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There Are More Slaves Today Than at Any Time in History
Posted on Aug 25, 2009
By Terrence McNally, AlterNet
But here’s the thing: When a slave costs $50 on the street in broad daylight in Port au Prince—by the way, this was in a decent neighborhood, everybody knew where these men were and what they did—such people are, to go back to Kevin’s term, eminently disposable in the eyes of their masters.
TM: If my reading is correct, the biggest concentrations of the slave trade are in Southeast Asia and portions of Latin America?
BS: If you were to plot slaves on the map, you’d stick the biggest number of pins in India, followed by Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan. There are arguably more slaves In India than the rest of the world combined.
And yet, if you look at international efforts or American pressure, India is largely let off the hook because Indian federal officials claim, "We have no slaves. These are just poor people. And these exploitive labor practices"—if you’re lucky enough to get that term out of them—"are a byproduct of poverty."
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TM: To go back to the definition: Forced to work against their will with no escape.
BS: Held through fraud under threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence. These are people that cannot walk away.
I stumbled upon a fellow in a quarry in Northern India who’d been enslaved his entire life. He had assumed that slavery at birth. His grandfather had taken a debt of 62 cents, and three generations and three slave masters later, the principal had not been paid off one bit. The family was illiterate and innumerate. This fellow, who I call Gonoo—he asked me to protect his identity—was still forced to work, held through fraud under threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence.
Since he was a child, he and his family and his children, along with the rest of the enslaved villagers, took huge rocks out of the earth. They pummeled those rocks into gravel for the subgrade of India’s infrastructure, which is the gleaming pride of the Indian elites.
They further pulverized that gravel into silica sand for glass. There’s only one way that you turn a profit off handmade sand, and that’s through slavery.
TM: Another method you describe: Someone shows up in a poverty-stricken village saying they need workers for the mines hundreds of miles away.
BS: It’s a massive problem in the north of Brazil. What’s tricky about this, in many cases these workers want to work. But they don’t want to be forced to work under threat of violence, beaten regularly, having the women in their lives raped as a means of humiliating them, and then not being paid anything.
TM: They are transported to the mines, and when they arrive, they have a debt for that transportation, which is greater than anything they will ever be able to repay.
BS: And if they try to leave, there are men with guns. That’s slavery. In the Western Hemisphere, child slavery, as we spoke of before, is most rampant in Haiti. According to UNICEF, there are 300,000 child slaves in Haiti.
TM: Does that mean in Haiti or originating in Haiti?
BS: That means within Haitian borders.
TM: So with all the poverty in Haiti, there are still people who can afford 300,000 slaves?
BS: Well if they’re paying $50 ...
I went back last summer with Dan Harris of ABC Nightline. He was pretty incredulous of my claim. In fact, it ended up taking him 10 hours from ABC’s offices in Manhattan, but by the end of those 10 hours, he’d negotiated with not one, but three traffickers who’d offered him three separate girls.
As he put it, the remarkable thing is not that you can get a child for $50, but that you can get a child for free. When you go up into these villages, you see such desperation on the parts of the parents.
I want to make clear, I never paid for human life; I never would pay for human life. I talked to too many individuals who run trafficking shelters and help slaves become survivors. They implored me, "Do not pay for human life. You will be giving rise to a trade in human misery, and as a journalist, you’ll be projecting to the world that this is the way that you own the problem." If you were to buy all 300,000 child slaves in Haiti, next year, you’d have 600,000.
TM: If you were to buy the 300,000 slaves in Haiti in one fell swoop, you would be telling traders, "Hey, business is good," and so they’d grab more slaves.
BS: You’re talking about introducing hard currency into a transaction that in many cases hasn’t involved hard currency in the past. You’re massively incentivizing a trade in human lives.
TM: These are those who practice what they call redemptions, buying slaves their freedom. Who’s doing it, and what’s your analysis of it?
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