Using Freedom to End Slavery
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.