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There are currently about 30 million slaves in the world today. Some estimates range as high as 150 million or more. How many of you knew this? Anyone? Most people do not. Those who do generally believe it is a problem in third world countries, but certainly not here. The reality is that it is just as big of a problem in the United States as any other country. If we knew where to go, we could go buy a slave in Fort Worth or Dallas today. And we could get one by trading in an old bicycle or an old laptop computer. That’s all it would take. And old bicycle…that’s all a slave’s life is worth today. And perhaps the most disturbing thing to realize is that everything we touch today–from the bricks that make up the exterior of our homes, to the wood in our furniture, to the rug on the floors–has been touched by the hand of a slave. And what’s worse, a slave that is treated even more poorly today than those under the old system of slavery we have been discussing and so horrified by. Please watch this brief video on slavery today from the website, Free the Slaves–an organization devoted to ending the slave trade today. What are the differences between the old and new systems of slavery? What are your other thoughts about this ongoing problem?

https://youtu.be/sSkAAaiiP2g 

1

THE NEW SLAVERY

THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE IN SUMMER lives up to its reputation. As we sit out­
doors in little village about one hundred miles from Paris, the breeze
brings us the scent of apples from the orchard next door. I have come
here to meet Seba, a newly freed slave. She is a handsome and ani­
mated young woman of twenty-two, but as she tells me her story she
draws into herself, smoking furiously, trembling, and then the tears
come.

I was raised by my grandmother in Mali, and when I was still a little
girl a woman my family knew came and asked her if she could take me
to Paris to care for her children, She told my grandmother that she would
put me in school and that I would learn French. But when I came to Paris
I was not sent to school, I had to work every day. In their house I did all
the work; I cleaned the house, cooked the meals, cared for the children,
and washed and fed the baby. Every day I started work before 7 A.M. and
finished about I I P.M.; I never had a day off My mistress did nothing;
she slept late and then watched television or went out.

One day I told her that I wanted to go to school. She replied that she
had not brought me to France to go to school but to take care of her chil­
dren. I was so tired and run-down. I had problems with my teeth; some­
times my cheek would swell and the pain would be terrible. Sometimes

0

2 / THE NEW SLAVERY

J had stomachaches, but when I was ill I still had to work. Sometimes
when I was in pain I would cry, but my mistress would shout at me.

I slept on the floor in one of the children� bedrooms; my food was their
leftovers. I was not allowed to take food from the refrigerator like the
children. IfI took food she would beat me. She often beat me. She would
slap me all the time. She beat me with the broom, with kitchen tools,
or whipped me with electric cable. Sometimes I would bleed; I still have
marks on my body.

Once in 1992 I was late going to get the children from school; my mis­
tress and her husband were furious with me and beat and then threw me
out on the street. I had nowhere to go; I didn’t understand anything, and
I wandered on the streets. After some time her husband found me and took
me back to their house. There they stripped me naked, tied my hands be­
hind my back, and began to whip me with a wire attached to a broomstick.
Both of them were beating me at the same time. I was bleeding a lot and
screaming, but they continued to beat me. Then she rubbed chili pepper
into my wounds and stuck it in my vagina. I lost consciousness.

Sometime later.one of the children came and untied me. I lay on the
floor where they had left me for several days. The pain was terrible but
no one treated my wounds. When I was able to stand I had to start work
again, but after this I was always locked in the apartment. They contin­
ued to beat me.

Seba was finally freed when a neighbor, after hearing the sounds

of abuse and beating, managed to talk to her. Seeing her scars and
C

wounds, the neighbor called the police and the French Committee

against Modern Slavery (CCEM), who brought a case and took Seba

into their care. Medical examinations confirmed that she had been

tortured.

Today Seba is well cared for, living with a volunteer family. She is re­

ceiving counseling and is learning to read and write. Recovery will take

years, but she is a remarkably strong young woman. What amazed me

was how far Seba still needs to go. As we talked I realized that though

she was twenty-two and intelligent, her understanding of the world was

to draw a person. This was the result:

THE NEW SLAVERY / 3

less developed than the average :five-year-old’s. For example, until she
was freed she had little understanding of time-no knowledge of weeks,
months, or years. For Seba there was only the endless round of work
and sleep. She knew that there were hot days and cold days, but never
learned that the seasons follow a pattern. If she ever knew her birthday
she had forgotten it, and she did not know her age. She is baffled by the _
idea of “choice.” Her volunteer family tries to help her make choices,
but she still can’t grasp it. I asked Seba to draw the· best picture of a per­
son that she could. She told me it was the first time she had ever tried

If Seba’s case were unique it would be shocking enough, but Seba is
one of perhaps 3,000 household slaves in Paris. Nor is such slavery
unique to that city. In London, New York, Zurich, Los Angeles, and
across the world, children are brutalized as household slaves. And they
are just one small group of the world’s slaves.

Slavery is not a horror safely consigned to the past; it continues to
exist throughout the world, even in developed countries like France
and the United States. Across the world slaves work and sweat and
build and suffer. Slaves in Pakistan may have made the shoes you are
wearing and the carpet you stand on. Slaves in the Caribbean may have

l
4 / THE NEW SLAVERY

put sugar in your kitchen and ·toys in the hands of your children. In
India they may have sewn the shirt on your back and polished the ring
on your finger. They are paid nothing.

Slaves touch your life indirectly as well. They made the bricks for
the factory that made the TV you watch. In Brazil slaves made the
charcoal that tempered the steel that made the springs in your car and
the blade on your lawnmower. Slaves grew the rice that fed the woman
that wove the lovely cloth you’ve put up as curtains. Your investment
portfolio and your mutual fund pension own stock in companies using
slave labor in the developing world. Slaves keep your costs low and re­
turns on your investments high.

Slavery is a booming business and the number of slaves is increasing.
People get rich by using slaves. And when they’ve finished with their
slaves, they just throw these people away. This is the new slavery,
which focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning
people in the traditional sense of the old slavery, but about controlling
them completely. People become completely disposable tools for mak­
mg money.

On more than ten occasions I woke early in the morning to find the corpse
of a young girl floating in the water by the barge. Nobody bothered to bury
the girls. They just threw their bodies in the river to be eaten by the fish. 1

This was the fate of young girls enslaved as prostitutes in the gold
mining towns of the Amazon, explained Antonia Pinto, who worked
there as a cook and a procurer. While the developed world bemoans
the destruction of the rain forests, few people realize that slave labor is
used to destroy them. Men are lured to the region by promises of
riches in gold dust, and girls as young as eleven are offered jobs in the
offices and restaurants that serve the mines. When they arrive in the
remote mining areas, the men are locked up and forced to work in
the mines; the girls are beaten, raped, and put to work as prostitutes.
Their “recruitment agents” are paid a small amount for each body,

THE NEW SLAVERY / 5

perhaps $150. The “recruits” have become slaves-not through legal
ownership, but through the final authority of violence. The local police
act as enforcers to control the slaves. As one young woman explained,
“Here the brothel owners send the police to beat us … if we flee they
go after us, if they find us they kill us, or if they don’t kill us they beat
us all the way back to the brothel. “2

The brothels are incredibly lucrative. The girl who “cost” $150 can
be sold for sex up to ten times a night and bring in $10,000 per month.
The only expenses are payments to the police and a pittance for food. If
a girl is a troublemaker, runs away, or gets sick, she is easy to get rid
of and replace. Antonia Pinto described what happened to an eleven­
year-old girl when she refused to have sex with a miner: “After decapi­
tating her with his machete, the miner drove around in his speedboat,
showing off her head to the other miners, who clapped and shouted
their approval. “3

As the story of these girls shows, slavery has not, as most of us have.
been led to believe, ended. To be sure, the word slavery continues to be
used to mean all sorts of things, 4 and all too often it has been applied as
an easy metaphor. Having just enough money to get by, receiving
wages that barely keep you alive, may be called wage slavery, but it is
not slavery. Sharecroppers have a hard life, but they are not slaves.
Child labor is terrible, but it is not necessarily siavery.

We might think slavery is a matter of ownership, but that depends
on what we mean by ownership. In the past, slavery entailed one person
legally owning another person, but modern slavery is different. Today
slavery is illegal everywhere, and there is no more legal ownership of
human beings. When people buy slaves today they don’t ask for a re­
ceipt or 0WI1ership papers, but they do gain control-and they use vio­
lence to maintain this control. Slaveholders have all of the benefits of
ownership without the legalities. Indeed, for the slaveholders, not hav­
ing legal ownership is an improvement because they get total control
without any responsibility for what they own. For that reason I tend to
use the term slaveholder instead of slaveowner.

– _,. .. ,·

6 I THE NEW SLAVERY

In spite of this difference between the new and the old slavery, I
think everyone would agree that what I am talking about is slavery: the
total control of one person by another for the purpose of economic ex­
ploitation. Modern slavery hides behind different masks, using clever
lawyers and legal smoke screens, but when we strip away the lies, we
find someone controlled by violence and denied all of their personal
freedom to make money for someone else. As I traveled around the
world to study the new slavery, I looked behind the legal masks and I
saw people in chains. Of course, many people think there is no such
thing as slavery anymore, and I was one of those people just a few
years ago.

First Come. First Served

I first encountered the vestiges of the old slavery when I was four years
old. What happened is one of my strongest memories. It was the 1950s
in the American South and my family “was having dinner in a cafeteria.
As we started down the serving line I saw another family standing be­
hind a chain, waiting as others moved through with their trays. With
the certainty of a four-year-old, I knew that they had arrived first and
should be ahead of us. The fairness of first come, first served had been
drummed into me. So I unhooked the chain and said, “You were here
first, you should go ahead.” The father of this African American family
looked down at me with eyes full of feeling, just as my own father
came up and put his hand on my shoulder. Suddenly the atmosphere
was thick with unspoken emotion. Tension mixed with bittersweet ap­
proval as both fathers grappled with the innocent ignorance of a child
who had never heard of segregation. No one spoke, until finally the
black father said, “That’s OK, we’re waiting on someone; go ahead.”

My parents were not radicals, but they had taught me the value of
fairness and equal” treatment. They believed that the idea of our equal­
ity was one of the best things about America, and they never approved

THE NEW SLAVERY / 7

of the racism of segregation. But sometimes it takes a child’s simplicity
to cut through the weight of custom. The intensity of that moment
stayed with me, though it was years before I began to understand what
those two sets of parents were feeling. As I grew up I was glad to see
such blatant segregation coming to an end. The idea that there might
still be actual slavery-quite apart from segregation-never crossed
my mind. Everyone knew that in the United States slavery had ended
in 1865.

Of course, the gross inequalities in American society brought the
slavery of the past to mind. I realized that the United States, once a
large-scale slave society, was still suffering from a botched emancipa­
tion program. Soon after Abraham Lincoln’s celebrated proclamation,
Jim Crow laws and oppression took over to keep ex-slaves from eco­
nomic and political power. I came to understand that emancipation
was a process, not an event-a process that still had a way to go. As a
young social researcher, I generally held jobs concerned with the residue
of this unfinished process: I studied bad housing, health differences be­
tween the races, problems in integrated schools, and racism in the legal
system. But I still saw all this as the vestiges of slavery, as problems that
were tough but not intractable.

It was o.cly after I _moved to England in the early 1980s that I be­
came aware of real slavery. At a large public event I came across a small
table set up by_ Anti-Slavery International. I picked up some leaflets in
passing, and I was amazed by what I read. There was no flash-of-light
experience, but I developed a gnawing desire to find out more. I was
perplexed that this most fundamental human right was still not as­
sured-and that no one seemed to know or care about it. Millions of
people were actively working against the nuclear threat, against apart­
heid in South Africa, against famine in Ethiopia, yet slavery wasn’t even
on the map. The more this realization dug into me, the more I knew
I had to do something. Slavery is an obscenity. It is not just stealing
someone’s labor; it is the theft of an entire life. It is more closely related
to the concentration camp than to questions of bad working conditions.

8 / THE NEW SLAVERY

There seems nothing to debate about slavery: it must stop. My ques­
tion became: What can I do to bring an end to slavery? I decided to use
my skills as a social researcher, and I embarked on the project that led
to this book.

How Many Slaves?

For several years I collected every scrap of information I could find
about modern slavery. I went to the United Nations and the British Li­
brary; I trawled through the International Labour Office and visited
human rights organizations and charities. I talked to anthropologists
and economists. Getting useful, reliable information on slavery is very
difficult. Even when shown photographs and affidavits, nations’ officials
deny its existence. Human rights organizations, in contrast, want to
expose the existence of slavery. They report what they are told by the
victims of slavery, and it is their business to counter government denials
with evidence of widespread slavery. Who and what can we beli�ve?

My approach was to pull together all the evidence I could find,
country by country. When someone gave reasons why a number of
people were in slavery, I took note. When two people independently
stated they had good reasons to think that there was a certain amount
of slavery, I began to feel more convinced. Sometimes I found that re­
searchers were working on slavery in two different parts of the same
country without knowing about each other. I looked at every report I
could find and asked, “Vhat can I feel sure about? Which numbers do
I trust?” Then I added up what I had found, taking care to be conserva­
tive. If I had any doubts about a report, I left it out of my calculations.
It’s important to remember that slavery is a shadowy, illegal enterprise,
so statistics are hard to come by. I can only make a good guess at the
numbers.

My best estimate of the number of slaves in the world today is 2 7 million.
This number is much smaller than the estimates put forward by some

activists, who give a range as high as 200 million, but it is the number I

THE NEW SLAVERY / 9

feel I can trust; it is also the number that fits my strict definition of slav­
ery. The biggest part of that 2 7 million, perhaps r 5 to 20 million, is
represented by bonded labor in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
Bonded labor or debt bondage happens when people give themselves
into slavery as security against a loan or when they inherit a debt from a
relative (we’ll look at this more closely later). Otherwise slavery tends
to be concentrated in Southeast Asia, northern and western Africa, and
parts of South America (but there are some slaves in almost every coun­
try in the world, including the United States, Japan, and many Euro­
pean countries). There are more slaves alive today than all the peo­
ple stolen from Africa in the time of the transatlantic slave trade. Put
another way, today’s slave population is greater than the population of
Cariada, and six times greater than the population of Israel.

These slaves tend to be used in simple, nontechnological, and tradi­
tional work. The largest group work in agriculture. But slaves are used
in many other kinds of labor: brickmaking, mining or quarrying, pros­
titution, gem working and jewelry making, cloth and carpet making,
and domestic service; they clear forests, make charcoal, and work in
shops. Much of this work is aimed at local sale and consumption, but
slave-made goods reach into homes around the world. Carpets, fire­
works, jewelry, and metal.goods made by slave labor, as well as grains,
sugar, and other foods harvested by slaves, are imported directly to
North America and Europe. In addition, large international corpora­
tions, acting through subsidiaries in the developing world, take advan­
tage of slave labor to improve their bottom line and increase the divi­
dends to their shareholders.

But the value of slaves lies not so much in the particular products
they make as in their sweat, in the volume of work squeezed out of
them. Slaves are often forced to sleep next to their looms or brick
kilns; some are even chained to their work tables. All their waking
hours may be turned into working hours. In our global economy one of
the standard explanations that multinational corporations give for clos­
ing factories in the “first world” and opening them in the “third world”

10 / THE NEW SLAVERY

is the lower labor cost. Slavery can constitute a significant part of these
savings. No paid workers, no matter how efficient, can compete eco­
nomically with unpaid workers-slaves.

What Does Race Have to Do with It?

In the new slavery race means little. In the past, ethnic and racial dif­
ferences were used to explain and excuse slavery. These differences al­
lowed slaveholders to make up reasons why slavery was acceptable, or
even a· good thing for the slaves. The otherness of the slaves made it
easier to employ the violence and cruelty necessary for total control.
This otherness could be defined in almost any way-a different reli­
gion, tribe, skin color, language, custom, or economic class. Any of these
differences could be and were used to separate the slaves from the
slaveholders. Maintaining these differences required tremendous in­
vestment in some very irrational ideas-and the crazier the justifying
idea, the more vehemently it was insisted upon. The American Found­
ing Fathers had to go through moral, linguistic, and political contor­
tions to explain why their “land of the free” was only for white people. 5

Many of them knew that by allowing slavery they were betraying their
most cherished ideals. They were driven to it because slavery was
worth a lot of money to a lot of people in North America at the time.
But they went to the trouble of devising legal and political excuses be­
cause they felt they had to justify their economic decisions morally.

Today the morality of money overrides other concerns. Most slave­
holders feel no need to explain or defend their chosen method of labor
recruitment and management. Slavery is a very profitable business, and
a good bottom line is justification enough. Freed of ideas that restrict
the status of slave to others, modern slaveholders use other criteria to
choose slaves. Indeed, they enjoy a great advantage: being able to en­
slave people from one’s own country helps keep costs down. Slaves in
the American South in the nineteenth century were very expensive, in

THE NEW SLAVERY / 11

part because they originally had to be shipped thousands of miles from
Africa. When slaves can be gotten from the next town or region, trans­
portation costs fall. The question isn’t “Are they the right color to be
slaves?” but “Are they vulnerable enough to be enslaved?” The criteria
of enslavement today do not concern color, tribe, or religion; they fo­
cus on weakness, gull_ibility, and deprivation.

It is true that in some countries there are ethnic or religious differ­
ences between slaves and slaveholders. In Pakistan, for example, many
enslaved brickmakers are Christians while the slaveholders are Mus­
lim. In India slave and slaveholder may be from different castes. In
Thailand they may come from different regions of the country and are
much more likely to be women. But in Pakistan there are Christians
who are not slaves, in India members of the same caste who are free.
Their caste or religion simply reflects their vulnerability to enslavement;
it doesn’t cause it. Only in one country, Mauritania, does the racism of
the old slavery persist-there black slaves are held by Arab slavehold­
ers, and race is a key division. To be sure, some cultures are more di­
vided along racial lines than others. Japanese culture strongly distin­
guishes the Japanese as different from everyone else, and so enslaved
prostitutes in Japan are more likely to be Thai, Philippine, or European
women-although they may be Japanese. Even here, the key differ­
ence is not racial but economic: Japanese women are not nearly so vul­
nerable and desperate as Thais or Filipinas. And the Thai women are
available for shipment to Japan because Thais are enslaving Thais. The
same pattern occurs in the oil-rich states of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,
where Muslim Arabs promiscuously enslave Sri Lankan Hindus, Fil­
ipino Christians, and Nigerian Muslims. The common denominator is
poverty, not color. Behind every assertion of ethnic difference is the
reality of economic disparity. If all left-handed people in the world
became destitute tomorrow, there would soon be slaveholders taking
advantage of them. Modern slaveholders are predators keenly aware
of weakness; they are rapidly adapting an ancient practice to the new
global economy.

1 2 / THE NEW SLAVERY

The Rise of the New Slavery

For thousands of years people have been enslaved. Slavery echoes
through the great epics of the distant past. Ancient Egypt, ancient
Greece, and the Roman Empire all made slavery integral to their social
systems.6 Right through the American and Brazilian slave economies of
the last century, legal, old-style slavery persisted in what is now called
the developed world. But slavery never disappeared; instead, it took a
different form. The basic fact of one person totally controlling another
remains the same, but slavery has changed in some crucial ways.

Two factors are critical in the shift from the old slavery to the explo­
sive spread of the new. The first is the dramatic increase in world pop­
ulation following World War IL Since 1945 the world population has
almost tripled, increasing from about 2 billion people to more than
5. 7 billion. The greatest growth has been in those countries where slav­
ery is most prevalent today. Across Southeast Asia, the Indian subconti­
nent, Africa, and the Arab countries, populations have more than tripled
and countries are flooded with children. Over half the population in
some of these countries is under the age of fifteen. In countries that
were already poor, the sheer weight of numbers overwhelms the re­
sources at hand. Without work and with increasing fear as resources di­
minish, people become desperate and life becomes cheap. Especially in
those areas where slavery had persisted or was part of the historical
culture, the population explosion radically increased the supply of po­
tential slaves and drove down their price.

The second crucial factor is that at the same time that the popula­
tion was exploding, these countries were undergoing rapid social and
economic change. In many developing countries modernization brought
immense wealth to the elite and continued or increased the impover­
ishment of the poor majority. Throughout Africa and Asia the last fifty
years have been scarred by civil war and the wholesale looting of re­
sources by home-grown dictators, often supported by one of the super­
powers. To hold on to power, the ruling kleptocrats have paid enormous

THE NEW SLAVERY / 13

sums for weaponry, money raised by mortaging their countries. Mean­
while traditional ways of life and subsistence have been sacrificed to
the cash crop and quick profit. Poor families have lost their old ways
of meeting a crisis. Traditional societies, while sometimes oppressive,
generally relied on ties of responsibility and kinship that could usually
carry people through a crisis such as the death of the breadwinner, seri­
ous illness, or a bad harvest. Modernization and the globalization of the
world economy have shattered these traditional families and the small­
scale subsistence farming that supported them. The forced shift from
subsistence to cash-crop agriculture, the loss of common land, and gov­
ernment policies that suppress farm income in favor of cheap food for
the cities have all helped bankrupt millions of peasants and drive them
from their land-sometimes into slavery.

Although modernization has had good effects, bringing improve­
ments in health care and education, the concentration of land in the
hands of an elite and..its use of land to produce cash crops for export
have made the poor more vulnerable. Because the political elites in the
developing world focus on economic growth, which is not just in their
collective self-interest but required by global financial institutions, little
attention is paid to sustainable livelihoods for the majority. So while the
rich of the developing world have grown richer, the poor have fewer
and fewer options. Amid the disruption of rapid social change, one of
those options is slavery.

The end of the cold war only made matters worse. William Greider
explains it well:

One of the striking qualities of the post-Cold War globalization
is how easily business and government in the capitalist democracies
have abandoned the values they putatively espoused for forty years
during the struggle against communism-individual liberties and
political legitimacy based on free elections. Concern for human
rights, including freedom of assembly for workers wishing to speak
for themselves, has been pushed aside by commercial opportunity.
Multinationals plunge confidently into new markets, from Vietnam

14 / THE NEW SLAVER Y

to China, where governments routinely control and abuse their own
citizens.7

In fact, some of these countries enslave their own citizens, and others
turn a blind eye to the slavery that generates such enormous profits.

TH E O L D SLAVERY V E R S U S T H E N EW S LAVE RY Government corruption,
plus the vast increase in the number of people and their ongoing im­
poverishment, has led to the new slavery. For the first time in human
history there is an absolute glut of potential slaves. It is a dramatic il­
lustration of the laws of supply and demand: with so many possible
slaves, their value has plummeted. Slaves are now so cheap that they
have become cost-effective in many new kinds of work, completely
changing how they are seen and used. Thinke· about computers. Forty
years ago there were only a handful of computers, and they cost hun­
dreds of thousands of dollars ; only big companies and the government
could afford them. Today there are millions of personal computers. Any­
one can buy a used, but quite serviceable, model for $ mo. Use that $100
computer for a year or two, and when it breaks down, don’t bother to
fix it-just thr�w it away.

The same thing happens in the new slavery. Buying a slave is no
longer a major investment, like buying a car or a house (as it was in the
old slavery); it is more like buying an inexpensive bicycle or a cheap
computer. Slaveholders get all the work they can out of their slaves, and
then throw them away. The nature of the relationship between slaves
and slaveholders has fundamentally altered. The new disposability has
dramatically increased the amount of profit to be made from a slave,
decreased the length of time a person would normally be enslaved, and
made the question of legal ownership less important. When slaves cost
a great deal of money, that investment had to be safeguarded through
clear and legally documented ownership. Slaves of the past were worth
stealing and worth chasing down if they escaped. Today slaves cost so
little that it is not worth the hassle of securing permanent, “legal”
ownership. Slaves are disposable.

THE NEW SLAVERY / 1 5

Around the world today the length o f time a slave spends in bondage
varies enormously. Where old-style slavery is still practiced, bondage
lasts forever. A Mauritanian woman born into slavery has a good chance
of remaining so for the rest of her life. Her children, if she has any, will
also be slaves, and so on down the generations. But today most slaves
are temporary; some are enslaved for only a few months. It is simply
not profitable to keep them when they are not immediately useful.
Under these circumstances, there is no reason to invest heavily in their
upkeep and indeed little reason to ensure that they survive their en­
slavement. While slaves in the American South were often horribly
treated, there was nevertheless a strong incentive to keep them alive for
many years. Slaves were like valuable livestock: the …

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