Feature photo by tim.matsui. Photo by camera_rwanda


2008 witnesses the 200th anniversary
of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in America. Amidst the celebrations, what many people fail to realize is that slavery persists today in the modern world on an enormous scale.

In spite of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN in 1948 stating that “slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms,” the figures accompanying the modern slave trade seem inconceivable in a global society that prides itself upon its modern-day values and emphasis on human rights.

1. There are more people in slavery now than at any other time in human history.

According to research carried out by the organization Free the Slaves, more people are enslaved worldwide than ever before.

In its 400 years, the transatlantic slave trade is estimated to have shipped up to 12 million Africans to various colonies in the West. Free the Slaves estimates that the number of people in slavery today is at least 27 million.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center suggests that three out of four slavery victims are women and that half of all modern-day slaves are children. ‘Countless other’ people are in other forms of servitude which are not legally classified as slavery, according to the Anti-Slavery Society, described ambiguously by some as ‘unfree labour’.

2. The value of slaves has decreased.

A slave in 1850 in American South cost the equivalent of approximately $40,000. According to figures published by FST, the cost of a slave today averages around $90, depending on the work they are forced to carry out.

Photo by saibotregeel

A young adult male laborer in Mali might only fetch $40, whereas an HIV-free female might attract a price of up to $1000.

Expert Kevin Bales says that because modern slavery is so cheap, it is worse than that of the Atlantic slave trade.

People have become disposable and their living conditions are worse than ever before as a result of their value.

3. Slavery still exists in the US.

Estimates by the US State Department suggest up to 17,500 slaves are brought into the US every year, with 50,000 of those working as prostitutes, farm workers or domestic servants.

According to the CIA, more than 1,000,000 people are enslaved in the US today. Thousands of cases go undetected each year and many are difficult to take to court as it can be difficult to prove force or legal coercion.

4.Slavery is hidden behind many other names, thus disguising it from society.

These names are chattel slavery (the traditional meaning of slavery), bonded labor, trafficking, forced labor, and forced marriage, amongst others.

Photo by saibotregeel

5. The least known method of slavery is the most widely used.

Bonded Labor occurs when labor is demanded in order to repay a debt or loan and the cyclical nature of debt and work can enslave the person for the rest of their life. Some conditions are so controlled that slaves are surrounded by armed guards while they work, many of whom are slaves themselves. This has been found in Brazil. It is estimated that there are 20 million bonded labourers in the world.

6. Human trafficking has recently been described as “the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.”

This shocking claim was made by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. The UN estimates trafficked human cargo generates around $7 billion dollars a year.

Photo by gigawebs

7. To buy all bonded laborers out of slavery could cost as little as $40 per family.

The $40 figure was provided by the Center for Global Education, New York. Kevin Bales compares the total cost of ending all slavery with one’s week’s cost of the war on Iraq.

8. Free the Slaves believe it is possible to end all slavery within 25 years.

Ending slavery won’t be easy, but humanity is up to the challenge.

9. Many slave-produced goods might reach your home without you realizing their origin.

Industries where slave labor is often highly suspected include cocoa, cotton, steel, oriental rugs, diamonds and silk. Currently the only way to ensure the products you buy are slave-free is to buy Fair Trade certified goods.

Photo by saibotregeel

10. Your actions affect global slavery.

By buying fair trade, learning more about modern slavery, spreading the word, and joining a movement such as Free the Slaves, Anti-Slavery International, or the American Anti-slavery group, you as an individual can help abolish slavery completely.

With the number of slaves rising due to increasing economic returns, a universal lack of awareness and anti-slavery laws not being enforced, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center believes “efforts to combat slavery will have only limited effectiveness” unless something is done on a larger scale.

The bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade would be better commemorated by every individual taking meaningful action to help end the exploitation of human labor once and for all.

Community Connection

Slavery is a sober matter, an issue humanity must confront immediately. We need to communicate, to organize at grass-roots level.Please consider joining the global Matador community today. Share your voice.