How To Combat Modern Slavery

“If the rule of law is sound, it protects the poor and it protects the vulnerable. But if corruption creeps in and people don’t have the opportunity to have that protection of the rule of law, then if you can use violence, if you can use violence with impunity, you can reach out and harvest the vulnerable into slavery…”

In this moving yet pragmatic talk, Kevin Bales* explains the business of modern slavery, a multi-billion-dollar economy that underpins some of the worst industries on earth. He shares stats and personal stories from his on-the-ground research — and names the price of freeing every slave on earth right now.

Highlights from the transcript which can be viewed in full Here on TEDTalks

“So, I began to do a research project of my own. I went to five countries around the world. I looked at slaves. I met slaveholders, and I looked very deeply into slave-based businesses because this is an economic crime. People do not enslave people to be mean to them.They do it to make a profit. And I’ve got to tell you, what I found out in the world in four different continents, was depressingly familiar…

…And I want to be very clear. I’m talking about real slavery. This is not about lousy marriages,this is not about jobs that suck. This is about people who can not walk away, people who are forced to work without pay, people who are operating 24/7 under a threat of violence and have no pay. It’s real slavery in exactly the same way that slavery would be recognized throughout all of human history…

…We’re also particularly interested and looking very carefully at places where slaves are being used to perpetrate extreme environmental destruction. Around the world, slaves are used to destroy the environment, cutting down trees in the Amazon; destroying forest areas in West Africa; mining and spreading mercury around in places like Ghana and the Congo;destroying the coastal ecosystems in South Asia. It’s a pretty harrowing linkage between what’s happening to our environment and what’s happening to our human rights.

Now, how on Earth did we get to a situation like this, where we have 27 million people in slavery in the year 2010? That’s double the number that came out of Africa in the entire transatlantic slave trade. Well, it builds up with these factors. They are not causal, they are actually supporting factors. One we all know about, the population explosion: the world goes from two billion people to almost seven billion people in the last 50 years. Being numerous does not make you a slave. Add in the increased vulnerability of very large numbers of people in the developing world, caused by civil wars, ethnic conflicts, kleptocratic governments, disease … you name it, you know it…”

Kevin Bales is the co-founder of Free the Slaves, whose mission is to end all forms of human slavery within the next 25 years.