Take these chains...
October 29, 2008 7:54 AM   Subscribe

A World Enslaved: There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history.
Restaveks are Haitian child slaves.
To understand more here is a Modern Slavery 101 and a BBC special. Slavery is often hidden as Bonded Labour.
On the positive side in Niger an ex-slave wins a landmark case .
Here is a country by country report.
posted by adamvasco (41 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
The upcoming film Call and Response [link to Apple hosted trailer] deals with this as well, specifically in regards to the sex trade.
posted by YurikoKinje at 8:00 AM on October 29, 2008

Yeah "modern" slavery just blew me away when I read a book about it by Kevin Bales how prevalent it is, the numbers exceed even the height of the African slave trade to the US, back when slavery was legal! Slavery is illegal now in every country of the world, so it has gone underground and thus not as visible, but it never went away and in fact has grown. And it's not limited to cocoa bean plantations in the Congo, there are slaves in the suburbs of Washington DC and every state in America.
posted by stbalbach at 8:12 AM on October 29, 2008

...there are slaves in...every state in America.

Whoa, really?

Yes. Wow.
posted by DU at 8:25 AM on October 29, 2008

Even extending to the highest levels of sport...
posted by biffa at 8:42 AM on October 29, 2008

The upcoming film Call and Response [link to Apple hosted trailer] deals with this as well, specifically in regards to the sex trade.

Holy hell this looks like shit. I wish "artists" would stop making this kind of nonsense and that someone would make a serious film about this topic. This looks like the slavery installment of Live Aid. Ick.
posted by Manhasset at 8:54 AM on October 29, 2008

Witness makes some of the most compelling human rights videos I've ever seen with footage that you rarely see anywhere else. Here are some regarding or related to this issue: Bound by Promises, Entrenched Abuse: Forced Labor in Burma, The Empire's New Clothes: Sweatshops in NY, The Price of Youth: Trafficking Nepalese Girls, Bought & Sold.
posted by jeanmari at 9:07 AM on October 29, 2008

Child slaves. Some as young as 3. WHAT THE FUCK.
posted by illiad at 9:11 AM on October 29, 2008

The world is far sicker than you can imagine. When people hear of child porn, they don't think of slavery, trafficking and sex tourism. It is a business and organized crime is highly involved.
posted by jkaczor at 9:16 AM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another dimension of slavery in the U.S. is that it is very often women, and if you read the case descriptions you'll notice common themes of forced domestic work (as household servants, but with a lot of abuse) and sexual exploitation.
posted by Tehanu at 9:30 AM on October 29, 2008

Thanks for this adamvasco. I was thinking about posting on this. Just haven’t had time.
I can see the sex slavery. And by ‘see’ I mean - I understand the logistics, even though viscerally I’d like to tear the perpetrators apart with my bare hands.
This has been around for a long, long time.

The domestic stuff is just bizarre. Out here the Russian outfit does a lot of work with cleaning ladies and nannys.

(The Russian mob’s rep was pretty much predicated on a few KGB hard cases. Half Dollar Stratievsky turned out to be a big pussy dispite his dad talking him up as a callous killer, f’rinstince. Not that a given individual isn’t dangerous, but the business you’re in determines your exposure, which determines how ‘tough’ you are. Someone running drugs or protection rackets can be pretty ‘hard’ because there’s a lot of beef there, you need muscle to rough people up and your product is pretty low profile. Humans need a lot of time and attention, etc, so - high exposure. So you’re not so ‘tough’ - organizationally)

I’m not trying to make light of this. It just stymies me that they - or anyone - gets away with it on any level. There has to be tacit approval / complicity by the authorities. And that’s where human traffickers excell. They make up for being organizationally soft by dealing in information and blackmail (instead of straight bribes - you get one of your people to have sex with the right people, or even a number of people. Becomes problematic for them if they’re married of course).

And it seems ‘harmless.’ Many people consider prostitution an otherwise harmless vice. They forget this facet of it. (Legalization is debatable)

But on an individual level it’s nearly inconceivable to me. I mean, you’re going to leave your kids alone with someone you beat the hell out of? There are so many things wrong there on so many levels.

In any event - one of the biggest problems is this sort of tolerable level of slavery. We can talk illegal immigrants and hiring them at cut rates as a (dark) grey area (in terms of slavery).
But on top of that there’s this pressure within an isolated community because of social pressures, language, etc.

And that’s part of the problem with the Krasnaya Mafiya - it’s all kind of interrelated socially - but not related organizationally. It’s sort of symbiotic, not hierarchic like the Sicilian mob.
So for example - you’ve got one criminal (Polszakiewicz, say) tooling immigration papers.
Then you’ve got mules bringing them in.
When they get here you get guys like the Chechen mobster Mishulovich who makes women work as strippers and hookers and threatens to kill their relations (moms or whatever) back home if they don’t.
And those social connections are presumed upon directly as well. Just a few years ago you had a Russian enforcer (Israil Vengerian) in a federal beef for having some guys beat a (female) Russian business owner for not paying street tax.
And a lot of that goes into real estate. So, a woman gets brought over. She gets threatened (one way or another) works as a sex slave or stripper - whatever - until she can’t anymore.
Then she becomes a cleaning lady or a nanny in what appears to be an otherwise legitimate business.
Plenty of other scenarios. And that’s just the criminal, not the corporate, stuff there.

Much like prohibition in the 30’s - the immigration stuff, pressure, changes in the law, etc - has fostered this kind of criminal enterprise.

Except instead of booze (or later, drugs) it’s people.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:32 AM on October 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Re: real estate. Implicitly - your landlord is also your ‘boss’ in the cleaning business or whatever. Easier to keep them isolated. If that wasn't clear.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:33 AM on October 29, 2008

Some as young as 3

Try younger, say - two, locked naked and filthy in a dog kennel for days at a time. When out of said kennel, she was repeatedly sexually abused, while photographed/video'd, etc...

She was eventually rescued, but this shit happens. That's why I love my job - this is one area I can help make an actual difference in the world.
posted by jkaczor at 9:33 AM on October 29, 2008

Also re: ‘tolerable level of slavery’ - obviously no such thing in literal terms. I mean - visibly tolerable. As in it’s not obvious they’re being abused at a fundimental level. No one’s whipping the slavic cleaning lady you hire out of a phone book to clean your place f’rinstnce. It’s tolerable to society because it’s unseen and appears legit. You don’t notice the tattoos on the vory in the car dropping them off.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:44 AM on October 29, 2008

FYI, as a percentage of world population, slavery is it at it's lowest rates ever. Not that the current situation isn't horribly fucked up. But there is reason for hope.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:14 AM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know, I've seen this kind of thing first hand (in Africa). Its not a pretty thing, and its perpetrators will go pretty far to make it look like something it isn't. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what's going on, all it takes is the hollow look in an owned person's eyes. Then you know. And then you feel a knot in your soul, something screaming at your core that "THIS IS NOT RIGHT." You look at them and you realize that it was only a cosmic role of the dice that put you in your free western shoes and them in their doomed shoeless excuse for an existence.

I think it is such a massive problem today because much of the modern world essentially needs the existence of cheap-to-free labor to support a lavish lifestyle at a "reasonable" price. I see all the bitching and moaning in the US about gas prices nearing 4 dollars a gallon and I immediately think about the millions of indentured immigrants building the sky-scrapers in Dubai. Its a cause and effect relationship where nobody wants to think about the effect part. So we don't. We just choose not to look at those news articles.

I mean seriously. This is a brilliant fucking post but it has 14 comments while I'm typing this. 14 fucking comments. There's another Palin thread posted just now that already has 37, and mark my words that it'll have 5 times that many in an hour.

Its not just America either - I'm talking about the "western" world at large - the modern first world, most of Europe and a lot of Asia to boot. Its not endemic to a certain society, its a stain on the human race as a whole. It proves that there is some certain evil that is common to all of us, if any of us are comfortable enough to let another of us commit such atrocities upon any others of us.

We are all to blame for this - myself included - but most of us have convinced ourselves that its not really a big deal. I believe a day will come for each and every one of us when we will be called to reckon for it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:14 AM on October 29, 2008 [10 favorites]

I can't read about stuff like this without falling into a rage both at the evil of the situation, and my own complete lack of power to do anything about it. It makes me physically ill to know that right this second people are traded like property, tortured, raped, and murdered by their "owners", and that I can do nothing whatsoever to stop it, or even make the smallest difference.

Take the Haitian situation. Yes, its awful that an American can buy a Haitian child, but repulsive as that is it doesn't make up even a tenth of the Haitian slave trade. As the article says its the locals, often the *poor* locals who are the vast majority of the slave owners. And what can a broke American geek do about that? Nothing.

So I sit in helpless rage, and if I were less inhibited I'd weep for humanity. I can do nothing else.
posted by sotonohito at 10:18 AM on October 29, 2008

Across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, traffickers have forced as many as 2 million into prostitution or labor. In South Asia, which has the highest concentration of slaves on the planet, nearly 10 million languish in bondage, unable to leave their captors until they pay off “debts,” legal fictions that in many cases are generations old.

This is horrendous. I knew instances of slavery existed both within and outside the US, but the sheer magnitude of it astounds me. And it seems so diffuse and hidden in plain sight that the solution requires a huge labor-intensive effort.

Many people consider prostitution an otherwise harmless vice. They forget this facet of it. (Legalization is debatable)

I don't know. I think this strengthens the argument for legalization, because some of the reasons this stays hidden is that it is only run by criminals. If there were a parallel legal track, enforcement would be easier, because legal operations would have self-interest in exposing their illegal competitors. It would certainly be worth a try if it limited the occurrences of sexual slavery.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:33 AM on October 29, 2008

Actually - legalizing protistution is debatable. Several big-name European countries have had legalized prostitution for decades, yet they have intense problems with human trafficking/slavery.
posted by jkaczor at 10:44 AM on October 29, 2008

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go;
I owe my soul to the company store...

posted by papafrita at 10:49 AM on October 29, 2008

Have been thinking about this topic lately, and had concluded (prematurely) that slavery was still a major issue because a great deal of the world's poor have become virtual slaves -- working without choice in conditions that eliminate any hope of a brighter future. To discover that slavery by a narrower definition is still so much in play...

pisses me the fuck right off. Sorry. I don't know what else to say. Fuck.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:58 AM on October 29, 2008

Look, if these people didn't want to be slaves, they should have Followed The Rules® and immigrated legally.
posted by stet at 11:08 AM on October 29, 2008

A friend of mine wrote A Crime So Monstrous. I read it this past Spring and I highly recommend it, but you will be depressed when you finish. allkindsoftime is right - few people seem to get passionate about the problem. I don't know how my buddy sleeps at night, having seen the shit he did while doing his research.
posted by brheavy at 11:16 AM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

This makes me so angry. Intelligent people, forcing other humans to do their dirty, nasty, or filthy work. Caging humans. Chaining them. Abusing them. We waste our forces fighting wars over oil. We need to fight to stop this hell on Earth. I feel helpless, but I know these slaves feel worse. I pray for your release. I pray for your justice.
posted by doctorschlock at 11:44 AM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

“There's another Palin thread posted just now that already has 37,”

People like scapegoats. Makes ‘em feel like they’re doing something when they point out how wrong ‘they’ are.

“I think this strengthens the argument for legalization...”

Yeah. Maybe. I take jkaczor’s point too. Honestly I just don’t know.
And there again - cleaning ladies. Perfectly legitimate business.

Y’know those two above ideas sort of tie together. I mean, look at the abortion issue. Do we really want to protect human liberty while respecting human life such that we find non-invasive/oppressive means to prevent unwanted pregnancies (and thus abortions) - or do we want to bust each other’s balls for years as to who’s right and who’s wrong?

Pretty clear what the answer there is.
Kind of the same deal with this. No one wants to face the roots because of what that implies that they themselves should do (maybe clean your f’ing house yourself). Much rather argue over what kinds of laws should be passed (or not) to make someone else do something.

“And what can a broke American geek do about that? Nothing.”

For what it’s worth, not that it will help much, I’m not broke. I’m well connected and otherwise very dangerous. I can’t make much of a dent either.
It’s this issue that, in part, convinced me of the superiority of non-violence. I remember just sitting thinking to myself, could I ever kill enough of them. The human traffickers, the slavemasters. Nope. I couldn’t.
(Oh, I could give it a hell of a try. But even if I could kill them by the busload, it’d never be enough. And that leads to a whole other set of problems.)

“Look, if these people didn't want to be slaves, they should have Followed The Rules® and immigrated legally.”

Well, even beyond that (taking your statement in the implicit negative) Durn Bronzefist’s point about virtual slavery. So some smooth (pimp) talks you into a brave new world. Even barring that, most folks live in artificially imposed poverty as it is and are slaves to the world economic system.
But hell, even in the U.S. you’re born in debt.
(Not to blow the issue into the far bigger picture).

I think, as pointed out by others, it is a cultural mindset problem. If we really gave a shit about it we could end this tomorrow. Not like drugs or other criminal enterprises. You have to house, feed and clothe humans. It’s a business with a lot of exposure. They’re easy to find. And they talk.
We’re just not listening.

In part, maybe, because what do you do with a freed slave? Send them back ‘home’?
posted by Smedleyman at 11:49 AM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

As with any large-scale evil, you have to address the infrastructure and middle-men that sustain it, rather than simply the overlords at the top and the victims at the bottom, both of which are easy to replace. Slavery is a system built upon certain realities; complicit government/populations, the threat of extreme poverty, racism, discrimination, and probably a few other things I'm not thinking of.

I, as one person, can't do much except contribute to a few charities and stay informed. This is a job that requires a large amount of organization; in the US, education of teachers, police, and immigration workers, among others. Outside the US, governmental pressure is the only lever we really have, and that requires electing people to govt. who care about human rights.

On the one hand, thinking about what happens to innocents, especially children, in slavery makes you want to give up and swallow a bottle full of pills. On the other hand, that helps no one; you have to accept that your part in solving this gigantic problem is going to be small. That doesn't make you a bad person, and you can still do much if you want to. But here in the West, we tend to believe in the Lone Hero, and this isn't a Lone Hero kind of battle.

So; write blog posts to educate others; volunteer for the organizations that fight this; report suspicious activities; and hold your elected officials accountable. It's not as satisfying, but multiplied, it does more good than you know.
posted by emjaybee at 12:15 PM on October 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this. I teach human rights issues, and I have the hardest time talking to my students about contemporary slavery. The Foreign Policy article, especially, is really good.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:39 PM on October 29, 2008

No one wants to face the roots because of what that implies that they themselves should do (maybe clean your f’ing house yourself).

Bingo. Like a lot of other big stories that we (Western civilization) have been trying to sweep under the rug for a long time now, this implies we need to stop getting too many goodies for too little effort and closing our eyes to who pays the piper behind the scenes. I'm very far from being a back-to-nature type (I'd be one of the first to become fertilizer), but we've got to somehow bring our desires, our needs, and our means into some kind of synch, and extend our empathy and concern to cover more than our immediate kith and kin, or we're going to sink beneath the waves of horror and despair. But I don't know that I have much hope of that; Eliot said "human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality," and he was right.

Great post.
posted by languagehat at 12:50 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I come from a place where I witnessed this day to day, all around me. Children working on the brick factories, the girls as maids/prostitutes, children panning gold and a whole lot more horrors and which sadly pass as a day-to-day life in many of these countries, just another situation within the hundred other shit situations that affect their population. For those of us that were fortunate enough to never be part of it but witnesses, all that was left was to try helping in any way we could, be it rallying with your friends, becoming social workers, donating money or at least talking about it and being aware...

All I can contribute here is that one should do all what is within our reach, everyone is powerful in their own, even if you don't think so. Just making people around you be a little more aware makes a difference. Money helps but that is not the solution. Being "important" and having connections can help, but is not a solution either. It takes an army and doing just a little is better than ignoring the issue, even if you don't think it changes anything, believe me, it does. I have seen it in my small part of the world, tiny little efforts that seemed too small to make any difference, it may not have stopped it as a whole, but at least it DID make a difference in someone's life, even if it was just one person. And that is a good thing, at least you helped someone out of this circle and maybe, just maybe, there's hope that this person will not perpetuate this upon his descendants.

I forwarded this to a co-worker and her response was that slavery had ended a long time ago. This with me working for an Institute that provides outreach to disadvantaged women and this person being the director of this institute. sigh.
posted by ratita at 1:08 PM on October 29, 2008

*brokenhearted but at the same time happy someone brought this up today* Thank You adamvasco!
posted by ratita at 1:11 PM on October 29, 2008

I've seen some pretty depraved things in my life, having worked in max security remand, but that article utterly turned my stomach. Thanks adamvasco -- we all need a hard slap across the face with some reality and perspective from time to time. Right now though, I'm trembling from anger and other unpleasant feelings after having read what I did, so I should probably go away and come back and read it again with a more analytical eye. Then maybe I can think up ways in which I can feel like I'm doing something to help.
posted by illiad at 1:22 PM on October 29, 2008

I've heard great things about A Crime So Monstrous. I know that's a strange and inadequate word to use to describe a book on this subject.

I wanted to add a link to this New Yorker article on sex slavery/human trafficking from the Balkan states into Western Europe, and the attempts of some extraordinary people with little leverage and few resources to fight it. I love me my New Yorker, but this article was like nothing else I've ever read. It burned into me. I'm still thinking about it months later.

jkaczor, if you know what I or other people who don't have the money or the languages to either donate or participate directly, please give us some other ways we can help.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:15 PM on October 29, 2008

The article foxy_hedgehog links to above is really, really good.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:52 PM on October 29, 2008

...there are slaves in...every state in America.

Whoa, really?

Yes. Wow.

I clicked on your link and then clicked on my home state of Alabama and got:

"Our archive currently does not contain any recorded cases of slavery in Alabama. Click here to submit a case for inclusion in our archive."

Maybe this isn't the best thread for humor, but I laughed.
posted by SomeOneElse at 7:13 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

This makes me want to break things.

I know there are awful people who would run operations like this. What, to me, is more shocking is that they have customers. That there are enough people who will buy slaves for work and sex.

The childish, naieve part of my mind wishes there was just a law that could be passed, or an amount of money that could be raised, to stop this.
posted by twirlypen at 8:58 PM on October 29, 2008

I can't read any of these links right now; I ate recently, and I'm going to bed soon.

Thank you for posting this, and thanks for the replies. This is a huge issue, and too many people are either ignorant of it, or choose to look the other way.

~ 'We need slaves to build monuments.' It is already home to the world's glitziest buildings, man-made islands and mega-malls - now Dubai plans to build the tallest tower. But behind the dizzying construction boom is an army of migrant labourers lured into a life of squalor and exploitation.

You better believe it. If you want to enjoy your trip to Dubai, DO NOT take a taxi between 4 and 6 pm, local time. Being stuck in a traffic jam, next to bus after bus after bus with the windows bared tighter than some jails…you can't un-see that.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:38 PM on October 29, 2008

Maybe it's just me, but most of these stories seem to involve "X couldn't do anything about her oppression because of the local immigration authorities." Makes me wonder when the Western world will finally see the error in discriminating against people based on where they were born, a quality none of them had any say in. Imagine if these women could come to Sweden legally...there would be no market for these "travel agencies" and if they did end up enslaved they could go to authorities without being punished.
posted by melissam at 5:21 AM on October 30, 2008

Money doesn't have it's own conscience, we have to provide one.
posted by asok at 8:30 AM on October 30, 2008

jkaczor, if you know what I or other people who don't have the money or the languages to either donate or participate directly, please give us some other ways we can help.

My primary focus is around child exploitation - not slavery overall, most of my advice would be related to keeping kids safe - online and off.

The first thing to to is help people become aware that this problem actually exists, the next step would be to find organizations and donate time/money accordingly.

IMO, that is the route - start with awareness, which leads to eduction, which leads to activism, which leads to societal awareness, which leads to potentially new legislation or active law enforcement of existing laws.

Here seems to be a good jumping off point. When searching, perhaps don't search for just slavery, but instead use keywords such as; human trafficking, anti-trafficking, domestic slavery, etc.

Being a software geek - my mind always looks to tools to help solve issues, the following occured to me... Bring it into the light, like the US map posted above. Build a community/collaborative site, with a wordmap, let people report suspected slavery and then shame/goad others into action. But - what about "mob mentality" or abuse due to local issues (someone reports a neighbour they simply dislike).
posted by jkaczor at 10:15 AM on October 30, 2008

People like scapegoats. Makes ‘em feel like they’re doing something when they point out how wrong ‘they’ are.

Honestly I just don’t know.

And next, you don't want "mob mentality" to rule or "knee-jerk" legislation which is poorly thought out and handles boundary cases badly; like, if a teenager takes pictures of themself naked, sends them to their boy/girlfriend they should not be considered a dangerous sex offender and charged with child pornography, etc. Canada's laws still seem pretty sane, but there are definately some weird cases in the US.

Being a fairly liberal (and libertarian) minded guy there are many times where I have to say: "I just don't know".
posted by jkaczor at 10:23 AM on October 30, 2008

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