Unique ExperienceI am Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery and co-author of the Global Slavery Index, here to talk about ending slavery. AMA!
May 8th 2017 by KevinBales • 48 Questions • 5631 Points
Hi Reddit! I’m Kevin Bales @kevin_bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, co-author of the Global Slavery Index, and co-founder of Free the Slaves. In 1999 I published the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.
I am here to talk to you about ending modern slavery and to promote two related educational projects I am running to learn more about global abolition and how to get involved in the campaign. One of them is a free massive open online course that starts today called Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition. The other is a fully-accredited, one year full-time, distance learning Master of Arts entitled Slavery and Liberation, which begins in September this year.
Let’s do this: Proof: (http://imgur.com/7xybC80)
Edit: Thanks for all the questions so far. I am flying to London now. Will be back around 9pm BST/4pm EST to answer some more so keep them coming!
EDIT _ It's now 10pm where I live, so I will come back and answer more questions in the morning, I need some supper! Many thanks - Kevin
Kevin, have you studied the Slave Labor being used to construct the Qatar 2022 World Cup Facilities'? If so, what do you think the public can do about the situation to make changes and pressure sponsors of the event and the people in involved with the event?
I haven't worked in this problem in Qatar in any deep way (Qatar won't let the Global Slavery Index team in!), but it's hard not to know about it because some great research has been done. It's surprising to me that there are any sponsors left and anyone willing to buy a ticket given that this is blatant exploitation, horrific working conditions, and many cases of slavery as well.
Kevin, are items labeled "fair trade" made certain they are not made from slave labor?
For the most part yes. This is because the fairtrade cooperatives that supply fairtrade goods don't have slavery, they're mostly farmers cooperatives. I trust fairtrade to mean slave-free.
What kinds of initiatives, in your experience, work best to free people from slavery? Or does it depend on where the slavery is happening?
It certainly does depend on where it is happening and what type of slavery is occurring, but we know that community based programs are very powerful for many types of slavery. When a community decides together that they will throw off slavery, it is pretty much unstoppable, and those who liberate themselves (with some support usually) often go on to free others. There's some good descriptions of different types of programs at the Freedom Fund http://freedomfund.org/about/what-we-do/
Do you think that legalizing and regulating prostitution affects the amount of commercial sex slavery?
Yes, I think that legalizing prostitution INCREASES enslavement into commercial sexual exploitation - the research I've seen seems to say that. It seems to me that a better model is to make buying sex illegal and selling it legal - as they do in Sweden - but even that seems not good enough in terms of lessening the damage that commercial sexual exploitation does to people.
Thank you for all your work. Which area of the world are more prone to slavery? What are the major obstacles in removing this problem from the society?
Have a look at the world map in the Global Slavery Index https://www.globalslaveryindex.org and you can see the countries with the highest density of slavery. You'll note that these are countries with many similar problems: ongoing or recent conflicts; serious environmental damage; high levels of corruption; low levels of human and economic development. All of these are big obstacles, but the good news is that we know you don't have to solve them completely to get people out of slavery - and in fact, if you get people out of slavery it helps to solve these problems.
Are there any current efforts to make it more transparent to consumers whether or not slavery was involved in the supply gain for a given product/company? I would definitely pay attention to a "slave-free" designation or rating system when making purchases. Are any organizations trying to fill this information gap?
Yes, and I really like the organisation Made in A Free World - they are doing a good job of trying to crack this. But supply chains are long, complex, changeable, and often hidden from view, so it is a moving target which means having a reliable 'slave-free' label would be hard to achieve for all products. Meanwhile, a lot of good and usually small companies are working hard to make sure their supply chains are clean. I recently found some jeans that were labelled 'slavery free' - I did some research on the company and then bought four pairs.
What is the best way to see if slavery is involved in a supply chain and where are we most likely to see it?
The short answer is that it is pretty difficult to see if slavery is in a supply chain, the average consumer has to rely on indicators like Fair Trade and groups that inspect and review (like Walk Free and Freedom United). These days if you live in California or the UK you can see what big companies have posted in their required 'slavery in supply chains' reports. I wish I had an easy answer! My recent book Blood and Earth explains a lot about how slavery works in the supply chain of a number of the things we buy - AND how it is also a major driver of climate change.
Hello and thank you for everything you do! I have to admit I wasn't aware how large an issue slavery in the modern day is. What would you say is the most shocking information you know about modern slavery that most people would not believe?
I think the most shocking is something that is shocking in a good way: yes, 46 million in slavery in the world, and yes, $150 billion in criminal profits from slavery BUT this is the smallest percentage of the global population to EVER be in slavery, and that $150 billion is the tiniest fraction of the global economy to ever come from slavery. The shocker is that slavery is standing on the edge of its own extinction and if we wake up a little we can push it over the edge. And, OK, slavery may never disappear completely, some people being as they are, but my aim is to see it become as rare as cannibalism.
Kevin, what percentage of slavery is hard labor and what percentage is sex work slavery?
We don't know the precise percentages, but it's clear that the majority of people in slavery are in areas like hereditary collateral debt bondage slavery in fields like agriculture or mining. If I had to GUESS, and note I am guessing, cause we don't have hard figures - I would say 70% labour and 30% commercial sexual exploitation. BUT please note that virtually ALL women in slavery get sexually assaulted - farm, factory, mine, domestic service. There are few things that are completely true in human existence, but women in slavery are raped, and that means that the division between 'sex' and 'work' slavery is pretty muddy.
Thank you for all you do! I know this is a trite, cliche, and nebulous question; BUT......what can I, Maturin's Girth do to help end Alavert. I already don't own any slaves, nor are there any obvious ones around me that I could fight to emancipate.
Serious question though-how can I help? I like in Chicago, Illinois, USA. I'm 34, I don't have any money but I have a car, righteous indignation,, and the will. I have a little time but I work a lot just to maintain a roof over my head and food in my belly. I hope that helps narrow the question.
Hi Maturin's Girth - there are a few things you can do, and I completely get it that you are someone who works for a living and wants to do the right thing - exactly like most of us! For starters you can watch what you buy, look for those slave-free products. It's not always easy cause many companies don't have a clue if they have slavery in their supply chain. You can also look in Chicago for some of the great groups there that work on the issue, some work with survivors, others work to get the state laws improved. And, of course, just reading and learning about modern slavery means you can tell others about it. Share that indignation!
Kevin, why doesn't the media do more investigation pieces on modern slavery? Is it non profitable for them as talking about scandals from politicians or is it just something producers/publisher/editors are oblivious to?
To me it seems as if they are doing them all the time - I guess I remember when it was very rare to see anything in the media. But I think one reason there aren't more is because it can be a tough (and expensive) story to get - you're dealing with criminal after all.
Kevin, what are the most common types of ways people use slaves and what are the most common types of ways people become slaves?
Very common are mining and agriculture and domestic service and forced commercial sexual exploitation - but here's the thing criminal slaveholders are very good at adapting and thinking up new way to use enslaved people - so almost any way you can think of, and then some.
Kevin, what type of jobs would one get into with a MA in Slavery and Abolition do for a career?
Good question! And of course, it's a brand new degree, so we'll be finding out - BUT I know there are NGOs and other agencies that would be interested in someone with special training in this area. You could use it into teaching, and you could carry on and do a PhD in human rights or another related space. Companies that are worried about supply chains could be interested.
Kevin, are there certain charities that Redditors can donate their time and money to help make a difference in stopping slavery?
These are groups I support, ones that I know are efficient and effective: Free the Slaves; Voices for Freedom (http://voices4freedom.org); AntiSlavery International; Polaris.
Why don't people give a fuck?
A few years ago I helped start the fight against slavery in Russia, bringing the issue to the attention of the public. My friends have since freed hundreds of slaves, we helped indirectly to free thousands.
Still, when I sometimes mention that on various occassions, people don't seem to give a fuck or they are simply too uncomfortable.
Why would that be? :-) I am aware of the obvious explanations, but really, why? What can we do about it?
It IS often hard to get the message across, I know this so well. But remember that for many people the idea that there is "still" slavery seems impossible, and when they face it they find it very uncomfortable to consider, much less confront. Which is why it is really important to spread the word, but in a way that opens up possibilities for positive action. What you've been doing is important, and all newish issues take a while to catch on, but 20 years from now people will say things like 'we always knew we could fight this!'. It is big, it is complex, it will take years, but the more people who wake up to it and do their little bit, and the more scholars that help us to get to grips with how best to end it, and the more politicians who live up to their promises, well... history takes a while and ending slavery is definitely historic!
Do you have any data on the gender break down of slaves?
No precise information on this, but having worked on slavery all over the world I would say slavery is an equal opportunity exploiter - about equal overall - more women enslaved in the rich countries, more men in other countries.
Is anything going to be done with Libya? Hillary and Obama left that place in shambles after Gaddafi didn't want to play ball and now what once was one of the most progressive African countries is now openly slave trading. It's saturated with human and sex trafficking and it seems like nobody cares at all.
I agree, the international community basically went thinking they were heroes and screwed it all up and then left. I have to admit it is a tough and baffling situation now that government is collapsed and armed groups are dividing up control. Will it be the next Eastern Congo? If so, it would likely need UN Peacekeepers, but I can't see international support for that.
The American for profit prisons, aint they cutting it prety close?
Where is the border of exactly?
Hi GISP - this is a great question. Yes, the for-profit prisons are very much moving into the zone of State Sponsored Slavery - a distinct type that often includes enslaved prison populations - and used extensively in China. The key here is that when someone ends up in prison without Due Process, then is economically exploited, we're crossing that border (as you say). Now that a very large number of US people are put into prison through 'plea bargain' deals - basically the threat of a very long sentence or just a long one if they don't go to trial, then large numbers are in prison who have never been to trial. It is very much like the enslavement of African-Americans after the Civil War - see Blackmon's book Slavery by Another Name.
Hi Mr. Bales. Do you think there's anything to be said about about incarcerated Americans, who are allowed to be exploited for free labor within the prison industrial complex according to the 13th amendment? Is this phenomena outside of your organization's scope of practice, why or why not, and how do you feel about it?
To clarify, this is in NO way an indirect critique of the GSI or your efforts; I am deeply thankful for everything you do and the awareness you raise.I personally view labor generated through the 13th amendment exception as an example of contemporary slave labor; though their living conditions and treatments do not parallel the severity of other examples such as human sex trafficking, both practices are undoubtedly dehumanizing. It's simply that when I saw the GSI figures on the USA, I could immediately see that these figures could not possibly include incarcerated Americans. I was interested about your opinion.
A lot of people have been asking the same question - see below, and I agree with you, I think this is a very disturbing shift and one that takes the USA into the same zone as China and Burma and Uzbekistan in terms of state-sponsored slavery. That said, it IS in the scope of our work, but isn't an area that I've been able to dig into deeply. Your question is spot-on - and we need to develop clear criteria for judging when a prison has crossed the line.
In discussion about the history of slavery in the US it is often pointed out that many economists contend that slavery is economically a poor model even when the moral problems are ignored. Do you think this is true? If so, why does slavery persist?
In the 1970/80s there was a big debate about the profitability of slavery in the US, and the upshot seemed to be that it was relatively profitable. Of course, that is just one type of slavery in one place at one point in history - if you look across the last 5000 years of history you'll see that it was sometimes profitable and sometimes less so. BUT since the population explosion that began in the 20th century, there has been a larger and larger number of potentially enslavable people in the developing world. This means that there is a glut on the market and the cost of acquiring a slave is much lower than at almost any time in history. That low cost means profits are now much higher in slavery than before - though the 'business' is riskier since it is illegal. So it persists, in part, because it can be very profitable for criminals. There's more about the cost and profits of slavery in my book Disposable People.
Maybe unrelated to contemporary slavery, but do you ever get annoyed that most people knows about black slavery and slavery of jews during NAZI Germany, but those same people failt to acknowledge that other races such as white, arabs, muslims, or pretty much any other race have been slaves at one point in history?
No that doesn't annoy me. People know recent history much better than distant history, and people know histories that touch on their own families better than people know histories of people far away. I don't expect everyone to know Vikings were BIG slaveholders, or that Rome ran on slaves the way the US runs on oil - but I do hope people will learn about slavery in their own day and their own backyard.
What are your thoughts on the history of American slavery and how it has now translated to continually* oppressing the black community and creating the industry of profitable private prisons?
You might look down the AMA, we talked about this earlier. In a nutshell the US prison system is beginning to resemble the Chinese system of state sponsored enslavement into prison factories.
Kevin, is a scenario like from the movie "Taken" where tourists in Europe are kidnapped and made sex slaves what really happens?
No, not really. I suppose that may happen rarely, but it would be the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction of any slavery - now ... if we COULD just make sure that every person in slavery has a father who is a rogue CIA agent with tons of money and gadgets then maybe we could stop slavery next week (kidding!).
What about slavery right here in the united states, in the form of for profit incarceration for non violent offenses? This needs to end.
See above and below - but note there's a lot of other slavery in the USA, agriculture, forced commercial sexual exploitation, domestics who are enslaved, and on and on. Check the book The Slave Next Door: Slavery and Trafficking in America Today.
How do you expect to end slavery? No civilization ever completely got rid of it. I just think Slavery is a very vague topic
You're right only a handful of countries have ever come close to ending slavery in their borders, and some did succeed for a time. But there is nothing "vague" about slavery - it is a real thing, and people whoa re in slavery have no doubt about its forceful reality. Getting rid of it is easier now than before in history because it is such a very small part of the global population and global economy. Have a look at my book Ending Slavery for a more precise plan for eradication.
Thanks for doing the AMA. This is the first time I have heard of your organization and I have some questions regarding the methodology of your index. In looking through the Global Slavery Index website I am not able to find a definition of what constitutes "modern slavery," which is the term generally used on the site. The International Labor Organization, in their 2012 report estimated 21 million people as victims of "forced labour." I assume "modern slavery" is a broader term than "forced labour" and I was hoping you could expand on how they differ. Additionally, do you worry at all that the "modern slavery" conception may be so broad that it might improperly stigmatize countries attempting to address the problem, or overwhelm potential donors?
On the website's "methodology" section the following is written as an answer to how the index measured "prevalence":
Measuring the number of people in modern slavery is a difficult undertaking due to the hidden nature of this crime and low levels of victim identification. Since 2014, we have conducted 25 surveys with Gallup Inc. through their World Poll, interviewing more than 28,000 respondents in 52 languages. This year we also conducted state-level surveys in India. When these are included, we have interviewed more than 42,000 respondents in 53 different languages. The prevalence estimates in the Index are based on data from these surveys, the results of which have been extrapolated to countries with an equivalent risk profile.
While the focus of this seems to be on languages, I am curious as to how many different countries you were able to get data from. What type of extrapolations, assumptions, and estimates are made in claiming that 167 countries have been measured? Do you have any concerns regarding bias in the estimates?
I have no doubt that measuring something like slavery is an extremely difficult task and I ask these questions from a position of methodological interest, as opposed to just blanket criticism. Thanks for reading this questions and possibly answering it.
Very happy to answer it - these are good questions. There are longer answers, so let me first point to the more detailed Methods paper available on the Global Slavery Index website (along with the data - we believe strongly in data transparency and replication!). Here are some citations that will give you more depth and answer some of your questions:
“Modern Slavery: A global reckoning” Significance (journal of the Royal Statistical Society), (October, 2015) with Jacqui Joudo Larsen Monti Datta and Kevin Bales.
“Modern Slavery in the UK: How many victims?” Significance (journal of the Royal Statistical Society), (June, 2015) Kevin Bales, Olivia Hesketh and Bernard Silverman.
“Slavery in Europe: Part 2, Testing a Predictive Model,” Human Rights Quarterly, 36.2 (May 2014), with Monti Narayan Datta and Kevin Bales.
“Slavery in Europe: Part 1, Estimating the Dark Figure,” Human Rights Quarterly, 35.3 (Nov. 2013), Kevin Bales & Monti Narayan Datta.
When you say "slavery" I picture people working in some crop or a stone or salt mine or something. Do you equate slavery with "trafficking"? I.e. Girl answers ad for restaurant worker far away, ends up being a prostitution gig? Or is it literal "Hebrews in Egypt" kind of stuff?
It's all of the above. There are still people being enslaved in crops and mines, and trafficking (which is a mechanism or conduit by which someone is taken into slavery) is also part of the picture - including trafficking and enslavement into forced commercial sexual exploitation.
There's not really anything like indentured servitude anymore. An indenture was a contract that said 'I will give you control over me and my work for the next X years, in exchange for food and lodging and maybe travel' (that's how my ancestors came to America back before the revolution). The closest thing today is signing a contract to join the military - you lock down for a period of time and they provide sustenance. Now, it IS true that in the past (or today) this kind of servitude agreement can be turned into slavery through trickery or force.
Kevin, what is it like being a professor of modern slavery at Nottingham University? How did you get the job there and did you create the field of study there?
I love it! I had a similar job at another university in the past, and moved to Nottingham in order to set up our new MA in Slavery and Liberation. I can't take credit for setting up the field of study, there are a lot of great scholars trying to crack the touch questions of how we best address slavery.
Thanks for doing this. I have a few questions:
1) I did a lot of research into data collection on Human Trafficking when writing a paper for my Grad program. One of the common themes I noticed was that the systematic gathering of data to direct anti-trafficking policy was non-existent, and wasn't even a priority.
In your view, what have national and international anti-trafficking responses been so slow to develop a standardized data collection method to help inform effective strategies?
2) The more I research the issue, the more it seems that ending sex trafficking will involve going after the Johns, ruthlessly and relentlessly. Hitting the demand for the service should in theory drive down the profitability of the crime.
However, ending labour trafficking appears to be more convoluted. In your view, what steps would be needed to end this form of human trafficking?
Your question 1.: it's been very hard to do good quantitative research on slavery until recently and that created a vicious circle of no data leading to governments not wanting to do anything, leading to no resources to do the research. But that is changing dramatically now. Standardised methods are now being agreed on, and put to use - though not in the USA. 2. I think you have to bust Johns, but more effective would be solid education for all 13 year olds in what sexual exploitation (of all sorts) is about and why it damages everyone. We need a culture change.
Mr. Bales do you know a way for individuals to get involved without dipping into their wallets? I spent five years in the Navy, from personal experience I know I ran into slaves while abroad. Unfortunately, friends and myself might have participated in exploitation of some enslaved women. This was the early 90s and my early 20s, we knew nothing about human trafficking and as I become more educated the more terrible I feel. Thank you for ant advice.
Hi, I appreciate your honesty! (And we all do things in our 20s we wish we hadn't!) But stop feeling terrible and take some action - read and watch and study so you know more about the issue and can help others to know about it. I don't know where you live, but there could be group working on trafficking/slavery near you. Volunteer a little, and send those emails to politicians (based on your new knowledge from studying) asking why they are doing more. Good luck!
I've read about the debt-slavery that takes place on tea plantations in Assam, India. Does this happen in other countries like China? Also, are there other crops that are grown using the same sort of debt-slave plantation company story type of life? Is is fair to call this slavery? Does it need to be qualified as debt-slavery? Thanks!
Yes, this is slavery - and debt-slavery because the debt is the mechanism or conduit used to take people into slavery - but the debt is false, a lie, just a trick, and sometimes (and I've talked to a lot of people in this situation) the debt becomes hereditary and many generations people are still enslaved. It's not really the debt, it's just the debt is used to trick people into a place where violent total control can be exercised. And, yes, it's in a lot of other crops.