A Primer on Modern Slavery – Lunch w/TED

Human Rights, Lunch with TED — By on April 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm

They are swayed by the promise of jobs in another city or even another country. Perhaps they are promised work in hotels, constructions jobs, or as nannies who “love to travel.”  They go off with the person who recruits them. When they try to leave, they are told they can’t go; they have a travel debt they must pay. They are warned that if they try to leave, their families back home will be harmed. They are forced against their will to work as prostitutes or perform backbreaking acts of physical labor. They are modern slaves.

Today’s Lunch With TED clip features Kevin Bales explaining how modern slavery works, and how this forty billion-dollar underground industry may be demolished.

This isn’t a vague or remote concern—it is local, visceral, and real. Of course, slavery is most prevalent where it is cheapest (various regions of India, Southeast Asia, and Africa), but it has a 300,000 person strong presence in the United States, a country which has believed itself to be slave-free for nearly 150 years.

Bales not only advocates that slaves be freed, but he emphasizes that they must be freed well. They must be given dignity and opportunities to work for themselves and develop their own local economies. Freedom must be “sustainable”; we cannot merely free people and then dump them in a vulnerable state—they would be likely to be taken advantage of again.

The question is, are we willing to live in a world of slavery? If not, what lengths should we be willing to go to end this barbaric and dehumanizing practice? ‘


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  • http://semperjase.com/ Jason W

    300,000 slaves in the U.S.? That number alone is cause for skepticism. A quick search gave me two other numbers, a 2004 Berkley study claimed 10,000 at any given time. Another site refers to a CIA estimate of 50,000 which includes those who are “trafficked through” the U.S. http://www.gvnet.com/humantrafficking/USA.htm

    Inflated statistics do not help this cause. Certainly there are people illegally held in a state of slavery in this country, but it is not a pervasive problem like the passing claim would suggest. The article I referred to above also mentions the $28 million our government spent in 2008 to fight slavery. Could it be more? Sure. Point is, our country rejects slavery and works to fight it.

    Bales makes a compelling presentation. Inferring that our country is part of the problem doesn’t help the case.

  • http://semperjase.com Jason W

    300,000 slaves in the U.S.? That number alone is cause for skepticism. A quick search gave me two other numbers, a 2004 Berkley study claimed 10,000 at any given time. Another site refers to a CIA estimate of 50,000 which includes those who are “trafficked through” the U.S. http://www.gvnet.com/humantrafficking/USA.htm

    Inflated statistics do not help this cause. Certainly there are people illegally held in a state of slavery in this country, but it is not a pervasive problem like the passing claim would suggest. The article I referred to above also mentions the $28 million our government spent in 2008 to fight slavery. Could it be more? Sure. Point is, our country rejects slavery and works to fight it.

    Bales makes a compelling presentation. Inferring that our country is part of the problem doesn’t help the case.

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  • linds

    The numbers you’re citing only refer to foreign nationals. The numbers included US residents or citizens are much higher.

    I find your complacency morbidly fascinating, though. Why is it that when there is a human rights crisis, one that requires each citizen to take personal responsibility and act against it at slight inconvenience, the kneejerk reaction is question the data?

    You are right that the government can’t solve the problem on its own. It can increase regulation and inspection of supply chains, but until we cut off the demand for slave produced goods and services, from food to clothing to furniture to the sex industry, we won’t be able to stomp out slavery. Governments can and should be more robust in enforcement of the law – for instance, you get exponentially more time in jail in the country for stealing music online than you do for trafficking someone. But it’s really up to us to stop it. If companies know we won’t buy slave produced goods, they’ll stop selling them.

    But to get there, we need to stomp out our own reluctance to do anything, and that starts with making our first question “what can I do?”, not “aren’t your numbers a little suspicious?”

  • linds

    The numbers you’re citing only refer to foreign nationals. The numbers included US residents or citizens are much higher.

    I find your complacency morbidly fascinating, though. Why is it that when there is a human rights crisis, one that requires each citizen to take personal responsibility and act against it at slight inconvenience, the kneejerk reaction is question the data?

    You are right that the government can’t solve the problem on its own. It can increase regulation and inspection of supply chains, but until we cut off the demand for slave produced goods and services, from food to clothing to furniture to the sex industry, we won’t be able to stomp out slavery. Governments can and should be more robust in enforcement of the law – for instance, you get exponentially more time in jail in the country for stealing music online than you do for trafficking someone. But it’s really up to us to stop it. If companies know we won’t buy slave produced goods, they’ll stop selling them.

    But to get there, we need to stomp out our own reluctance to do anything, and that starts with making our first question “what can I do?”, not “aren’t your numbers a little suspicious?”

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/ Dustin R. Steeve

    It’s important to have a proper sense of scope when attempting to solve a global problem like slavery. Without proper scope, well meaning people who apply their labor or financial resources to end slavery can easily be taken advantage of.

    That slavery exists, in any capacity at any number, in the United States is intolerable. We pride ourselves on freedom and equality for all, we expect nothing less than full adherence to the rule of law. Political, economic, and human resources pressure must be brought down, hard, upon slave trafficers and holders. As Evangelicals, we need no motivation other than the scriptures to become engaged.

    For those of secular persuasion who also have souls withered to the point that they are motivated only by financial gain, I think Mr. Bales’ point about investing in a Freedom Dividend is powerful. America is proof that nations succeed when their people, operating under the rule of law, are free to imagine, produce, and exchange goods and services as they see need or opportunity. Not only do the “super rich” benefit from such a system, but so also do the poorest among us.

    As Americans we should take a lesson from ourselves and spread freedom, equality, and opportunity around. It is for this reason that I admire organizations like International Justice Mission for their work in ending slavery. I recommend anyone moved by this video to make the fight against human trafficking a political priority by signing and e-mailing President Obama this petition from IJM.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Dustin R. Steeve

    It’s important to have a proper sense of scope when attempting to solve a global problem like slavery. Without proper scope, well meaning people who apply their labor or financial resources to end slavery can easily be taken advantage of.

    That slavery exists, in any capacity at any number, in the United States is intolerable. We pride ourselves on freedom and equality for all, we expect nothing less than full adherence to the rule of law. Political, economic, and human resources pressure must be brought down, hard, upon slave trafficers and holders. As Evangelicals, we need no motivation other than the scriptures to become engaged.

    For those of secular persuasion who also have souls withered to the point that they are motivated only by financial gain, I think Mr. Bales’ point about investing in a Freedom Dividend is powerful. America is proof that nations succeed when their people, operating under the rule of law, are free to imagine, produce, and exchange goods and services as they see need or opportunity. Not only do the “super rich” benefit from such a system, but so also do the poorest among us.

    As Americans we should take a lesson from ourselves and spread freedom, equality, and opportunity around. It is for this reason that I admire organizations like International Justice Mission for their work in ending slavery. I recommend anyone moved by this video to make the fight against human trafficking a political priority by signing and e-mailing President Obama this petition from IJM.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/ Lauren Myracle

    I think the first and biggest obstacle is simply making folks aware of the issue, Jason. Obviously, our country does a lot to make slavery a difficult operation in the U.S. (unlike many other, poorer places around the world).

    Still, many people don’t know that slavery is still a huge problem right here at home. Right here in Los Angeles (where I am). The LAPD regularly (though, sadly, not often or successfully enough) busts human traffickers.

    And yet the media rarely highlights the issue. Recently, a segment was aired on “The View” in which actress Emma Thompson discussed her involvement in the abolitionist movement, and the hosts expressed extreme surprise that this kind of thing could be going on today in our very own cities. But it does. And it’s terrible that it does.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Lauren Myracle

    I think the first and biggest obstacle is simply making folks aware of the issue, Jason. Obviously, our country does a lot to make slavery a difficult operation in the U.S. (unlike many other, poorer places around the world).

    Still, many people don’t know that slavery is still a huge problem right here at home. Right here in Los Angeles (where I am). The LAPD regularly (though, sadly, not often or successfully enough) busts human traffickers.

    And yet the media rarely highlights the issue. Recently, a segment was aired on “The View” in which actress Emma Thompson discussed her involvement in the abolitionist movement, and the hosts expressed extreme surprise that this kind of thing could be going on today in our very own cities. But it does. And it’s terrible that it does.

  • http://semperjase.com/ Jason W

    Linds,

    You are claiming that there are 250,000 U.S. citizens that are slaves in our own country, 5 times more U.S. citizens enslaved than foreign nationals who are brought into this country. I’m even more skeptical. If it is that easy to enslave U.S. citizens, then there is little need to go to the trouble of smuggling slaves into the country.

    I am not complacent about slavery and I reject your claim that my reaction is “kneejerk”. I find it necessary to allocate how scarce resources such as my time and money should be spent. I question the data because on its face it seems inflated. Maybe I’m wrong, but it is not kneejerk to ask for valid data. Christian love does not require us to blindly buy into every activists claims of their issue being a “huge problem.”

    I’m not saying that slavery is nonexistent here. There was a recent case of slavery (regarding a Nicaraguan housekeeper) in my state. It made headlines precisely because the crime of slavery is so rarely seen now.

    I actually admire Bales’ work. Even so, suggesting that the U.S. is the moral equivalent of the Sudan regarding slavery does not support his cause and actually harms it. Why should someone believe slavery in other countries is a threat when the claims about slavery in this country are doubtful?

  • http://semperjase.com Jason W

    Linds,

    You are claiming that there are 250,000 U.S. citizens that are slaves in our own country, 5 times more U.S. citizens enslaved than foreign nationals who are brought into this country. I’m even more skeptical. If it is that easy to enslave U.S. citizens, then there is little need to go to the trouble of smuggling slaves into the country.

    I am not complacent about slavery and I reject your claim that my reaction is “kneejerk”. I find it necessary to allocate how scarce resources such as my time and money should be spent. I question the data because on its face it seems inflated. Maybe I’m wrong, but it is not kneejerk to ask for valid data. Christian love does not require us to blindly buy into every activists claims of their issue being a “huge problem.”

    I’m not saying that slavery is nonexistent here. There was a recent case of slavery (regarding a Nicaraguan housekeeper) in my state. It made headlines precisely because the crime of slavery is so rarely seen now.

    I actually admire Bales’ work. Even so, suggesting that the U.S. is the moral equivalent of the Sudan regarding slavery does not support his cause and actually harms it. Why should someone believe slavery in other countries is a threat when the claims about slavery in this country are doubtful?

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/ Lindsay Stallones

    I’d argue that we’re worse than the moral equivalent of Sudan when it comes to slavery. In Sudan, enslavement has religious ideology attached to it, and generations of ethnic hatred. Those are horrible motivations, but at least they have their roots in something substantial. Enslavement connected with the US has two motivating factors: cheap, abundant goods and unbridled, impersonal sexual desire. Those don’t even pretend to have roots in noble causes – they’re banal. They’re the values of hollow men, and they enslave real people, oftentimes without our knowing it.

    But that aside, do the research. Find the numbers and verify them. That’s what we should do – but do it with a heart to change the situation, not to try and mitigate the evil propagated among us. If even one person made in the image of God is held in slavery today, that’s too many, and it’s worth our sacrifice to free him.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Lindsay Stallones

    I’d argue that we’re worse than the moral equivalent of Sudan when it comes to slavery. In Sudan, enslavement has religious ideology attached to it, and generations of ethnic hatred. Those are horrible motivations, but at least they have their roots in something substantial. Enslavement connected with the US has two motivating factors: cheap, abundant goods and unbridled, impersonal sexual desire. Those don’t even pretend to have roots in noble causes – they’re banal. They’re the values of hollow men, and they enslave real people, oftentimes without our knowing it.

    But that aside, do the research. Find the numbers and verify them. That’s what we should do – but do it with a heart to change the situation, not to try and mitigate the evil propagated among us. If even one person made in the image of God is held in slavery today, that’s too many, and it’s worth our sacrifice to free him.

  • http://semperjase.com/ Jason W

    “I’d argue that we’re worse than the moral equivalent of Sudan when it comes to slavery.”

    That claim does even more to erode your case to fight slavery. Slavery is completely rejected by all levels of government and society in the U.S. The same cannot be said of Sudan. The extremely rare cases of slavery happen in spite of our country’s abhorrence of slavery, not because of any moral failing our lack of concern about it.

    It is not my moral obligation to find the numbers to support your case. It is on the advocate to provide credible sources. I have already found sources that show the 300,000 figure is doubtful at best.

    I also don’t buy the argument that devoting every resource to fighting a problem is worth it “if it saves even one person.” Resources are scarce. There are many worthy causes vying for our support. Taking resources away from another worthy cause means that other more lives may be lost than are saved in your pet cause.

    Slavery should be fought, especially in this country. But
    when rating the worst problems in our society, I don’t see how slavery breaks the top 5, likely not even the top 10.

  • http://semperjase.com Jason W

    “I’d argue that we’re worse than the moral equivalent of Sudan when it comes to slavery.”

    That claim does even more to erode your case to fight slavery. Slavery is completely rejected by all levels of government and society in the U.S. The same cannot be said of Sudan. The extremely rare cases of slavery happen in spite of our country’s abhorrence of slavery, not because of any moral failing our lack of concern about it.

    It is not my moral obligation to find the numbers to support your case. It is on the advocate to provide credible sources. I have already found sources that show the 300,000 figure is doubtful at best.

    I also don’t buy the argument that devoting every resource to fighting a problem is worth it “if it saves even one person.” Resources are scarce. There are many worthy causes vying for our support. Taking resources away from another worthy cause means that other more lives may be lost than are saved in your pet cause.

    Slavery should be fought, especially in this country. But
    when rating the worst problems in our society, I don’t see how slavery breaks the top 5, likely not even the top 10.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/ Lindsay Stallones

    We’ll have to disagree on whether it’s more evil to enslave someone for religious or historical reasons, or for the availability of cheap products. There’s a banality to the second one that makes the second far more sinister to me.

    But look at how ridiculous this argument is. We’re arguing over which version of slavery is more evil – and not doing anything to stop the evil of slavery! This is a classic problem with modern abolition. We spend a lot of time arguing over why we should do something, but don’t ever actually do it. I realize that’s how we help ourselves sleep at night in a world shrouded in injustice, but that doesn’t excuse us.

    If you’re interested in verifying info, there’s a great book out called A Crime So Monstrous by E. Benjamin Skinner. He started as a skeptic, was an investigative journalist, so he embarked on a yearlong investigation across the world to find out if the numbers he was hearing were hyperbolic. He has great evidence to back his claims, and the book is very readable – though hard to read. The firsthand accounts he gathered are heartbreaking. But they should be.

    So check out Skinner’s book. I think it’ll satisfy you in terms of verification.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Lindsay Stallones

    We’ll have to disagree on whether it’s more evil to enslave someone for religious or historical reasons, or for the availability of cheap products. There’s a banality to the second one that makes the second far more sinister to me.

    But look at how ridiculous this argument is. We’re arguing over which version of slavery is more evil – and not doing anything to stop the evil of slavery! This is a classic problem with modern abolition. We spend a lot of time arguing over why we should do something, but don’t ever actually do it. I realize that’s how we help ourselves sleep at night in a world shrouded in injustice, but that doesn’t excuse us.

    If you’re interested in verifying info, there’s a great book out called A Crime So Monstrous by E. Benjamin Skinner. He started as a skeptic, was an investigative journalist, so he embarked on a yearlong investigation across the world to find out if the numbers he was hearing were hyperbolic. He has great evidence to back his claims, and the book is very readable – though hard to read. The firsthand accounts he gathered are heartbreaking. But they should be.

    So check out Skinner’s book. I think it’ll satisfy you in terms of verification.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/ Lindsay Stallones

    “But when rating the worst problems in our society, I don’t see how slavery breaks the top 5, likely not even the top 10.”

    This, I don’t understand. Slavery was a big enough issue that we nearly lost the Republic over it in the 1860s.

    And why you think that raping children and women for profit doesn’t rank as one of the worst problems in our society… I just can’t wrap my head around that point of view, Jason.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Lindsay Stallones

    “But when rating the worst problems in our society, I don’t see how slavery breaks the top 5, likely not even the top 10.”

    This, I don’t understand. Slavery was a big enough issue that we nearly lost the Republic over it in the 1860s.

    And why you think that raping children and women for profit doesn’t rank as one of the worst problems in our society… I just can’t wrap my head around that point of view, Jason.