Last week, many came together to “Shine a Light on Slavery”, and raise awareness of the need to end slavery. It was encouraging to see how much support there was for the #enditmovement, echoing the call fight against slavery. A key part of awareness is going beyond just knowing that an issue exists, but understanding the causes and impacts. I know I am little late, but I thought I would try participate by doing a short post about slavery, and the causes and effects of slavery.
Modern day slavery is a particularly symptomatic issue. You can’t cure an illness with a fever by taking a cold bath, you have to determine what is actually causing the illness. Likewise, it is easy to think that we just need to go in free people from slavery, without understanding how they get caught up in slavery and stay there.
While precise numbers of slaves over time is difficult to obtain, most researches believe that there are more slaves now than any point in history. This is an anomaly among world maladies. We live in world with declining poverty rates, declining crime rates, and declining war and conflicts. Why has slavery grown at the same time? This question gives us a clue to the causes. In fact there are some growing global concerns that are clear causes of modern slavery.
First, modern slavery has been heavily driven by the sex industry. Now it would be difficult to make any verifiable claim that we have become more sexually driven than in the past; throughout history men have always been driven to depravity by their sexual desires. However, the sex industry has grown tremendously through the modern accessibility of transportation and the visual exploitation of women through internet pornography. The objectification of women has pervaded our societies, but it vastly easier now.
Second, unlike the slaves of centuries past, the majority of modern slaves are in debt bondage. This means that rather than being caught and held in slavery by physical force, modern slaves are often caught, enticed, and trapped through economic means. Poverty is widely understood to be the one of the biggest factors leading to slavery. Poverty alone doesn’t provide a complete economic explanation, though. Poverty makes people vulnerable to slavery, but large inequality means that the wealth and power exists to easily enslave those in poverty (rather than help them). And indeed, while global poverty has been gradually declining, inequality, probably a more correlated factor behind slavery, has been steadily increasing by most measures.
Together these two forces make a very simple formula for devastating consequences. Simple put, when there are women in poverty who are desperately trying to feed themselves and their family, and there are men who view them as inferiors, as objects and have the wealth to satisfy their desires, preying on them, the result is inevitable. Any society that objectifies and treats women as inferior and accepts extreme economic inequality is almost guaranteed to have a thriving slavery or sex trade.
As we seek to battle slavery, let us work to both provide direct, rescuing and protecting, as well as to fight more against the causes of slavery, pursuing more egalitarian societies that will not breed slavery.
The issue of slavery has also increased awareness of buying decisions. Certainly this has been valuable movement, encouraging and putting pressure on companies to use more ethical supply chains is helping to reduce slavery. However, this can be easily go wrong as well. Avoiding products can actually have negative consequences as well. Because many are enslaved due to economic shortfalls, decreased economic activity only worsens the situation. Slavery may deny people the full benefit of their productivity, but zero economic interchange can be even worse. While ethical supply chains are ideal, and some organizations are even specifically employing those rescued from slavery. But, simply choosing to prefer international products from developing countries over domestic products is the single simplest decision we can make between different products that benefit those prone to slavery. Or even more productive is to forgo spending, to give to organizations working to fight slavery.
There are numerous causes of slavery that abound in our world, and many of them are complex and difficult to battle. However, for now, I will echo the voices of the #enditmovement, shining a light on slavery, and hopefully raising a little bit of awareness of how we should and can work to battle this oppression.