NationalGeographic.com [an error occurred while processing this directive]


 

21st-Century Slaves



<< Back to Feature Page




Who is Kevin Bales?
One of the world's leading experts on modern-day slavery, Kevin Bales is director of Free the Slaves, a nonprofit organization incorporated in 2000 with the primary objective of ending slavery worldwide. The Oklahoma native is a professor of sociology at London's University of Surrey Roehampton and serves as a consultant to the United Nations on slavery and trafficking. His internationally recognized works include Disposable People: New Slavery in a Global Economy. Published in ten languages, it has become a catalyst for the growing United States movement against slavery.






Online Extra




21st-Century Slaves Online Extra Photograph by Jodi Cobb
Boys peer through a carpet loom in India. There are more than 300,000 Indian children working in the carpet industry—most of them slaves.


How We Can End Slavery

By Kevin Bales

With 27 million people in slavery today, how can we ever hope to eradicate this horror? In fact, this generation, after 5,000 years of human slavery, can bring it to an end.

The anti-slavery movement was the world's first human-rights campaign. Growing not from politicians, but from everyday people, it swept away legal slavery. In the early 20th century courageous campaigners, fighting both financial interests and governments, brought an end to the continuing slavery in places like the Congo.

Those heroes won great battles for us. Today we do not have to win the legal argument—laws against slavery exist in every country. In the past many national economies were based on the profits of slavery, but now we do not have to win an economic argument. If all slavery stopped today, no industry or country would suffer economically; Only the criminals who profit from slavery would be disadvantaged. And today we do not have to win the moral argument; almost everyone in the world agrees that slavery is wrong.

To bring people to freedom and to end slavery, three things have to happen:

1. Public awareness has to grow, and there has to be public agreement that it is time to end slavery once and for all. This public commitment must be communicated to  politicians.

2. Money needs to be spent to eradicate slavery, but not nearly as much as you might think. For the price of a bomber or a battleship, the amount of slavery in the world could be dramatically reduced.

3. Governments must enforce their own anti-slavery laws. To make this happen every country has to understand that they must take action or face serious pressure. We all know about the United Nations weapons inspectors, who enforce the Conventions against Weapons of Mass Destruction, but where are the United Nations Slavery Inspectors? When the same effort is put behind searching out and ending slavery, there will be rapid change.

While the 27 million people enslaved today are the largest number of slaves alive at any time in human history, they are also the smallest proportion of the world population to ever be held in slavery. No one wants to live in a world with slavery. Today the slaveholders are weaker than they have ever been, and there is universal agreement that slavery must end. In South Asia whole villages come to freedom when others help them form institutions such as small credit unions, inform them of their rights, and show them how to organize to fight for them. Slaves everywhere outnumber their masters. When we all stand with the slaves, their masters cannot keep them in bondage. It is true that criminal mafias control some of the traffic in people, and they will be difficult to root out. But slavery will end if corruption is tackled, victims are treated with respect, and those of us who are free decide to support all those who help others to freedom.

Imagine that after 5,000 years of slavery we commit ourselves to achieving its eradication in our lifetimes.

Imagine that your generation will be the one that is looked back on in history as the generation that ended slavery.

Imagine that your children and your grandchildren will grow up in a world where slavery is just seen as an ugly blot on our history.

Imagine a world where every person is born in freedom and lives in liberty.

All this is possible, just follow these three steps:

1. Learn! Become aware of how slavery touches your life. For more information, visit www.freetheslaves.net, and read "Disposable People." Then download our Teaching Pack.

2. Join! Work with others who want to live in a world without slavery. Free the Slaves is one American organization fighting slavery worldwide.

3.  Act! Bring your strength and imagination to ending slavery.

Top



E-mail this page to a friend.



© 2003 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy       Advertising Opportunities       Masthead

National Geographic Magazine Home Contact Us Forums Shop Subscribe