Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Free the Slaves!

In a previous post, I had quoted an observation by Dr Kevin Bales, described by Wikipedia as "the world's leading expert on modern slavery".

I was surprised and happy to receive an email from Dr Bales who pointed out an important fact: in absolute numbers there are more slaves now than ever, but in proportional terms, there are fewer slaves. What this means is that there are fewer people who are enslaved as a percentage of the total population on earth.

He also says the war against slavery can be won. He did not say in detail why in the email, but others have pointed out that slavery has intrinsic problems that make it unviable. Specifically, slavery is not as profitable as paid labour. Like so many things in life, slavery is about money. According to the economist Adam Smith, slavery was abolished by the British, French and Americans in 19th century, not because of the goodness of people, but because it was uneconomical: slaves would only work when closely supervised and owners had to use violence, or its threat, in order to get slaves to work. Capitalism is much a more more efficient system--wage earners have an incentive to work in the way that slaves did not.

It is an interesting topic and I think worth exploring. But for now, here is Dr Bales' email:

Hi Diana,

I tried to comment on your Cambodia Calling blog, but I wasn't able to ... so perhaps if I drop this to you in an email you'd like to add it?
All best
Kevin Bales


Thanks for a great posting. I understand how coming to grips with the size of modern slavery can leave people feeling overwhelmed. But there's an interesting paradox about the 27 million slaves in the world - yes, it is a huge number, the largest ever in human history, but it is also the smallest fraction of the human population to ever be in slavery. Likewise, the amount of money slaves pump into the world economy is big, around $50 billion a year, but it is also the smallest fraction of the global economy to ever be represented by slave labor.

The truth is that slavery has been pushed to the edge of its own extinction and working together we can tip it over the brink. I hope you'll visit and share our website www.freetheslaves.net, and maybe look at my book on how we can bring slavery to an end in 25 years, it is called: Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves.

All best wishes,
Kevin Bales
(President, Free the Slaves)

Dr. Kevin Bales' 1999 book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and has been published in almost a dozen languages. He had written the book based on first-hand study in five different countries: Thailand (prostitution); Mauritania (water selling); Brazil (charcoal production); India (agriculture); and Pakistan (brick making).

Out of this book, Free the Slaves a not for profit organization actively trying to reduce, if not eradicate, slavery, which it powerfully describes as "a dark slash across the heart of all humanity".

He is optimistic we can wipe out slavery because the "the cost of actually helping people out of slavery is very low". To play a part, we can spread awareness and take action.

Please visit Dr Bales' organisation to see how you can help. There is also a Facebook group where you can share information on slavery and how to stop it.

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