Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Slavery: An Important Old Problem Revisited with an Expert: Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves

Did you know there are 27 million slaves in the world in 2010 and that many of them have been slaves for generations? So says Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves, U.S. sister organization of the world's oldest human rights organization, Anti-Slavery International.

Here are excerpts as a quick synopsis from an interview by Bales on Big Think with apologies for errors.

Slavery has always been the same thing. It's about a person who's completely controlled by another. 

There are many types of slavery, many of which have been unaltered for hundreds of years. In the 20th century, the price of human beings collapsed and changed the dynamics of slavery. There has been a population explosion in the world. Lack of the rule of law has made people vulnerable to slavery. Huge population and lack of the rule of law has an overlap, whereby people live on extreme deprivation and citizens are harvested, and there is a glut of humans. A given is the pool of potentially slaveable population group of 700 million. The number of 27 million could be far higher and thankfully, it isn't.

Nowadays enslavement starts with asking the question: "do you want a job?" Slaves are not initially usually taken by violence, or bought. People walk into slavery, as we all would, sometimes to feed children and then the enslaved are separated, and the threat of violence begins.

There is not a single way to stop slavery. There is not a silver bullet. Liberation workers do the dangerous work of kidnapping the enslaved. Community organization has to stop it. Direct intervention creates liberation. We wish governments would step in and stop it and do what they should do.

Domestic servitude is a form of slavery. Stopping slavery in any random location requires the sharp eyes of people around to liberate the enslaved. 

Warning signs of slavery:
  • underage of employment
  • not in school during school hours
  • not well dressed
  • working all hours
  • frightened 
  • hungry 
  • injured
  • fearful
  • not knowing where they are
  • sleep-deprived 


    Slavery is a hidden crime. It's impossible to collect solid numbers. The academic world and the United Nations have estimated there are 27 million slaves in the world at the present time, plus or minus 5 million. 

    Slavery is worst in: 
    • India (largest number) 
    • Burma (worst percentage-wise) 
    • Nepal
    • Pakistan (hereditary forms)
    • Japan (worst in that police overlook it; they could improve it)
    • Congo 
    • 1 in 10 children live in slavery in Haiti (at Freetheslaves.net)
    Governments could do better, even in America.

    Myth: Slavery is not in America. Truth: It is.

    Myth: Slaves are all prostitutes. Truth: America has numbers of 50,000 or more slaves. In U.S. sexual exploitation (prostitution) is less than half of that number. But it exists all around, and we are unaware of it.

    The U.S. has always had slavery. We could be a slave-free country. The government has promised we will have a slave-free country. 17,000 are brought into America each year to be slaves, same number as homicides, but much less is spent on slaves than homicides. A crime almost as serious as murder getting little attention.

    Slavery is prehistoric. It existed then in a fairly sophisticated way. Violence exploited people. Familial exploitation existed.  Changed from family exploitation to animal domestication model, e.g. Aristotle: the "ox is the poor man's slave".

    Slaves are pre-legal; 30% of code of Hammurabi is about slavery. It is pre-monetary; slaves come after records of money. Slaves do not exist in every society. Slavery as a semi-permanent condition has evolved over 5,000 years. Slavery bankrolled payrolls of army legions and is linked to productive regional growth. Now, slavery generally involves the physical possession of people temporarily, rather than land.



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