Today, March 25, 2007 marks the 200th anniversary of the abolishment of slave trade. Wikipedia defines slavery as “people deprived of personal freedom and compelled to perform labour or services. The term also refers to the status or condition of those persons, who are treated as the property of another person or household. Slaves are held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase, or birth, and are deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to receive compensation in return for their labour. As such, slavery is one form of unfree labour.”

Even though the practice of slavery was abolished 200 years ago there are more slaves today than ever before. Free The Slaves states that there are 27 million slaves in the world today. Today we are fighting against a new kind of slavery. A write up from Free The Slaves and a book entitled Disposable People by Kevin Bales defines this new kind of slavery in the following way. “Three trends have contributed most to the rise of modern slavery. The first, a recent population explosion, has tripled the amount of people in the world, with most growth taking place in the developing world. The second, rapid social and economic changes, has displaced many to urban centers and their outskirts, where people are powerless and without job security. The third, government corruption around the world, allows slavery to go unpunished, even though it is illegal everywhere. In this way millions have become vulnerable to a resurgent form of slavery. This new slavery has two prime characteristics that differentiate it from the slavery of the past: slaves today are cheap and they are disposable.

In Old Slavery, also called chattel slavery, slaves were extremely expensive to purchase and often yielded low profits for their owners. Since there was always a shortage of potential slaves, and enormous costs associated with transporting them from one continent to another, those already enslaved were considered investments and held for generations. Their health was generally maintained (at rudimentary levels) and it was of enormous importance to assert ownership over this valuable ‘property’. Slave-owners took great pains to emphasize the ethnic differences between themselves and their investment.

New Slavery turns each of these characteristics on its head. An average slave in the American South in 1850 cost the equivalent of $40,000 in today’s money; today a slave costs an average of $90. In 1850 it was difficult to capture a slave and then transport them to the US. Today, millions of economically and socially vulnerable people around the world are potential slaves. This “supply” makes slaves today cheaper than they have ever been. Since they are so cheap, slaves are no longer a major investment worth maintaining. If slaves get sick, are injured, outlive their usefulness, or become troublesome to the slaveholder, they are dumped or killed. For most slave-holders, actually owning the slave is an inconvenience since they already exert total control over the individuals labor and profits. The slave-holder cares more about these high profits than whether the holder and slave are of different ethnic backgrounds; in new slavery, profit trumps skin color. Finally, new slavery is directly connected to the global economy. As in the past, most slaves are forced to work in agriculture, mining, and prostitution. From these sectors, their exploited labor flows into the global economy, and into our lives.”

So much has been done, but there is still so much left to do. This seems like a task that we cannot even touch. I would say that it is a task that we have to touch. Do something. Read a book, write a letter, say a prayer, tell someone else, or go and be a part of ending modern day slavery. Here are a few resources to look at.

Stop The Traffik
Amazing Grace

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