Kevin Brian Bales CMG is Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, co-author of the Global Slavery Index, and was a co-founder and previously president of Free the Slaves.
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Background of AMA subject: Hi Reddit! I’m Kevin Bales @kevin_bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, co-author of the Global Slavery Index, and co-founder of Free the Slaves. In 1999 I published the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.
I am here to talk to you about ending modern slavery and to promote two related educational projects I am running to learn more about global abolition and how to get involved in the campaign. One of them is a free massive open online course that starts today called Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition. The other is a fully-accredited, one year full-time, distance learning Master of Arts entitled Slavery and Liberation, which begins in September this year.
Let’s do this: Proof: (http://imgur.com/7xybC80)
Thank you for all you do! I know this is a trite, cliche, and nebulous question; BUT......what can I, Maturin's Girth do to help end Alavert. I already don't own any slaves, nor are there any obvious ones around me that I could fight to emancipate.
Serious question though-how can I help? I like in Chicago, Illinois, USA. I'm 34, I don't have any money but I have a car, righteous indignation,, and the will. I have a little time but I work a lot just to maintain a roof over my head and food in my belly. I hope that helps narrow the question.
Hi Maturin's Girth - there are a few things you can do, and I completely get it that you are someone who works for a living and wants to do the right thing - exactly like most of us! For starters you can watch what you buy, look for those slave-free products. It's not always easy cause many companies don't have a clue if they have slavery in their supply chain. You can also look in Chicago for some of the great groups there that work on the issue, some work with survivors, others work to get the state laws improved. And, of course, just reading and learning about modern slavery means you can tell others about it. Share that indignation!
Is anything going to be done with Libya? Hillary and Obama left that place in shambles after Gaddafi didn't want to play ball and now what once was one of the most progressive African countries is now openly slave trading. It's saturated with human and sex trafficking and it seems like nobody cares at all.
I agree, the international community basically went thinking they were heroes and screwed it all up and then left. I have to admit it is a tough and baffling situation now that government is collapsed and armed groups are dividing up control. Will it be the next Eastern Congo? If so, it would likely need UN Peacekeepers, but I can't see international support for that.
Kevin, why is Australia, Europe, North and South America so much better than Asia and Africa at stop slavery from happening?
They're not! They just happen to have fewer drivers to slavery: less corruption; less conflict; etc. The REAL question for those countries is why they are so poor at getting rid of the slavery they've got. Look at Norway - tight borders, great and honest police, plenty of money to spend on the problem, low corruption, public are horrified at the problem - the question for the rich countries is why do you have ANY slavery?
The American for profit prisons, aint they cutting it prety close?
Where is the border of exactly?
Hi GISP - this is a great question. Yes, the for-profit prisons are very much moving into the zone of State Sponsored Slavery - a distinct type that often includes enslaved prison populations - and used extensively in China. The key here is that when someone ends up in prison without Due Process, then is economically exploited, we're crossing that border (as you say). Now that a very large number of US people are put into prison through 'plea bargain' deals - basically the threat of a very long sentence or just a long one if they don't go to trial, then large numbers are in prison who have never been to trial. It is very much like the enslavement of African-Americans after the Civil War - see Blackmon's book Slavery by Another Name.
What kinds of initiatives, in your experience, work best to free people from slavery? Or does it depend on where the slavery is happening?
It certainly does depend on where it is happening and what type of slavery is occurring, but we know that community based programs are very powerful for many types of slavery. When a community decides together that they will throw off slavery, it is pretty much unstoppable, and those who liberate themselves (with some support usually) often go on to free others. There's some good descriptions of different types of programs at the Freedom Fund http://freedomfund.org/about/what-we-do/
Thank you for all your work. Which area of the world are more prone to slavery? What are the major obstacles in removing this problem from the society?
Have a look at the world map in the Global Slavery Index https://www.globalslaveryindex.org and you can see the countries with the highest density of slavery. You'll note that these are countries with many similar problems: ongoing or recent conflicts; serious environmental damage; high levels of corruption; low levels of human and economic development. All of these are big obstacles, but the good news is that we know you don't have to solve them completely to get people out of slavery - and in fact, if you get people out of slavery it helps to solve these problems.
Kevin, have you studied the Slave Labor being used to construct the Qatar 2022 World Cup Facilities'? If so, what do you think the public can do about the situation to make changes and pressure sponsors of the event and the people in involved with the event?
I haven't worked in this problem in Qatar in any deep way (Qatar won't let the Global Slavery Index team in!), but it's hard not to know about it because some great research has been done. It's surprising to me that there are any sponsors left and anyone willing to buy a ticket given that this is blatant exploitation, horrific working conditions, and many cases of slavery as well.
Because people want to pay for sex and/or not pay for immigrant home labor?
That would apply to people willing to break the law or at least abuse/exploit people. But my question was more directed to the governments who could dramatically reduce slavery in their borders if they chose to.
Why don't people give a fuck?
A few years ago I helped start the fight against slavery in Russia, bringing the issue to the attention of the public. My friends have since freed hundreds of slaves, we helped indirectly to free thousands.
Still, when I sometimes mention that on various occassions, people don't seem to give a fuck or they are simply too uncomfortable.
Why would that be? :-) I am aware of the obvious explanations, but really, why? What can we do about it?
It IS often hard to get the message across, I know this so well. But remember that for many people the idea that there is "still" slavery seems impossible, and when they face it they find it very uncomfortable to consider, much less confront. Which is why it is really important to spread the word, but in a way that opens up possibilities for positive action. What you've been doing is important, and all newish issues take a while to catch on, but 20 years from now people will say things like 'we always knew we could fight this!'. It is big, it is complex, it will take years, but the more people who wake up to it and do their little bit, and the more scholars that help us to get to grips with how best to end it, and the more politicians who live up to their promises, well... history takes a while and ending slavery is definitely historic!
Do you prefer Redditors call you Kevin or Mr.Bales?
Please call me Kevin!
Mr. Bales why don't your twitter and future learn dot com links work at moment?
Hmm, thought they were up - here's the futurelearn MOOC link: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/slavery, I just opened it now.
Kevin, what percentage of slavery is hard labor and what percentage is sex work slavery?
We don't know the precise percentages, but it's clear that the majority of people in slavery are in areas like hereditary collateral debt bondage slavery in fields like agriculture or mining. If I had to GUESS, and note I am guessing, cause we don't have hard figures - I would say 70% labour and 30% commercial sexual exploitation. BUT please note that virtually ALL women in slavery get sexually assaulted - farm, factory, mine, domestic service. There are few things that are completely true in human existence, but women in slavery are raped, and that means that the division between 'sex' and 'work' slavery is pretty muddy.
Prof.Kevin can you please explain the life of a slave after liberation?How do the go back into the system of life?
That's a long possible answer! But first we need to remember that every person who comes out of slavery is an individual, so their lives may well be very different afterwards, and also determined by how severe their experience of slavery has been. If they're fortunate and get the support to rebuild, maybe get education or medical care, then they are like any of us trying to get by. Obviously it is tough if you carry wounds in your heart, mind or body, but lots of people do and come through that adversity.
Kevin, why doesn't the media do more investigation pieces on modern slavery? Is it non profitable for them as talking about scandals from politicians or is it just something producers/publisher/editors are oblivious to?
To me it seems as if they are doing them all the time - I guess I remember when it was very rare to see anything in the media. But I think one reason there aren't more is because it can be a tough (and expensive) story to get - you're dealing with criminal after all.
Kevin, What or who inspired you to be so involved in learning and teaching About Contemporary Slavery?
I saw a leaflet in the early 1990s that said "There are millions of slaves in the world today" and I thought it was BS! Inside the leaflet were single case - and I thought that you can't make millions out of a few cases ... but then I thought if this is true it would be astounding and if it were false someone show disprove it. So I started digging into it and found more and more slavery .... and I'm still at it!
Kevin, what are the most common types of ways people use slaves and what are the most common types of ways people become slaves?
Very common are mining and agriculture and domestic service and forced commercial sexual exploitation - but here's the thing criminal slaveholders are very good at adapting and thinking up new way to use enslaved people - so almost any way you can think of, and then some.
Kevin, what are the most widely held misconceptions about slavery by people?
Probably, and especially in the wealthy countries, that it is all about enslavement into commercial sexual exploitation AND that people in slavery are somehow different to the rest of us and should be thought of as one-dimensional victims.
Kevin, which fictional movies and TV shows best depict contemporary slavery?
This is a good question, and I have a poor answer - most of the films and TV shows that deal with slavery are at best 'OK' and at worst really off-base. I loved the film Call and Response, and Beloved is a powerful novel that deals with slavery. But I think that we are still learning how to faithfully portray people in slavery - and that means getting away from always presenting them as victims with little other personality.
What is the best way to see if slavery is involved in a supply chain and where are we most likely to see it?
The short answer is that it is pretty difficult to see if slavery is in a supply chain, the average consumer has to rely on indicators like Fair Trade and groups that inspect and review (like Walk Free and Freedom United). These days if you live in California or the UK you can see what big companies have posted in their required 'slavery in supply chains' reports. I wish I had an easy answer! My recent book Blood and Earth explains a lot about how slavery works in the supply chain of a number of the things we buy - AND how it is also a major driver of climate change.
Do you think that legalizing and regulating prostitution affects the amount of commercial sex slavery?
Yes, I think that legalizing prostitution INCREASES enslavement into commercial sexual exploitation - the research I've seen seems to say that. It seems to me that a better model is to make buying sex illegal and selling it legal - as they do in Sweden - but even that seems not good enough in terms of lessening the damage that commercial sexual exploitation does to people.
Kevin, what type of jobs would one get into with a MA in Slavery and Abolition do for a career?
Good question! And of course, it's a brand new degree, so we'll be finding out - BUT I know there are NGOs and other agencies that would be interested in someone with special training in this area. You could use it into teaching, and you could carry on and do a PhD in human rights or another related space. Companies that are worried about supply chains could be interested.
Kevin, are there certain charities that Redditors can donate their time and money to help make a difference in stopping slavery?
These are groups I support, ones that I know are efficient and effective: Free the Slaves; Voices for Freedom (http://voices4freedom.org); AntiSlavery International; Polaris.
Kevin, are items labeled "fair trade" made certain they are not made from slave labor?
For the most part yes. This is because the fairtrade cooperatives that supply fairtrade goods don't have slavery, they're mostly farmers cooperatives. I trust fairtrade to mean slave-free.
Kevin, is a scenario like from the movie "Taken" where tourists in Europe are kidnapped and made sex slaves what really happens?
No, not really. I suppose that may happen rarely, but it would be the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction of any slavery - now ... if we COULD just make sure that every person in slavery has a father who is a rogue CIA agent with tons of money and gadgets then maybe we could stop slavery next week (kidding!).
Kevin, what is your favorite beer?
Brakespear's Henley Special
Hello and thank you for everything you do! I have to admit I wasn't aware how large an issue slavery in the modern day is. What would you say is the most shocking information you know about modern slavery that most people would not believe?
I think the most shocking is something that is shocking in a good way: yes, 46 million in slavery in the world, and yes, $150 billion in criminal profits from slavery BUT this is the smallest percentage of the global population to EVER be in slavery, and that $150 billion is the tiniest fraction of the global economy to ever come from slavery. The shocker is that slavery is standing on the edge of its own extinction and if we wake up a little we can push it over the edge. And, OK, slavery may never disappear completely, some people being as they are, but my aim is to see it become as rare as cannibalism.
In discussion about the history of slavery in the US it is often pointed out that many economists contend that slavery is economically a poor model even when the moral problems are ignored. Do you think this is true? If so, why does slavery persist?
In the 1970/80s there was a big debate about the profitability of slavery in the US, and the upshot seemed to be that it was relatively profitable. Of course, that is just one type of slavery in one place at one point in history - if you look across the last 5000 years of history you'll see that it was sometimes profitable and sometimes less so. BUT since the population explosion that began in the 20th century, there has been a larger and larger number of potentially enslavable people in the developing world. This means that there is a glut on the market and the cost of acquiring a slave is much lower than at almost any time in history. That low cost means profits are now much higher in slavery than before - though the 'business' is riskier since it is illegal. So it persists, in part, because it can be very profitable for criminals. There's more about the cost and profits of slavery in my book Disposable People.
Hi professor Bales, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on how a post-slavery society could efficiently integrate their former slaves, to avoid 'class warfare' blatant inequities, a taking over by the prison industry and racism/segregation, like the US faced and are facing since the civil war?
Hi Ulvain - you know you almost answered the question yourself - if there is one country in the world that is the best example of how NOT to free slaves and then create a post-slavery society it is the USA. The emancipation was botched, no real access to education, jobs, credit, no 40 acres and a mule, denied real citizenship, and slammed squarely with institutional racism AND re-enslavement through the peonage system. Not surprisingly, what we know from work in other countries is reverse all those and it starts to work - access to jobs, education, etc etc. America, and African-Americans in particular, is still paying the price for that botched emancipation.
> The key here is that when someone ends up in prison without Due Process
But why would it make a difference if it is Due Process? As soon as you enable slavery for prisoners you get very big financial interessts to influence the law and the curts. And I would argure that is exactly what you see in the US-"justice" system right now.
I don't disagree with you, but I am also in favour of a system of laws that do protect anyone charged so that all those rights are available - like trial by peers, not guilty till proven, etc etc. I also agree with you that when you hand over incarceration to private profit-making companies it is likely to be a bad thing for those incarcerated, whether by due process or not. Of course, US prisons in many states were very brutal and ugly places before the prison-industrial system really grew in its current form (I worked in prison years ago). The US system is a blot and a disgrace, and I think could be edging rapidly into a form of state enslavement. This area needs more and better research.
There are so many women leaving the Philippines to do household work around the world it is shocking. They end up in places like Yemen and get their passports taken away and treated like slaves. They take these jobs knowing the huge risks involved and the very hard work they will be given because they have to feed their families and have literally no other choice.
Wouldn't it be better for the West to allow them to come work in North America and Europe for similarly low wages? At least they could expect better employment conditions. It seems that by having strict minimum wages the West is unintentionally steering this desperation to places with very poor working conditions.
You may well know more about women from the Philippines that I do, and you are certainly correct that migrant workers (from many countries) are victimised in slavery. I very much respect the work of Arlie Hochschild in this area - especially how she showed that so many women are doing child-care in foreign countries to earn money to support their own children. But I am not sure that lowering wages would help.
Kevin, how often are you on Reddit and what are your favorite subreddits?
Erh, ah, I have to admit this is my first time on reddit!
Kevin, what is it like being a professor of modern slavery at Nottingham University? How did you get the job there and did you create the field of study there?
I love it! I had a similar job at another university in the past, and moved to Nottingham in order to set up our new MA in Slavery and Liberation. I can't take credit for setting up the field of study, there are a lot of great scholars trying to crack the touch questions of how we best address slavery.
Kevin, are there effort to make University/college classes similar to yours in the USA and across Europe(and other continents too)?
There are certainly more individual classes, but I don't know of any other degree programs - but note that our new MA is ONLINE, so you can do it from anywhere, and the short face-to-face teaching component will also be offered on different continents after the first year (assuming demand!).
Kevin, what are ways people try break free of slavery?
Pretty much any way that you can imagine - from escape to resistance, but we know that some ways, like community organising and action, can be really powerful.
Is there tips like be careful of shellfish from Vietnam or don't buy Sudanese diamonds? These are off the cuff bs examples but you know what I mean.
Good point - after doing research in slavery in shrimp in SE Asia, I will tell you that I do not buy or eat shrimp unless I KNOW they are from somewhere like the US gulf coast. Mainly because of all the slavery I saw, but also because I saw what happened with the shrimp before they were frozen and sent to the North America and Europe - it was just nasty, that nutty taste is the rice water they were fed from some family's last-night supper. I'm very dubious of gold unless it is definitely slave-free/fairtrade; wouldn't touch a diamond for anything.
Are there any current efforts to make it more transparent to consumers whether or not slavery was involved in the supply gain for a given product/company? I would definitely pay attention to a "slave-free" designation or rating system when making purchases. Are any organizations trying to fill this information gap?
Yes, and I really like the organisation Made in A Free World - they are doing a good job of trying to crack this. But supply chains are long, complex, changeable, and often hidden from view, so it is a moving target which means having a reliable 'slave-free' label would be hard to achieve for all products. Meanwhile, a lot of good and usually small companies are working hard to make sure their supply chains are clean. I recently found some jeans that were labelled 'slavery free' - I did some research on the company and then bought four pairs.
Do you consider modern economics and global trade to be the main factors in what would be considered slavery today? ie most of the world lives in poverty (defined by 1st world standards), 1st world nations tend to have ridiculous standards of living compared to 3rd world nations, lack of upward mobility for the majority of the world's poor, etc.
If you mean that modern economics and global trade are the main DRIVERS, then I would say they are supporting factors, but not usually the main drivers. You're right in all you say, the rich world is obscenely rich and wasteful, and poor countries are ground down in international trade. But when we look closely at slavery we see that corruption, conflict (like civil or ethnic wars), environmental destruction, high levels of discrimination, even a lack of access to credit can be stronger predictors of how slavery exists in a country.
Is it just me, or are 90% of the questions being answered coming from the same user?
I'm in the UK, so it's my afternoon, but when we started it was pretty early in the morning in North America, and there was one person who was up early and asked several questions in a row. I think he was trying to keep me from feeling lonely!
What 1st world political changes would you recommend to even the playing field?
Here's a few: End the subsidies on US farm products that drive farmers around the world into destitution for starters (you'd be surprised how many antislavery workers around the world say this is a huge problem that pushes people into slavery). Then the arms trade - since the end of the Cold War the developing world has been flooded with cheap small arms and conflict and violence and slavery grow in that context. Then enforce the international agreements already on the books - there were weapons inspectors sent to Iraq and Syria by the UN - but slavery is equally forbidden by international agreements, where are the UN Slavery Inspectors? My book Ending Slavery has a good bit more on this....
Do you have any data on the gender break down of slaves?
No precise information on this, but having worked on slavery all over the world I would say slavery is an equal opportunity exploiter - about equal overall - more women enslaved in the rich countries, more men in other countries.
Are we also discussing economic slavery here or just plain old colonial-style negro-farming business?
Slavery is what slavery has always been - the complete control of one person by another with violence being used to enforce that control and enable exploitation. The rule of thumb is 'can this person walk away, even if into a worse situation?' The American form of slavery was just one of a large number of types of slavery, and many many forms of slavery exist today.
Kevin, what are your hobbies outside of work?
Love to get in my kayak and paddle into nature....
Does this AMA feel scripted?
Not to me! I'm typing as fast as I can, but it is true that I have been asked some of these questions before...
By doing this AMA are you not a "slave" to us?
Like Platos discusses in "The Peoples Republic" are we not a slave to physical reality no matter what, hence never being able to break free from a slave/master relationship? How can one "end" slavery when we are slaves to food and water?
It's interesting how only in the modern moment does a question like this come up - 100 years ago everyone knew what slavery looked like and it was very rare that anyone wanted to conflate slavery with something else (like being a slave to TV or shopping). You can use the word to describe something else if you want to, but it's not very useful. It's like saying this football team 'murdered' that team. Food and water don't have complete control over us the way a slaveholder would. We can freely choose to starve (as hunger-strikers do).