Why would slavery ever exist? The reason is money. Employees cost money. It's a lot cheaper to steal their labor than pay them.
The surprising thing is that it actually goes on in the United States.
Newsweek Magazine (May 4, 1992) reports that slavery is widespread in two African countries, Mauritania and Sudan. In Mauritania, over 100,000 Africans are enslaved. Their families were made slaves by the sword during the 12th century invasions. In the centuries that followed, they accepted it as natural.
Dada Ould Mbarek, 25, of Mauritania, says he and his whole family are slaves. Mbarek spends his back-breaking day taking water from a well and bringing it to paddies where vegetables are grown.
Mbarek's boss lives in the city and owns many cars. He owns 15 slaves in all.
Women in poor Asian countries are tricked into coming into places like Saudi Arabia with promises of jobs. When they get there they are forced to become permanent household slaves, without pay. They are not permitted to leave and are beaten often to control obedience.
One Filipino who escaped from Kuwait claimed "The whole country was a jail."
Encyclopedia Britannica 1992 World Data Annual shows that the economically active sector of the population in Kuwait is 699,000. And one must remember that this leaves out a lot of unemployed children and old people. And a lot of women. Only 20.6 percent of women are employed.
Yet, the total official population is only 400,000. That shows a lot of workers are from overseas. And, only 9% of all workers are in manufacturing, with only 1% in agriculture. What do the rest of them do?
It seems that 53% of them are in the category of "services." Compare this to the US, where 32% are in services, and Saudi Arabia, where 29% are in services, and Egypt, where 35% are in services. What do the extra 20% of service workers in Kuwait do?
Laxmi Swami, an Indian woman lured with a housekeepers job, escaped when her Kuwaiti "employers" took her on a trip with them to London. She was kept behind bars for 4 years, half-starved, with daily beatings with an electric cord. "Hundreds of times they called me slave, hundreds of times" said Swami.
Anti-Slavery International of Britain says this is all too common, even today. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, embassies in Kuwait were flooded with "guest workers" desperately taking advantage of their one opportunity to escape.
Slavery takes different forms in different lands. In Pakistan and India there is debt bondage. Poor people are tricked with promises of good jobs, but they are isolated and must deal with their employer in every way. The food they buy and other required things are sold only by their employers, with very high prices. The workers are forced to stay and work until the debt is paid off. But the deck is stacked so the debt keeps getting bigger. The "employee" is a slave for life.
And, even beyond life. The children are kept working until the debt is paid, which never happens. Generations are forced to work without ever seeing a day of freedom.
Like other slaveries, force is used to keep the worker in his place. Beatings, threats and killings are commonplace.
The type of work is different, though. In Kuwait they are household servants. In India it is usually profit making work such as working in stone quarries, brickmaking and carpetmaking.
An ABC TV show recently did an expose on slavery as it exists today. It focused on three countries: India, Brazil, and the United States.
In India it was common for agents of manufacturers to go to rural areas and trick uneducated country folk. These people often had never been to a city, and knew nothing of city life. They lived very traditionally and were very poor. India is one of the poorest countries in the world.
The agents would find poor people with a lot of children, and offer good jobs to one or more. Sometimes they would pay the parents an advance on salary, which would be pennies to us, but was valuable to people in India. Then, they would take the children away. They would make all sorts of promises to the parents that were never kept.
The report showed the heartbreak of parents who never saw their children again. All they knew was that their children were gone forever.
Back in the city, the children were put at work weaving carpets. It seems that their little fingers can make tighter, better knots than adults can, making a higher quality carpet. The ABC news camera burst into a room with dozens of children working feverishly at their looms.
One child, named Israel, told his story. Israel was 12 years old. One day agents appeared at his village, and spoke to his parents. They promised he would make money, but they never pay him. They feed him very little. They make him work all day and night, and beat him when he stops. He sleeps on the floor with 40 other boys. He shows his scars for the camera.
When he left his village, they promised he could visit his family every year. In 4 years, he had not seen any member of his family. Naturally, he never went to school. He was way too busy working for that.
It turned out that every boy working there was under 16. Once they got too big, it was cheaper to just dump them on the street in another town, and go round up some more boys. So, if Israel had not been rescued, he would someday go free. But he could never go home.
Without help, Israel could never find his native village. He had never left his village before. He did not know its location. He could not read. He did not even know where he was. Most importantly, he had no money. And, the bosses would scare them with stories of what would happen if they tried to run away.
An anti-slavery campaigner got the man running the sweatshop to tell who he was working for. And, when the trail was followed, the employer turned out to be a very important man in the community, the school principal. "How could you make all those boys work and not go to school?" he was questioned. He just shrugged.
Lots of carpets sold in this country labeled as being Persian or Chinese actually come from India. Many of the largest carpet distributors had business dealings with little Israel's "employers." The beautiful carpets many people have in their homes were made with the labor of these sad little boys.
On December 9, 1994, ABC News with Peter Jennings named escaped slave Iqbal Masih as the Person of the Week. "They threaten us not to even think of leaving. They tell us, 'We'll burn your fingers in oil if you even try to leave. We'll put you in oil.'"
"I would start working at 4:00 a.m. and work until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. at night. If the children fell asleep or were slow in their work, they would be punished by either being beaten or starved."
Iqbal was 12 years old. He worked at the factory since he was 4. He never got paid and was a slave. "Even when we are sick, we are forced to work. If we are slow, we are struck" he said.
Two carpet dealers tried to say this was just a regular job. "It gives kids something to do. It's not hard labor. They like what they do" said one.
"It's a family business. It is not all that bad what they say. They exaggerate everything." said another.
The expose show next traveled to Brazil, where a different kind of business was involved. In big cities of Brazil there are a lot of unemployed people. A lot of them are very poor and live in very little shacks all crowded together. Lots of them hang out all day and have no hope for the future.
A man would go around and meet teenage girls. He was handsome and talked real smooth. He would flirt with them. He would tell them that he knew where there was a lot of good paying jobs working as maids and cooks. Up in the gold fields of Brazil there were boom towns, filled with rich men and not enough women to do the cleaning and cooking (as in the US, such jobs in Brazil are generally held by women). He would fill their heads with whatever dream seemed to be the girls thing. And he would get them to agree to fly away with him and some other girls he met to a great new opportunity.
When they got there, they got some surprises. The boom town turned out to be a few muddy blocks of crummy little shacks. They were told they owed huge amounts of money for the plane ticket and their rent and their food. There were no jobs as maids or waitresses. The only jobs were as prostitutes. They were told they had to be prostitutes and pay back their debts. They would not be allowed to leave.
These places were hundreds of miles deep in the jungle and none of the girls knew where they were. There was no phones and no police. The only way in and out was by plane, and no one could afford that, assuming the boss would allow it in the first place. There was only one way to get any money at all.
Girls who refused to go along were beaten. Some who tried to escape were killed. The rest of them were scared and did what they were told.
Like in other countries, the debt can never be paid. In the little mining town you had to deal with your boss. He provided the room where the girl slept with customers, and he took most of the money as rent. Every bit of food she bought was bought at his prices. And they made it a point to introduce the girls to alcohol and drugs, which of course were sold only by their boss. Some girls, being very unhappy, were regular customers. The more the girl worked, the deeper in debt she became. And she became a slave.
When ABC News with Brazilian police raided this one mining town, they found about 40 teenage girls working as prostitutes for one boss. They asked who wanted to leave this place and go back to the city. Every single one of them raised their hands. Several began to cry.
And that brings us to the United States. The slavery uncovered in the United States was not prostitution like in Brazil. It was not manufacturing work like in India and Pakistan. It was not household servant like in Kuwait. But it was worked a lot like them.
A guy would go around places where unemployed people would hang out and offer them jobs working on a farm. "It's just temporary" they would say. A farmer would need help picking his oranges or his cotton or his sugar cane just for a few weeks. They could all ride up there, work for a few weeks, and come back to the city with a few dollars in their pockets. People were picked up in all the major cities of Florida. They would load up in vans and station wagons and head out. They would go to places like Georgia and South Carolina.
When they got there they moved into a compound surrounded by fences and barbed wire. Vicious dogs patrolled all night. The bosses got them up early. They were worked hard all day long. They were charged room and board that was more than they got paid. They were encouraged to buy liquor and drugs on credit.
None of the workers was allowed to leave. When they worked, they had a overseers armed with shotguns. They were marched to work, and marched home again. They never saw a telephone. They never saw an outsider. And they picked cotton all day long. Sometimes it was other crops.
Sooner or later the cotton would be picked, and the workers would want to go home like he promised. But they could not leave. They owed a lot of money. So the boss took them out late at night and drove them to some other big farm where they needed help with the crops, and it started all over again.
These places were all on private property, far away from the road. They never saw any outsiders. No one knew they were there. If anyone knew, they didn't care. The people they worked for and that the boss got paid by were rich important people in their area. The workers were nobody.
Most of the slaves were poor black people, but some of them were poor white people too. In this one operation, it was actually a black man who was the slave driver.
Some of the people rescued had been slaves for years. Others were younger. One young black man talked about how now he finally knew what it was like for his ancestors. He said he would never pick cotton again, not for all the money in the world.
As you can see, there is still a lot of slavery in the world today. As long as people want to make money, some will want to steal. Slavery is the worst kind of stealing. They don't just steal your money. They steal your life, your freedom, everything.
It was not long ago when slavery was completely legal in the United States. It was accepted that people could be stolen, kept prisoner at gunpoint, and forced to work. It was accepted that you could be beaten or whipped if you didn't work fast enough.
Now these things are illegal, but the law still helps the slavemasters. Unions can't get to farm workers because they are on private property. The law keeps them out. So no one can find out that maybe they are being kept as slaves.
People own these giant plantations that need a lot of workers and make it pay to steal them. If these were small farms the workers would get paid. Some of these families have had these big farms ever since the days of slavery.
In India and Pakistan, there is no law making kids go to school, and there is no law saying kids can't work. So if kids are working, that could be legal. Again, private property keeps snoopers out.
The stories of today's slaves helps us understand a little about the slaves from before. At least today's slaves have some hope of being rescued someday. Before the Civil War, the slaves did not even have that.
Story submitted by a contributor.
For further information, please visit the website of the American Anti-Slavery Group.
Read 1856 U.S. Supreme Court decision on slavery.
Read about corporations using prison slave labor.
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