Slavery is alive now

By Leigh Greaney

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 [email protected]