Today, 27-million men, women and children are held, sold and trafficked as slaves throughout the world. That’s more than double the 12.5-million Africans who were forced into slavery during the several centuries of the transatlantic slave trade.
It’s actually cheaper to own a slave today than it was in the mid-19th century. Academic and campaigner Kevin Bales says that, in Alabama in the United States, you would have paid about $1 200 for a slave, which in today’s money is about $40 000 to $50 000.
“That price has just fallen and fallen and fallen,” he says. “Today the average price around the planet for a slave is about $90.”
This is a trade worth $32-billion a year, a trade that refuses to die and remains the most prolific evil in the world today.
In Pakistan, I saw three generations from one family — a grandfather, his son and his son’s wife, and their children — being forced to work as enslaved labour in a field ankle-deep in mud from which they were making bricks for kilns. The illiterate son had signed a loan agreement he couldn’t read. The terms meant that he could effectively never pay it off and so his entire family was forced to work, including his children. He became so desperate to pay off the debt that he sold one of his kidneys to his master’s brother, who was sick at the time. But even that wasn’t enough.
As he spoke to me, his owner stood no more than 10m away.
Slavery is illegal in every country and we have a widely accepted definition of what it means to be a slave in the 21st century — it means being forced to work under threat of force, of not benefiting from the work that you do, and not being able to leave this condition of your own free will. The idea of owning another human being like this cuts to the very essence of our collective humanity, and not just to the values that define us as individuals but also as societies. It also undermines the idea of human progress — that our age is wiser, more advanced and developed than previous ages.
No country is immune from modern slavery, as we’ve seen in the United Kingdom, where 24 alleged slaves were discovered early last month, living in “filthy, cramped conditions” in Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire…