Defining Modern-Day Slavery
There are many definitions of what constitutes modern day slavery. These variations make it difficult to put an exact number on the number of slaves alive today. Estimates can range from 10 to 30 million. For our purposes, we will use the definition of slavery provided by the nonprofit organization Free The Slaves.
"Slavery - A relationship in which one person is controlled through violence, the threat of violence, or psychological coercion, has lost free will and free movement, is explored economically and paid nothing beyond subsistence".
Why Does Slavery Still Exist?
Slavery is commonly mistaken as a practice of the past, no? We abuse this notion, therefore leading many people to be incredulous that such an atrocity could occur in this day and age. Here are the factors that allow slavery to thrive:
Corruption in governments around the world allows slavery to go unpunished. Unreliable law enforcement not only empowers traffickers, but also makes it more difficult, even dangerous, for victims to seek help. Take the story of a Cambodian girl named Rath, whose story was told in the book Half The Sky. She was trafficked into Malaysia to be sold for sex. When she and four others managed to escape from the brothel in which they were kept, they ran to the Thai police, who at first, "tried to shoo them away, then arrested the girls for illegal immigration." After serving a year in prison, she was driven to the Thai border, and she thought she was being released. Instead, the Malaysian policeman who escorted her sold her to a Thai trafficker, who sold her to a Thai brothel.
Though there are many different types of slavery and no two situations are exactly alike, there is always one common factor: demand. Slavery continues to exist and thrive because there is a demand for it, and traffickers know that if they can provide the supply, they will make a profit. Kevin Bales, founder of Free The Slaves, said in 2010, "This is an economic crime. People do not enslave other people to be mean to them; they do it to make a profit." We may like to think that we do not contribute to this cycle, but the truth is that many purchases we make, such as foods, electronics, and clothes, often trace back to slave labor. Whether we do so knowingly or unknowingly, by supporting products that use slave labor, we are abetting the slave trade.
Much of the world's population lives in countries where the gap between rich and poor is widening. When this gap increases, it leaves millions of people destitute and struggling to survive: the perfect targets for traffickers. When families or individuals are desperate, traffickers uses promises of jobs or education to manipulate and lure victims into situations from which they cannot escape.
Old Slavery Vs. New Slavery
As the world around us changes, so does slavery. Kevin Bales illustrates some of the key differences in the table below. A full explanation can be found here.
Photo courtesy of Women's International Center promoting fair trade as an economic and social movement.