In our present century, there are more than 27 million people that survive under authentic slavery conditions. In a world that is interrelated and that considers itself to be responsible of everything that is done or that doesn’t take place in our planet, in the era of digital communications, no person is free anymore, parodying Hegel. But some people are infinitely less free than others.
More people live under inhuman conditions than in other stage of history. Some studies by the European Union have pointed to a number as high as 200 million people who live under forced servitude.
There are situations of submission in the form of employment and of prostitution, servitude in exchange for debt and child labor that affects about 300 million people, according to UNICEF.
Modern day slaves can be immigrants who work from dusk till dawn in intensive agricultural nurseries of Europe, construction workers paid by the piece and without recognized rights, just like carpet weavers or sporting denim knitters in dirty places of Asia for large multinationals. Sometimes, the slaves of our days suffer from more brutal treatment in more stressful atmospheres than in those of the past.
The Convention against Slavery of 1926, promoted by the League of Nations, defined slavery as the “status or condition of one person over whom all or some of the powers associated with the right to property are exercised. The field of slavery in history was being amplified, recognizing other similar forms.
Different mechanisms of submission to servitude are distinguished in different modern uniforms. One of them is labor slavery, in which the children were forced to work in the textile industry in India, in mines of Congo or in oil production in the Philippines, or women in the Vietnam’s factories, Birmanian immigrants in Thailand and Haitians forced to chop sugar cane in Dominican Republic, or slaves in banana plantations in Honduras and people who were sub-hired by shoe and sportswear factories in Cambodia.
Sexual slavery is another form of submission of human beings. To prostitution networks and of sexual exploitation that affect women, children and immigrants, we must add some forms of forced marriage that involves women’s slavery.
Although the Supplementary Slavery Convention (1956) prohibits “any practice or any institution in which a woman, without the right to quit, is promised or given away to marriage in exchange for an economic compensation or its kind to her family, tutors or any other person, or in a situation where the husband, his family or his clan have the right to transfer her to other person in exchange for a compensation,” marriage agreements with economic benefit still exist.
There are rural zones where, in the face of the local government’s indifference, family debts are paid with the giveaway of children as “servants for life.” It is well known that in countries that receive large immigrant populations, which are essential to maintain the level of life in European societies, the terrible debt acquirement of those who arrive illegally and fall into the hands of criminal mafias that exploit them under threats of denouncing them or of revenge against their families.
In the same way as we consider other forms of slavery, we consider what happens to the children who are enlisted by the force by the armies of Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, Zaire or Sierra Leone. The thousands of Latin American adults forced to enlist themselves in regular armies, guerrillas or paramilitary groups are well known.
The actual root of the problem lies on the absolute poverty of zones of the world that become larger each day and in the systematic exploitation without entrails over the weakest by multinationals that don’t respect any border and don’t recognize any law nor any other order than economic benefit practice.
Martin Luther King wrote, “When we reflect on our 20th Century, we will not consider the crimes of the wicked as the gravest, but rather the scandalous silence of the good people.”
That is why it is precise to denounce the atmosphere that generates this new form of slavery: present day slaves are the product of war, of criminal weapon business and of drug traffic, just like of the insane competitiveness of the markets. It is the result of an ultraliberalism that confuses value with price and that considers human beings as merchandise and the riches of the Earth as exploitable resources. In the face of this explosive situation, new imperialisms demonize every protest and uprising as satanic terrorists. Today’s excluded will rise and take by force what they are denied in justice.
Carlos Gª Fajardo
Translated by Carlos Miguélez
This article was published in the Center of Collaborations for Solidarity (CCS) on 04/18/2005