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There Are More Slaves Today Than at Any Time in History

Posted on Aug 25, 2009

By Terrence McNally, AlterNet

(Page 2)

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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Let me be clear, the end of slavery cannot wait for the end of poverty. Slavery in India is primarily generational debt bondage, people whose grandparents took a debt.

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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By Sepharad, August 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm Link to this comment

FYI—I don’t know how my “Inglourious Basterds” post (Aug. 26) segued into this thread. Sorry.

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By Blackspeare, August 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

Slavery, per se, has taken on a bad name.  Like compassionate conservatism, slavery can also be compassionate.  Slavery or rather indenture servitude should be given a second look.  It employs a group of people that would probably otherwise be extremely poor or homeless.  It allows those people that can adequately maintain such a staff a superior life.  Regulations can be instituted to prevent excesses and a win-win social program helps all can be instituted.

I’ve known people who have had indentured servants in Hong Kong and they rave about it.  It’s something they really miss in the USA.  Of course you can always hire maids, butlers, gardeners, etc, but it gets costly.  Indentured servants works for room and board and perhaps a small remuneration.

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By ChaoticGood, August 26, 2009 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment

Slavery is not going to be stopped by any means that we are willing to employ.

As long as human life is cheap, then the capitalist will try to make a profit. So we better ask the core question and that is “why is human life so cheap”

Answer: “Because there are so many of us.”

The 9000 pound gorilla in the room that nobody talks about is overpopulation.  Many human problems stem from that fact and we are unwilling to do anything about the problem.  Since we are unwilling to do anything about it, slavery will continue to flourish and grow.

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By stcfarms, August 26, 2009 at 9:22 am Link to this comment

The 250,000,000 slaves in America believe that they are free because they
have been programed not to think on a conceptual level. Civilized countries no
longer hunt down escaped slaves, they just transfer your debt to your new
owner. Freedom exists only on the frontier and the only frontier we can afford
is the ocean.

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By G.Anderson, August 26, 2009 at 7:50 am Link to this comment

It’s dificult to have freedom when your government, when your political parties, when your business insitutions believe in slavery.

Sure, they don’t call it slavery, but none the less it is slavery.

Millions live, and work in this country only to service debt that they can never hope to pay off.

When corporations, pay starvation wages to workers in 3rd world countries, we believe that to be immoral. But no such cry, of immorality is raised when corporations, and governments put American’s in debt slavery.

Credit card debt, student Loan Debt, and Child support, have created a a life time of debt slavery for American’s who work only to service their debts.

Child support, is a particulary nasty form of debt, that can put you in prison if you don’t pay. It has nothing to do with supporting children or keeping families out of poverty.  Because the state reaps billions in grants from the federal government for each dollar it collects from child support debtors it gets $50.  Child support actually creates poverty for children because it makes it impossible for non custodial parents to support themselves, and therby provide anything to their children.

After the corporations, intangle the American people in the Octopus of indebtedness, they package it and sell it as derivatives, making billions in profits from it. This would never be possible if government didn’t collude to make it impossible for the American people to get out of debt with fair bankrupcy laws.

So you see, the corporations believe in slavery, they believe in your slavery through debt. But don’t believe in for a second that your much better off because your not put you in leg irons.

Because they can put you in prison for contempt, if a judge orders you to pay and you don’t. The do it all the time for child support.

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By Sepharad, August 26, 2009 at 12:22 am Link to this comment

My husband and I watched “Inglourious Basterds” in a crowd, we noted, that had virtually no 20-somethings but mostly 40-somethings, so the reviewer who feared young people might be misled into assuming the inferno ending was historically accurate should relax. Haven’t enjoyed Tarentino’s work since “Pulp Fiction,” but “Inglourious Basterds” was a glorious cartoon. I don’t usually yell and cheer in movies but found myself doing so in this one—particularly the finale—and realized everyone around me was on their feet too, reacting in the same way.

As for the pleasant sophisticated SS officer, he was a strong reminder that evil can be disguised very cleverly. Think of a cobra in a dinner jacket. Culture and cleverness have nothing to do with soul or lack thereof.

A few nights later we watched “Flame and Citron”—a lengthy, excruciatingly detailed, slow-paced, low-key film of a couple of real-life Danish resistance fighters in WWII.

Each of these very different movies illuminated different aspects of the same war, powerfully and each true in its own way.

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By Sepharad, August 26, 2009 at 12:01 am Link to this comment

Barbarity dies hard, and slavery even harder. It’s mind-boggling to contemplate the difference between our lives and those lives blighted by slavery. Luck, good or bad, re our place of birth seems to rule, which would not be the case if we lived in a civilized world.

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