Slavery is never an easy problem to confront. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant to think about, a complex jumble of economics, politics, culture, and dozens of other areas. It is also very uncomfortable to address the possibility that many western clothes and electronics are made by slaves. However, poverty cannot end completely without ending slavery, and slavery will not end without an end to poverty. They feed off one another, so in order to end poverty, people must end modern slavery as well.
Society tends to imagine slavery as an issue of the past, a horrible chapter of human history that closed with the ban on the slave trade in Europe and the emancipation proclamation in America. But slavery has continued, and today, there are more people in slavery than at any other time in human history. Twenty-seven million people are enslaved today, 79 percent of whom are women and children. Almost every country in the world is somehow involved in human trafficking and slavery, either as a country of origin, transit or destination.
Many people who become trapped in slavery are the people who are already trapped in poverty. People in extreme poverty often try to find ways out of their desperate situation, and many are lured into the slave trade with promises of education, steady work and a better life. Instead, they are sold into slavery, often for as little as $90 a person, and imprisoned with literal chains or psychological pressure. They can then be forced into different types of slavery, including sexual exploitation and prostitution, forced labor, being compelled to act as beggars, benefit fraud and organ removal.
There are laws and international protocols against the slave trade, but they are poorly enforced and often ineffective. Victims fear coming forward to the authorities because of stigmas and the risk of imprisonment or deportation, even when they are the victims, not the criminals. The victims are often the ones to carry the social shame and punishments while the conviction rate for the slave traders remains low.
Ending modern day slavery feels like a difficult task. There is no open slave trade to end as there was in the 1700s and 1800s. The U.N. is one of the many organizations working to free people and give them a new life. Since the early ’90s, it has freed more than 90,000 people by working to prevent trafficking and protect victims. However, there are still millions more to free and prevent from becoming victims in the first place. The State Department has devised a strategy of prosecution, protection and prevention, the “3 P’s” that are aimed to end modern slavery.
One of the most important ways to end modern slavery is by preventing it. Both slavery and poverty are about “excluding people from economic and social justice,” so addressing economic and social issues deals with slavery and poverty together. By preventing individuals from falling into the desperate situations of poverty, they are less vulnerable to slave traffickers. Preventing social exclusion and discrimination is also an important step to stop slavery. Slowing the supply of victims by addressing these social and economic causes is a crucial step to ending modern slavery. Since many of these problems are also related to global poverty, this is a win-win situation.
Protection is another key way to end slavery. The movements of refugees and migrants have made many people more vulnerable, so safe migration and trade unions can help keep workers from becoming susceptible to the slave trade. Those already trapped in the slave trade should receive the proper treatment and legal action. This leads to the final P, which is prosecution of those running the slave trade. The low prosecution rates provide little deterrence for those involved with the slave trade, so cracking down on prosecution can act as a form of further deterrence.
Compared to the number of people in poverty, about 10 percent of the world’s population, the number of people in slavery is small. However, these 27 million people deserve far better treatment. Addressing the issues of poverty that cause the desperation can help end modern slavery, and ending modern slavery helps end poverty.
– Rachael Lind