More Than Ever Before

In the end of the second part of the slavery series we argue that if ending slavery is at all a test case for ending animal exploitation, then since slavery didn’t ever end, what activists should draw from the fight against slavery isn’t inspiration, but disillusion, a wakeup call to look for other ways to end animal suffering.

What makes things even worse is not only that slavery was never ended, 150 years after the formal passage of the 13th Amendment and 67 years after Article 4 of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights banned slavery and the slave trade worldwide, there are more slaves today than at any time in human history.


Since slavery is illegal it is hard to find an accurate number of slaves. The formal estimations are of between 21 and 38 million slaves. That is by a very tolerant definition of the term which mainly refers to what is called Trafficking – the transport or trade of people from one area to another and into conditions of slavery. Considering the appalling working conditions in sweatshops and at least some forms of child labor, as we think is must, then the estimations are of hundreds of millions of people. That’s why we’ll discuss sweatshops separately in the next post and focus here on the exploitation forms which are formally considered as slavery.

Although modern-day slavery affects a cross-section of the population in terms of all ages, gender and races, some groups are more vulnerable. Unsurprisingly, women and girls are more at risk than men and boys. Women and girls make up the majority of those being exploited for forced labor and account for the absolute majority of sexually exploited people. Children make up a quarter of all those in slavery.

Not only is slavery more abundant than ever before, slaves are also cheaper than they have ever been. In the United States of the mid-19th century, the average slave cost the equivalent of about $40,000 in today’s money. Today a slave can be obtained in some places for as little as $90. Today’s slavery is not about owning people but about big profits and cheap lives. It is about using humans as completely disposable tools for making money.
Slavery thrives on every continent and in every country, affecting the world’s most vulnerable people. Here are some of the modern forms of slavery:

Forced Labor

Also known as involuntary servitude, describes all types of coerced work that an individual must provide against his or her will. It is often a result of employers exploiting workers, which are more vulnerable as it is by high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, or even cultural acceptance of the practice.
Some are deceived into slavery through the use of a false employment contract that slaveholders create to lure individuals with promises of employment, yet once they arrive at the workplace they are forced to work for no pay and cannot escape. Migrants are particularly vulnerable, but individuals also may be forced into labor in their own countries, finding themselves trapped, with no papers, and unable to leave. The fear of arrest and deportation prevents many migrant workers from speaking out about labor rights abuses because they may be undocumented, or dependent on their employer for documentation that allows them to stay legally.
An estimated number of 800,000 people are illegally trafficked across international borders every year. When internal trafficking victims are added to the estimations, the numbers rise to between 2 and 4 million. In terms of profit, human trafficking is ranked as the 3rd largest international crime industry, after drugs and arms trafficking. Most of it comes from the sex industry.

Sex Trafficking

Describes women, children or men that are trafficked in the commercial sex industry, which may include: pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, online escort services, residential brothels, hostess clubs, fake massage parlors or any exchange of a sex act for something of value. Money may or may not be exchanged; other things that may be traded for sex acts are drugs, shelter, food or clothes.

According to UNICEF, as many as two million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade. In poor countries many girls are sold to pay for debts at a very young age and can never get out of the sex industry.
If a girl has been forcefully brought to a brothel and refuses to “have sex” with a customer, she would be severely beaten, not given food, often gang raped and tortured until she breaks.
Most can’t negotiate with customers over the use of condoms and so many suffer from sexually transmitted diseases.

Sex slavery is a global issue that exists in every country in the world.
According to some estimations, more than 200,000 children are trafficked into the sex industry in the U.S each year. Child trafficking and child pornography, generate several billion dollars to the international sex tourism industry world-wide. According to a report by the NISMART (National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children) one out of every three teenagers who runs away from home is recruited into the sex industry within 48 hours.

In the United States, the average age a teen enters the sex trade is 12 to 14-year-old. According to Shared Hope International, children exploited through prostitution report they are typically forced to serve between 10 to 15 buyers per night, though some girls report having been sold to as many as 45 buyers in a night at peak demand times, such as during sports events or conventions.
To demonstrate a conservative estimation, a sex trafficking victim who is rented for sex acts with five different men per night, for five nights per week, for an average of five years, would be raped by 6,000 buyers during the course of her victimization through prostitution.

Child Slavery

Describes all child labor obtained from individuals under the age of 18 through the means of force, deception or coercion. Children can be enslaved in debt bondage, forced labor (for example in agriculture, factories, construction, brick kilns, mines, bars, restaurants or tourists environment), domestic work, prostitution or pornography, armies as child soldiers, illicit activities, such as forced begging, petty theft, and drug trade and other forms of hazardous work. Today, forced child labor exists in nearly every industry around the globe.

In Asia many young children are trapped in the sex industry, and much of the Asian sex tourism features children and minors of both sexes. In India, thousands of children work in the sari industry in sweatshops located inside apartments. In Saudi Arabia, gangs use children as baggers, asking for money from people. Most come from poor countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Chad. Many have been mutilated by their enslavers to make their state even more helpless, so they’ll become more profitable. In China, babies are trafficked for adoptions abroad. Children also work at all stages of the supply chain in the fashion industry: from the production of cotton seeds in Benin, harvesting in Uzbekistan, yarn spinning in India, right through to the different phases of putting garments together in factories across Bangladesh. In Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and the Philippines, children are trafficked as child soldiers when the perpetrators may be the government forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups. Many children are forcibly abducted to be used as combatants. Others are made unlawfully to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Young girls can be forced to marry or have sex with male combatants. Both male and female child soldiers are often sexually abused and are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. According to UNICEF there are about 300,000 child soldiers in over 30 areas of conflict worldwide, some even younger than 10 years of age. Children involved in conflicts are severely affected by their experiences and can suffer from long-term trauma.

Besides what is referred to as forced child labor, according to the International Labor Organization there are about 168 million labor children in the world, with the youngest being 5 years old. More than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work.
These children may not be forced to work by a particular someone but they do out of a particular situation. They are not considered as slaves however they do work out of a necessity and not their own will.

Debt Bondage

Also called bonded labor, is a situation in which an impoverished individual borrows money and places himself as collateral against the loan.
Sometimes the debt is created when the individual is getting an advance on a job offer only to find out the job offer was a fake, used to put him in debt. In other cases individuals accrue enormous debt to the employers for food, shelter, documentation and travel fees. The employers inflate these costs and tack on enormous interest rates that condemn their new laborers to a life of slavery.

If the individual cannot pay back the debt, he and all of his labor, and often the labor of his family members as well, become the property of the moneylender until the debt is repaid. However, the slaves have no way of earning money now that their labor belongs to another, thus they have no way of paying back the debt. Bonded laborers are paid only enough to stay alive so they can work another day. The small income and usurious interest rates ensure they can never earn enough to repay the debt. Therefore, the amount of money loaned, becomes the price paid to acquire a slave.

Being under the moneylender control and with barely enough money to buy food, the enslaved must keep taking numerous loans from the same moneylender for basic subsistence, further increasing their debt.
Sometimes these debts last a few years, and sometimes they are passed on to future generations if the original borrower perishes without having repaid the debt.

More than 20 million people are currently held in Debt bondage. 90% of them are in South Asia with the most, 14.5 million people, held as debt slaves in India. That is despite that the practice is illegal there for years. Illegal but deeply rooted in the Indian social system as the Dalits the lowest caste (called ‘Untouchables’), who are the most socially and economically vulnerable people, are by far the most affected by bonded labor.
Debt bondage also snares women and girls into sex slavery at roadside red-light districts, now widely dispersed across the Indian countryside.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude

Involuntary domestic servitude is a form of coerced labor, performing domestic work taking place in a private residence.

It involves such abuses as confiscation of travel documents, withholding of wages, confinement, working from very early in the morning to late at night, no time off, deliberate isolation from the community and all family and friends and in many cases physical and sexual abuse.
Living under the threat of violence, sanctions and punishments, and in the case of migrants and especially undocumented migrants the threat of arrest and deportation, the domestic workers are in such a vulnerable place that they are not in a position to charge a compliment.

The social isolation and lack of personal autonomy inherent in live-in domestic service, combined with lack of legal protections, since the authorities cannot inspect homes as easily as formal workplaces, provides a convenient ground for slavery.
When the victims are migrants, oftentimes, they do not speak the language of the country they are in, making it even more difficult for them to contact outside of the home they serve.

Domestic servitude can be a form of bonded labor when the workers incur a debt for their travel and/or recruitment fee and sometimes the employer or recruiter even adds on additional costs like housing or food that can never be repaid.

Many of the domestic workers are children. In Haiti they even have a name – Restavek. Basically it is a traditional system in which Haitian children from impoverished families (usually rural) are sent by their parents who are unable to provide for them, to live with relatives or even strangers (usually urban), and work for them as domestic servant.
Ideally the child is enrolled in school by the host household and treated like one of the family.
But often this does not happen.
For many children, the day is filled with chores. Even the youngest are expected to fetch heavy buckets of water, hand-wash clothes, carry loads to and from the marketplace, and work in the fields—often laboring for 14 hours a day for no pay.
Children in Haiti’s Restavek system often suffer a kind of apartheid, reduced to a subjugated status in their household and in society—sleeping on the floor, dressed in rags, eating leftovers, and often beaten. Two-thirds are girls, and many are viewed by men in the family as convenient objects for sexual exploitation. Girls are often abruptly expelled from the household if they become pregnant. It is estimated that there are 300,000 restavek children in Haiti.

Forced Marriage

The practice in which an individual, mostly a girl or a young woman is forced, coerced, threatened, or tricked to marry without her consent.
The process usually involves mental pressure, emotional blackmail and coercion from the family or society. Many cases also involve physical violence, abduction, detention, threat of murder or murder.

Most of the forced marriages are of girls under the age of 18, with about 14.2 million girls forced to marry every year. 5 million of them are under 15.

The young girls are trapped in a life of servitude, controlled by their husbands and are virtually there to provide them with domestic and sexual services.

Child marriage is rooted deeply in gender inequality, patriarchal tradition and poverty.
Some cultures believe marrying girls before they reach puberty will bring blessings on families. In addition families see it as a way to insure that their daughter will not become pregnant out of wedlock and bring dishonor to the family.
Poor families marry off young daughters to reduce the number of children they need to support.
In some cultures, a major incentive is the price that the prospective husbands offer for young brides.
In many cases Child marriage operates as a shield behind which slavery and slavery-like practices occur with impunity.

In cases where there is a high gap between the number of women and men, mostly in rural
India, China and Korea, forced marriages often begin by abduction or with girls being sold by their families to be traded as brides. In these situations the girls are treated as a commodity, they are domestic servants which cost their enslaver only the price of their purchase, in many cases they are abused physically and sexually and are then resold to other men.

Chattel Slavery

A form of slavery found mostly in Mauritania and Sudan, in which certain people are the property of other certain people and can be used as a medium of exchange. The slaves are used for house or farm labor, for sex, and for breeding. They may also be exchanged for money, guns, trucks and etc.
Chattel slavery is inherited. Many are born into and die in slavery.

Although the Africans in Mauritania converted to Islam more than 100 years ago, and the Qur’an forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, race seems to trump religious doctrine. Reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights have underscored the racial aspect of the practice. Government-armed Arab militias in Sudan are known to kill the men and enslave the women and children as personal property or to march them north to be auctioned off and sold. Anti-Slavery International reports that there is probably no village in the north without kidnapped black slaves.

In Mauritania slavery is an entrenched social, cultural and historic phenomenon. Although the national government has repeatedly banned the practice (most recently in 2007) many human rights groups see this as mere window-dressing with little enforcement effort. The descendants of black Africans abducted into slavery now live in Mauritania as “black Moors” or haratin and partially still serve the “white Moors”, or bidhan, as slaves. The number of slaves in the country is not known exactly, the estimates are of at least 90,000 darker-skinned Africans who still live as the property of the Muslim Berber communities. Other estimates, perhaps using a broader definition, claim up to 600,000 men, women and children, or 20% of the population, are slaves to North African Arabs.

The Relevant Analogy

Slavery is now illegal in every nation on earth, yet it can be found in every corner of the globe. Even on the narrowest definition of slavery it’s likely that there are far more slaves now than there were victims of the Atlantic slave trade.
There have been several attempts in the history of the modern world to abolish slavery. They’re all failed. Slavery has always re-emerged in one form or another.

In a way the fact that slavery is not legal anywhere but happens everywhere makes it worse because it means that slavery exists not because of political disputes between groups or anything of this sort, it exists and is so prevalent because humans don’t care enough to stop it.
In our world it is much more important that crimes would be declared as such and be outlawed than actually doing something so they would truly cease to exit.

Exploitation systems exist because someone benefits from them, and since the ones who don’t benefit from them (and therefore can be in the position to oppose them), are silent about them. The stronger benefits silently from slavery, the vulnerable suffers silently and the vast majority is just silent.

In order to seriously confront slavery, legislation and enforcement are far from being enough. Humanity must seriously confront slavery’s origin which is poverty. For that, the rich world must decide to stop plundering the poorer world and minimize the luxurious lifestyle it enjoys. That’s not going to happen.
Slavery will exist as long as there are power gaps between humans, and there will always be power gaps between humans.

Obviously most humans prefer to believe slavery was ended or at least that it is the work of particular evil people in the grimmest places on earth, a consequence of the wickedness of a tiny minority. The truth is that it is a consequence of the indifference of the majority who allows it to happen.
Many people enjoy a high level of living largely because of modern slaves who make many of the products they buy and use every day. Slavery is prevalent in different stages of the supply chains from the production of raw materials like in the cacao industry mentioned in the former post, as well as cotton, coffee, iron, rubber, wood, cobalt, wheat and sugar to name a few, to manufacturing every-day goods such as humans’ beloved mobile phones or cheap cloths made in sweatshops.
Still most humans don’t bother themselves too much about the production process of the goods they enjoy. The same as they don’t when it comes to animal derived products.
If anything, that is the relevant analogy to take from slavery.


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