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Of Human Bondage
October 17, 2013 9:49 AM   Subscribe

The Walk Free Foundation has released its latest report on the contemporary slave trade, the Global Slavery Index (interactive map). As summarized by Al Jazeera, over 29 million people are in some form of involuntary servitude, ranging from kidnapped fishermen to women forced into prostitution to child brides. The countries with the largest populations of enslaved people include Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India, and Nepal. Back in 2012, J. J. Gould wrote on the difficulties in confronting slavery in today's society: In the West, and particularly in the United States, slavery has long settled in the public imagination as being categorically a thing of the past.... It can mean having a harder time recognizing slavery when it's right in front of us.
posted by Cash4Lead (12 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
By comparison the American slave population peaked at 4 million before abolition.
posted by stbalbach at 10:02 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the West, and particularly in the United States, slavery has long settled in the public imagination as being categorically a thing of the past....

No it's not. Owning someone has just been shifted to imprisoning someone. We're perfectly fine with black people doing work for next to nothing so long as they've been duly convicted of smoking weed.
posted by Talez at 10:07 AM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe you didn't notice the part you quoted where it said "in the public imagination"?

...as opposed to "in reality" for example?
posted by aramaic at 10:27 AM on October 17, 2013


It's sadly difficult to imagine the cause of international abolition getting proportional traction in SJ circles unless some privileged Western culprit can be designated. It is too predictable that the American prison derail is already in play here. It's as if human rights only matter when the villain is white America and those are the only stories we're interested in agitating about when it comes to slavery. Meanwhile, 29 million unequivocal slaves are tallied and because they're foreign and unlikely white-owned we'd rather change the subject to the US penal system? This kind of US-centric monomania is at its ugliest when it amounts to no more than a tu quoque defense of slavery anywhere else in the world.
posted by perhapsolutely at 11:09 AM on October 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


[comments removed - get your lulz on elsewhere]
posted by jessamyn at 12:53 PM on October 17, 2013


In the West, and particularly in the United States, slavery has long settled in the public imagination as being categorically a thing of the past....

About twenty years ago some I met a woman who had been held in Miami and forced to work as a housemaid with no pay and no days off. The family that was exploiting her had invited some friends to the house who, over time, came to understand what her situation was, and helped her escape.

At that time yes I was shocked to realize people were still being held in slavery in the US. I know it's much worse elsewhere.
posted by ambrosia at 1:06 PM on October 17, 2013


FWIW, I did not in the least read Talez' comment as trivialising the current realities of slavery in the world. In extending the field of consideration to an entrenched and notorious dynamic of the US prison system he made a very good point. Long-term groundless denial of liberty/forced labour for another's profit - what else does slavery consist of?
posted by glasseyes at 1:44 PM on October 17, 2013


A friend of mine worked at a restaurant where one of the employees was an "illegal immigrant". The boss decided to stop paying this guy for awhile, and was threatened with being reported to immigration if he complained or quit.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 1:49 PM on October 17, 2013




Cocoa and slavery previously 1. 2.
The leading countries are so desperately poor that any threats to withhold aid will only make matters worse.
I too wish that those who can only talk about America would hush up for a bit. US prison population (2010) 2.25 million. Slaves in India about 14 million.
posted by adamvasco at 3:07 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhapsolutely: I don't know that it's unequivocal.

A friend of mine knows a great deal about Mauritania: has lived there for years, speaks the language, has many Mauritanian friends. They're pretty conflicted about all this, saying that even after all the time they've spent, even being a trained social scientist and someone concerned with social justice, it isn't clear to them what the actual status is of people who work in middle- to upper-middle class Mauritanian homes. They specifically told me--in direct contradiction to the report--that we're not talking chattel slavery in many cases, and that many times when people are "not free to leave" someone's service it may simply be that they don't have any alternatives. Their concern is that in framing the issue as one of slavery the solution becomes abolition. And then what? They worry that the key issues that drive people to work in domestic service--sheer, grinding poverty and total lack of labor regulations--will be left untouched. (In that vein, I was interested to see the Gulf States and Bangladesh get a fairly free pass here, despite pretty horrendous labor relations...)

That and they worry that the term "slavery" will contribute to a simplistic understanding of Mauritanian race relations, although I didn't actually see that in the Walk Free country study.

Anyway, I'll be interested to hear their reaction once they've read the actual report. And all that said, it's hard to see that it could be much of a bad thing to raise a hue and cry about the undeniable fact that many, many people live in untenable, unacceptable relations to their employers in Mauritania and elsewhere. Perfect is the enemy of the good and all that.
posted by col_pogo at 8:20 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Chattel slavery was much more clear-cut because it had a legal basis. Unrecognized slavery like labour trafficking and debt-exploitation is a lot harder to fight, both in identifying it and in raising the funds and social willpower against it.

A couple of years ago, interviewing a sex worker in Cambodia, she explained why she preferred this particular brothel was because she could get 0% interest loans from the brothel manager that were deducted from her pay. She got I think about $3 a session, of which $1.20 or so went to the brothel manager in return for room and board (tiny cupboard room and two meals a day, worth about $40 in market value at the time), so she was definitely a huge profit centre for the brothel because she had about 10 clients a day, plus a significant loan to repay.

Previously, the mark-up on "company goods" was much higher so the sex worker would end up owing a debt, and they would beat up sex workers to make them stay, or get them hooked on drugs. They still do, but the no interest loan was such a creative strategy against increased sex worker rights by the brothel owner because it was not illegal at all, but it led to a situation of sexual exploitation and slavery.

She wasn't physically bound or illegally intimidated, but because she could not get access to credit that wasn't at a 1000% annual percent from a moneylender, had no assets or paperwork herself and had multiple family members and crises in her home province that she needed to meet, she was just as invisibly bound to that little wooden cupboard as if she had been chained.

Same goes for all the isolated hidden domestic servants who don't make the news but are in some ways are as or more physically vulnerable to sexual, physical and emotional abuse than someone trafficked physically to a brothel who has customers and other sex workers to turn to.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:00 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


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