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Slavery is alive now

Much of the United States suffers from the guilt and shame that’s built it up to where it is today. Many Americans suffer from the family scars that have been this country’s foundation on a moral tomb. Everyone seems to suffer from the hatred and we all mourn slavery.

We mourn when we read slave narratives and see a black and white obituary of the past laid out before our eyes. We mourn when we go to museums, read old novels by Mark Twain and hear stories of how Brown University was funded. We mourn.

But we’re mourning what is still alive.

Slavery is breathing just as heavily as it ever has. Arguably, it’s breathing harder than ever before.

According to Kevin Bales’ novel “Disposable People,” an estimated 27 million people are still slaves today. 27 million. That’s how many people in the U.S. use antidepressants. That’s Saudi Arabia’s entire population. That’s a crippling amount of people – especially for something that is illegal the world over.

Bales calls slavery “theft.” Theft of a life, theft of labor, theft of property, and theft of any lives – especially children – who depend on the person being enslaved. It’s theft of identity. It’s controlling a person by way of violence and economic exploitation. It’s paying a person nothing for their work.

It’s life choking oppression – and it’s not all about race anymore. This colorblind “new slavery” strand is more cancerous than ever before. In the past 50 years, it’s mutated and has been infecting more and more of the world’s population due to the staggered, unbalanced global economy.

The world’s population has burst at the seams, yet the rich stay rich while the poor stay poor. Development has been kind to some countries and devastating for those who have progressed more slowly. Social and economic forces have displaced these droves of piling-up-people into a haze of confusion when they’re left off the pedestal of being “developed.”

With no jobs, no security, and no hope, in the midst of a country of corruption, who turns a blind eye to slavery, the end result is slavery and desperation to stay alive. However, the fourth item in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares slavery is illegal – everywhere.

Everywhere – like in Thailand and its brothels, and in Pakistan – where human trafficking ruins the lives of many, and in Brazil where charcoal production is abused, and in Sudan – where captives of the Second Sudanese Civil War are enslaved and exploited. The most are found in India and Africa.

Everywhere – like right here, in the United States. Sorry, Mr. Lincoln, but it’s a harsh reality that stings and chills. We’re still bleeding, and what’s worse – no one seems to think so.

The bottom line is, we’re concerned about one thing: cheap labor. The United States seems to love getting something for nothing.

In 2004, the University of California, Berkeley did a study to pinpoint the five sectors of slavery in America. They found that 46 percent of U.S. slavery today can be categorized as prostitution and sex work, 27 percent is domestic service, 10 percent is agriculture, 5 percent is restaurant and hotel work and 4 percent is pure sexual exploitation of children, entertainers and mail-order brides.

The U.S. and the world share the shame pattern of exploiting women and children.

Alone, the U.S. traffics forced labor into our borders from 38 countries, such as Vietnam, China and Mexico. Those who were not brought into the oppression have been born into it. Slaves in America tend to reside in largely immigrant-populated areas such as, Texas, California and Florida. From there, they are choked by violence – physically, mentally and sexually – and fraud.

In 2000, the U.S. noticed that something must be done about human-trafficking and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act was enacted, promising to imprison slave-owners or anyone enabling slavery for up to 20 years. In 2005, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the President’s Interagency Task Force were both set up to contribute anti-slavery efforts – but only protection from those already effected.

The real problem is that this is still happening. So, the solution needs to have two faces: one that protects and one that prevents.

One way for us to prevent slavery is to know it exists. After that, the only thing we can do is be the change and inspire the change in others (like with all things).

We must know what we consume – what we bring into our homes and into our bodies. We must know where our money goes. We must learn not to support evil.

We can do this by avoiding products that are made by the hands of slaves – like cocoa from the Ivory Coast, or steel from Brazil or rugs from India. We need to plug up the silent holes shot through our moral compasses by supporting moral investments.

Every single dollar we spend counts.

It’s not expected to be easy – especially in a country where every product seems to come from a different country. Shopping seems stressful enough without all the label checking.

But, if change is ever going to come – we need to stop being lazy and be the change we want to see in the world. We have the power to end slavery. We have the power to shed our personal guilt. We just have to use it.

Leigh Greaney is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at lgreaney@student.umass.edu.

Comments
6 Responses to “Slavery is alive now”
  1. Vic G says:

    You sure aren’t the last of the economists, are you?

    The problem with Marx, Castro and you (yeah, in august company) is that you naively believe in an ideal world. Utopia, that will never be accomplished in our lifetime.

    You may ban the products from those hapless countries, but that will only drive more Americans into manufacturing industries rather than creatvie innovation funnels. It will drive up the inflation in the US economy as that rug whci you refused to import costs less than a tenth of the American made one.
    Best of all, more Americans will end up desperately poor coz of the rising prices, which ironically makes them more vulnerable to exploitation and forced labor.

  2. Billy Buddy says:

    If whore houses were a sanctioned institution, this country would be a lot less uptight- and then the broads wouldn’t have to carry the torch any longer.

  3. Turd_Ferguson says:

    The author of this article has no understanding of what the term “fungible commodity”/product means. Not buying a product that was directly linked to a group you dont support doesnt say “I dont support company x” if it can be sold to an intermediary and then sold to you (like happens with oil). It just means you dont understand the meaning of fungibility.

    The real solution to slavery, if you wanted to end it worldwide, would be to go and kill everyone who profited from it, as to make it not exist in the general sense, and to make it horrible enough to contemplate doing that noone would want to risk the consequences.

  4. Brad DeFlumeri says:

    “Much of the United States suffers from the guilt and shame that’s built it up to where it is today. Many Americans suffer from the family scars that have been this country’s foundation on a moral tomb. Everyone seems to suffer from the hatred ….”

    It does? We do? Care to offer an example? Where is all this “guilt and shame” that afflicts “much” of the country? Do you have any evidence whatsoever for you specious claim?

    In keeping with most writers on the Collegian op-ed page these days, Ms. Greaney seems to pride herself on constructing baffling logical fallacies and outright indefensible arguments.

    Take, for example, this:

    “Bales calls slavery “theft.” Theft of a life, theft of labor, theft of property, and theft of any lives – especially children – who depend on the person being enslaved. It’s theft of identity. It’s controlling a person by way of violence and economic exploitation. It’s paying a person NOTHING for their work.”

    Yet, Greaney continues:

    “The bottom line is, we’re concerned about one thing: cheap labor. The United States seems to love getting something for nothing.”

    So, if she is relying on Bales’ definition of “slavery” — found, of course, in a novel(!) — then her entire premise about the problem of “slavery” is negated by her oomplaints about cheap “labor” being driven by American consumption. So, she is writing not about slavery but about poverty in economically depressed nations.

    Predictably, Greaney faults greedy and immoral Americans for driving and facilitating what she very falsely characterizes as the world’s “slave trade” while offering no evidence in support of her claim other than wildly broad generalizations.

    “However, the fourth item in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares slavery is illegal – everywhere.”

    This irrelevant document passed by an irrelevant body (the UN) says lots of things that few if any country takes seriously. It also doesn’t have binding, superceding effect domestically on dualist nations (like the United States) unless those nations take specific actions to incorporate the provisions into their domestic law.

    The author also appears to accuse the U.S. government of actively participating in the slave trade:

    “Alone, ***the U.S.*** traffics forced labor into our borders from 38 countries, such as Vietnam, China and Mexico. Those who were not brought into the oppression have been born into it. Slaves in America tend to reside in largely immigrant-populated areas such as, Texas, California and Florida. From there, they are choked by violence – physically, mentally and sexually – and fraud.”

    The author uses the very same wording — “The U.S.” — in the very next paragraph to explain that Congress enacted a statute to criminalize the international human trafficking trade.

    So the author is either accusing the federal government of the United States of importing millions of slaves into the country or she should pick her words more carefully, and encourage her editors to do their jobs.

    The author continues:

    “In 2004, the University of California, Berkeley did a study to pinpoint the five sectors of slavery in America. They found that 46 percent of U.S. slavery today can be categorized as prostitution and sex work, 27 percent is domestic service, 10 percent is agriculture, 5 percent is restaurant and hotel work and 4 percent is pure sexual exploitation of children, entertainers and mail-order brides.”

    But I thought our definition of slavery was “paying a person NOTHING for their work”… that is what Greaney said citing to Bales, right???

    So how is “hotel work,” “domestic service” work, entertainment, prostitution, and agriculture work being counted as “slavery” ???

    Where are these large-scale, industry-wide conspiracies to literally force workers to labor for free and hold them in captivity against their will? And why isn’t the media taking notice? Surely, Ms. Greaney has international breaking news here, right???

    And did the Cal-Berkeley study really document a “new slavery” as it professed, or did it just call low-wage work by a new, more sensationalistic name in order to generate attention?

    There is a major difference between corruption, political instability, and failed economic policies (like state control, as in Mugabe’s unhappy little nation of Zimbabe) leading to widespread economic strife and low-wage work in depressed nations AND legitimate slavery as seen, practiced and then ABOLISHED in the United States almost two centuries ago.

    Ms. Greaney, in a hurry to demonize the United States and blame it for all the world’s ills, has constructed a stunningly poorly written column that overlooks this important distinction and further marks the decline of the Collegian op-ed page in the process.

    Last year the page had a plagiarist and this year it has logic-averse columnists like this one.

    I vote for the plagiarist. At least the story she copied was logically consistent.

    Thank you for not deleting this comment.

    Best Wishes,

    Brad DeFlumeri
    UMass student

  5. Tom Sawyer says:

    I think leigh is just lacking a little blunderbuss in her life

  6. Yaily Parks says:

    A little dramaticized but I think it is a fairly well written subjectized article.

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