education, law enforcement, and rehabilitation.” Educating people in countries prone to slavery about the deceits that slaveholders use is preventative and works to decrease the likelihood of people being tricked into debt bondage, contract slavery, or human trafficking. Law enforcement is necessary to enforce abolition laws and requires police to be trained to recognize human trafficking and slavery. Other professions that could be trained to recognize slavery are social workers, public health inspectors, and labor inspectors. Rehabilitation requires governments to change their laws treating victims of human trafficking as criminals, but instead provide them with health and social service to prevent a slavery recidivism effect. [34]

Simply rescuing slaves from quarries and brothels and cotton farms is not enough to bring them to freedom. When former slaves are not put through aftercare treatment programs, they are likely to fall back into their lives of slavery.[35] Simply put, “emancipation is not enough.” After living through the trauma and abuse that modern slavery entails, physical and metal health care, along with language training and employment counseling must be included in the rehabilitation process.[36] “Rehabilitation is a long process that helps a former slave find his or her mental balance again and become part of a group. Former slaves usually also need to learn new skills, in order to live in freedom.”[37] Well-funded rehabilitation programs are effective in ending the cycle of slavery in a community, because people come back to the city feeling empowered.    

Beyond empowering governments to enforce laws banning slavery and to provide government rehabilitation benefits to rescued slaves, individuals can become abolitionists through buying fair trade products and investing in companies run by former slaves. Fair trade products contain no parts produced through slave labor and additionally, they economically support groups of people susceptible to slavery through setting prices rather than letting the market set them. This ensures that workers are earning well above a sustenance level.[38]

Something to avoid as a consumer is boycotting products that contain traces of slavery.  “For all of us, the initial reaction is to push the crime away, to distance ourselves.   The last thing we want to do is support slaveholders in their crimes.”[39] However, boycotting products that contain traces of slavery can actually be harmful in our fight against slavery. Supply chains for products are in-depth and it is impossible to target the minute slave-produced part of the product at the consumer end. “In countries in Asia and Africa there may be two cotton farmers out of a hundred who use slaves. If consumers boycott cotton from India or Africa, then the farmers who don’t use slaves, who make lower profits, will be the hardest hit by the boycott.” Decreasing the demand of a product that contains traces of slavery will cause free farmers living in a slavery-susceptible area to become more likely to be enslaved. Slaveholders are affected only briefly because they can merely move their slaves into another profitable industry.   Essentially, boycotting products is an intuitive but disastrous process that will ultimately lead to more people becoming slaves.[40]

The most effective method of eliminating slavery is going to the site of slavery. While the UN and individual states are morally responsible to enforce their laws through performing searches, inaction requires NGOs to step up and exercise justice. IJM and Free the Slaves are among the prominent NGOs that are continuously freeing slaves and prosecuting slaveholders at their sites through working with state’s legal systems. Through monetary support by individuals, these organizations can become even more effective in combatting slavery. IJM and Free the Slaves could free enormous amounts of people if they were better funded. Since the legal battle against slavery has already been won, NGO’s freeing slaves have the advantage of merely working within a country’s jurisdiction, helping underfunded legal branches to execute the laws they have in place.[41] In India, the total cost of bringing a slave to freedom is only $130. Within the fishing industry of Ghana, bringing a child out of slavery costs a mere $400.

While freeing the 27 million slaves should be the priority when addressing modern slavery, something else that needs to be addressed are the underlying causes of slavery. Digging deeper than government corruption and the population boom of the twentieth century, poverty is the ultimate cause of slavery. [42]

When family members are starving because of crop failure or dying of diseases that can be cured with a hospital fee, slavery becomes an option for survival. Global poverty—like slavery—is something that people in rich nations find easy to ignore.[43] It is not a coincidence that the 27,000 children who die of hunger each year[44] are the sisters and brothers of the children trafficked into the United States to be abused in the sex industry. Giving to those who are suffering in developing countries is a permanent solution for preventing slavery. By donating to organizations that provide small business loans, livestock, seeds, education, and water to families in developing countries, economic stability can be achieved in slave-prone areas. Organizations like World Vision and Compassion that focus on educating children, giving them health care, and providing a future decreases the susceptibility that these individuals will become trapped in slavery.

While the institution of slavery has been endless, and the freeing of 27 million people is daunting, abolishing slavery is within our power. With a world population of over seven billion, 27 million is the lowest percentage of people enslaved the world has ever seen. Additionally, the economic goods and services that modern slaves provide make up the lowest percentage of our economy that slavery has ever been.[45] “Based on analysis of anti-slavery projects, an estimated cost of the enforcement and rehabilitation programs needed to eradicate slavery around the world is about $15 billion over a 25 year period.” When millions of people around the world come to freedom, they become participants in their economies, creating even more economic stability to what used to be slave susceptible regions.[46]    

 

 

 

[1] Allison J. Althoff, Passion 2013: Live From Atlanta (Christianity Today, 2013), 1.

[2] Jordan Hultine, College students raise funds to fight slavery (CNN, 2013), 1.

[3] The End It Movement is a four-month campaign that began on January 4, 2013 to raise public awareness through social media to the existence of modern slavery. It culminated to an end on April 9th with Shine a Light on Slavery day, where students promoting the End It Movement drew a red x on their hand and posted pictures of their hands to social media sites, as a way to raise awareness about the 27 million slaves in the world.

[4] End It Movement (268 Generation, 2013) accessed April 2, 2013 <enditmovement.com/>

[5] Since slavery is an illicit economic activity, the statistics used in this paper are estimates of the extent to which human trafficking is invested in our world.

[6] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 27-28.

[7] Many families in developing countries who borrow money are aware of the risks of enslavement, but are willing to face debt bondage by the moneylender to buy food or take their family member to the hospital. When presented with a life-or-death situation, slavery becomes an option.

[8] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 33-34.

[9] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Protocol to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (Vienna, Austria, 2000), 2.

[10] 75% of slaves working in the Middle East are trafficked into the country.

[11] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 35.

[12] Of these two and half million trafficked victims, 80% are female and 50% are children.  

[13] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 43, Patrick Belser, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking: Estimating the Profits (Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Office, 2005), 14-15.

[14] Patrick Belser, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking: Estimating the Profits (Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Office, 2005), 16-17.

 

[15] Patrick Belser, Michaëlle de Cock, Farhad Mehran, ILO Minimum Estimate of Forced Labour in the World (Geneva, Switerland: International Labour Office, 2005), 4.

[16] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 28.

[17] Hans Rosling, Global population growth, box by box (Cannes, France: Ted Talks, 2010), Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 53.

[18] Slavery Today, (Washington D.C.: Free the Slaves, 2013), 1. Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 47.  

[19] Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law (London: BBC News, 2007), 1.

[20] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 33.

[21] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 41.

[22] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 18.

[23] Frederick Douglass, Speech to the American Anti-Slavery Society, 1865

[24] International Justice Mission

[25] Allison J. Althoff , Passion 2013: Live from Atlanta (Christianity Today, 2013), 1.

[26] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 146-147.

[27] Aryeh Neier, International Human Rights Movement- A History (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2012), 3.

[28] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 148.

[29] See footnote #3.

[30] End It Movement (268 Generation, 2013) accessed April 2, 2013 <enditmovement.com/>

[31] Stephy Burnett, Corruption by Country: Brazil (Amarribo, Brazil: Transparency International, 2013), 1.

[32] Patricía Trindade Maranhão Costa, Fighting Forced Labour: The Example of Brazil (Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Office’s Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour, 2009), 77-80.

[33] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 146.

[34] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 151-153.

[35] Helen Armstrong, Rebuilding Lives: An Introduction to Promising Practices in the Rehabilitation of Freed Slaves (Free the Slaves, 2008), 2.

[36] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 151-153.

[37] Helen Armstrong, Rebuilding Lives: An Introduction to Promising Practices in the Rehabilitation of Freed Slaves (Free the Slaves, 2008), 1.

[38] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 156.

[39] Kevin Bales, Ending Slavery-How We Free Today’s Slaves (London: University of California Press, 2007), 183.

[40] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 157.  

 

[41] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 146.

[42] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 55-62.  

[43] Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save (New York: Random House Publishing, 2009), 23-24.

[44] Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save (New York: Random House Publishing, 2009), 149.

[45] Kevin Bales, We Can Put an End to Slavery (New York: CNN, 2010), 3.

[46] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 164-165.

1 Comment

  1. Fabian Terres
    September 24, 2017

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.