Slavery may have been abolished a century and a half back, an achievement for the abolitionist movement indeed, the greatest trophy and an unparalleled step forward for human rights. However, it is no secret that slavery still persists, it is only a matter of how you define the said term. Enslavement is no longer legal ownership but rather illegal control, institutional slavery in other words. Modern slavery is a multibillion-dollar industry as just the forced labour aspect generates 150 billion USD every year. Kevin Bales said in a TED Talk, “This is an economic crime. People do not enslave people to be mean to them; they do it to make a profit.”
Contemporary slavery, modern-day slavery, neo-slavery or human trafficking all terminologies synonymous to one another are slavery at their core and an infliction for millions of people all over the world. The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines slavery as “All work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.” According to this definition, ILO estimates that over 40 million people today are trapped in exploitative circumstances of this nature, not including 152 million in child labour around the world.
The measure of the global extent of this issue can be best represented through statistics. ILO’s report ‘Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage’ estimates that there were 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every thousand people in the world in 2016. Moreover, one in four victims of modern slavery were children, and women and girls, disproportionately affected by modern slavery, accounted for 71% of the victims.
As these figures sink in, one must speculate how the system allowed such treachery to prevail and persevere. Three interlinked factors consequentially allow slavery to exist in the 21st-century: population explosion, extreme poverty and vulnerability, and corruption and lack of rule of law. These factors are not causal, rather they are contributing facets that allow slavery to continue.
From 1950 to 2020, the world population increased from 2.5 billion to 7.8 billion. This projection in the global population does not constitute a cause of slavery but it provides a large pool of labour that can be transformed into forced laborers as the average price of human beings decrease. Being numerous does not make you a slave, but the increased vulnerability of people in developing countries becomes another supporting factor for slavery. This vulnerability may be a product of civil unrest, ethnic conflicts, kleptocratic government, economy etc. but that too does not mean you become a slave. The lack of opportunity, which entails destitution and poverty, does not make you a slave. Add in the absence of the rule of law and corruption, then you can practice violence without impunity which allows the human traffickers to harvest the numerous vulnerable to do demeaning and dangerous jobs, involuntarily.
The people who come into slavery are asked the question, “Do you want a JOB?” Most people who are asked this question are sceptic of course but most of these people also do not have an option but to accept. Those riddled by poverty accept because they know their children are starving, they need medicine, they need the money and they know they have to do whatever it takes. They then find themselves in threatening and mortifying circumstances, doing dangerous jobs. They do it, but when they try to leave the hammer of violence is drop and the vicious nature of the circumstances they are trapped in is unveiled. They are thus enslaved.
In an effort to alleviate themselves from poverty, they dig an even deeper hole of despair for themselves. The sad truth of the matter is that this issue is not realized as a crisis, the masses do not even know that even in today’s progressive global climate such a violation of human rights is a reality.
https://www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/modern-slavery/#:~:text=Modern%20slavery%20is%20the%20severe,as%20cooks%2C%20cleaners%20or%20nannies. “What is modern slavery?” www.antislavery.org
https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery” www.ilo.org
https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/definition/lang–en/index.htm “What is forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking?” www.ilo.org
https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_574717/lang–en/index.htm “40 million in modern slavery and 152 million in child labour around the world” www.ilo.org