Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Using Freedom to End Slavery

By Catherine Feerick
The author of Disposable People, Kevin Bales, spoke on Tuesday night at the Freedom Museum on the still-prevalent issue of global slavery. The widespread population boom of the past fifty years has left more people than ever vulnerable to losing their essential freedoms to the economic pursuits of others. When the rule of law breaks down, or when corruption permeates a society, the potential for slavery becomes a reality. The result of these forces is a worldwide estimate of 27 million slaves today.

Contrary to one’s expectations, Kevin Bales did not simply discuss the condition of slaves and the slave trade in well known regions like the Ivory Coast or parts of India. The slave trade, it seems, is alive even in the United States, despite the fact that involuntary servitude has been illegal since the passing of the 13th Amendment on January 31st, 1865. According to Kevin Bales, a conservative estimate of all slaves in the United States would be 40,000, with 17,000 smuggled through the borders each year. These modern-day slaves are promised ready work and a chance for social mobility; upon entering America they instead become sex workers or forced laborers in fields and sweatshops, unpaid and unable to leave.

Despite an ever-growing population and continued political instability in many parts of the world, the future is not entirely bleak. Agencies all over the world, such as Kevin Bales’ own agency, Free the Slaves, the London-based Anti-Slavery International, and the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, have stepped up to combat the modern slave trade and the conditions that allow for its existence. There is a nearly universal consensus throughout the globe that slavery is wrong, and although there are more slaves than ever before, their proportion within the overall population is the smallest in world history. Kevin Bales is optimistic that if governments and NGO’s worked together world slavery could cease to exist within several decades.

His latest book, Ending Slavery, details how this can be accomplished without damaging the global economy and with little investment. Brazil has provided a model for government tactics to fight the industry, and non-governmental groups have mustered their resources to bring about the end of slavery since the 1780’s.

Which brings me to the event that Bales touched upon within the first few minutes of his lecture, and that ties together not only his message of optimism but also how the story of the fight against global slavery coincides with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Slavery has been condemned throughout the ages as a crime against human freedom. The first group to decide to do something about it met in a London bookshop 220 years ago and finally resolved to put an end to the practice. Twelve individuals, nine of them Quakers and none of them socially formidable, went to great pains to promote awareness of the realities of forced servitude and achieved a great feat within about twenty years: the [Abolition of the] Slave Trade Act in England in 1807. If this isn’t a testament to the power of the freedom of assembly, I don’t know what is.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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