More slaves today than at any point in history

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Mar 28 2008

According to an article in the LA Times concerning modern slavery:

One hot june day in 2006, I saw what slavery really meant. In a rundown mansion in a slum of Bucharest, Romania, a pimp offered to sell me a young woman he described as "a blond." She had bleached hair, hastily applied makeup, and she apparently suffered from Down syndrome. On her right arm were at least 10 angry, fresh slashes where, I can only assume, she had attempted suicide. The pimp claimed that he made 200 euros per night renting her out to local clients. He offered to sell her outright to me in exchange for a used car.

It wasn't the first time I had encountered a slave in bondage. It wasn't even the first time I had been offered a slave for sale. Over five years on five continents, I had infiltrated trafficking networks and witnessed other negotiations to buy and sell human beings. Worldwide, I'd met more than 100 current and former slaves.

Many people are surprised to learn that there are still slaves. Many imagined that slavery died along with the 360,000 Union soldiers whose blood fertilized the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. Many thought that slavery was brought to an end around the world when most countries outlawed it in the 19th century.

But, in fact, there are more slaves today than at any point in history. Although a precise census is impossible, as most masters keep their slaves hidden, baseline estimates from United Nations and other international researchers range from 12 million to 27 million slaves worldwide. The U.S. State Department estimates that from 600,000 to 800,000 people -- primarily women and children -- are trafficked across national borders each year, and that doesn't count the millions of slaves who are held in bondage within their own countries.

Let me be clear: By "slaves" I mean, very simply, those who are forced to work, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence. That is the nice, neat, horrible definition I have used since I began studying the subject in 2001. It was brought home to me more vividly than ever by the tears of that young woman in Bucharest.

Read the full article here.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East