Slavery. Global and local. It’s here, and it’s part of our world in ways we may not realize. But maybe its end is more within reach than we realize too.
What is contemporary slavery?
Modern slavery is a catch-all term to describe various forms of exploitation, including human trafficking, forced labour, and debt bondage. Human trafficking is a form of slavery. It is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation. It is considered the 2nd largest criminal industry in the world, after drug trafficking.
What you may not realize is how connected slavery is to your daily life. Forced labour and unfair labour practices have played a role in making the clothes you wear, the food you eat, and the technology you use every day. Chocolate, coffee, minerals in makeup, minerals in cell phones, and cotton are a few common industries that use exploitation in their production.
Slavery is also the biggest contributor to environmental destruction today. According to Kevin Bales, “if slavery were a country it would have a population of some 35 million people and the gross domestic product of Angola, in global terms a small and poor nation — but, according to my research, it would be the third largest emitter of CO2 (2.54 billion tons per year) in the world after China (7.39 billion tons) and the United States (5.58 billion tons).”
The more we dig into the problem, the bigger it can seem. Will we ever truly see slavery abolished? Well, here’s why I believe we can see slavery end in our lifetime.
- Even though there are more people enslaved now than at any time in history, it is actually a smaller percentage of the population than ever before.
- According to Bales, slave labour accounts for a tinier proportion of the economy than it ever has.
- Slavery is already illegal in every country.
Slavery, past and present.
Abolitionists of the past –William Wilberforce, for instance– faced a very different scenario. Slavery was deeply connected to the economy. It was legal and was widely practiced. It is estimated that at the height of the slave trade, the triangular route represented about 80 percent of Britain’s foreign income. Wilberforce campaigned for 20 years before the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807. This act abolished the slave trade in the British Empire, but slavery itself was not abolished until 1833. Slavery in Canada was also officially abolished then since it was part of the British Empire. It was another 32 years before it was abolished in the U.S.A.
In recent years, lawmakers have worked to ensure the necessary legislation is in place to effectively combat human trafficking. “In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, often referred to as the Palermo Protocol. Since then, more than 150 countries have signed on to this Protocol against Human Trafficking, committing them to: preventing, protecting, and prosecuting violators of the Protocol. Of these countries, 140 have made human trafficking a criminal offence, including Canada,” writes Ontario Women’s Justice Network. “In June 2012, changes were passed into law that makes human trafficking outside of Canada by citizens or permanent residents of Canada a criminal offence in Canada.”
We CAN give slavery the boot.
So, given that human trafficking is illegal around the world and no longer accepted morally nor viewed as necessary for the economy, the hardest part of the fight has been won and the framework is there to extinguish slavery once and for all. As Kevin Bales put it, “Slavery has been pushed to the edges of our global society and, in a way, without us even noticing, has ended up standing on the precipice of its own extinction waiting for us to give it a big boot and knock it over and get rid of it.”
Yes, modern-day slavery is a giant, but it’s days are numbered. And the more of us that join together to end it, the sooner that end will come. There’s still much to be done, and every one of us can do something. Every action matters. In coming posts, we will look at what we can do. Let’s keep walking the paths of justice, together.