Kevin Bales: How to combat modern slavery
In this moving yet pragmatic talk, Kevin Bales explains the business of modern slavery, a multibillion-dollar economy that underpins some of the worst industries on earth. He shares stats and personal stories from his on-the-ground research -- and names the price of freeing every slave on earth right now.
As an author, a professor of sociology, and consultant to the United Nations Global Program on Human Trafficking, Kevin Bales is one of the world’s foremost experts on modern slavery. He has made it his mission to eradicate global slavery.
Along with traveling the world doing investigative research, authoring books, racking up human rights awards, and teaming up with Simon Pell to form a fundraising consultant firm, Pell & Bales Ltd., he established Free the Slaves, a nonprofit whose brilliant website is packed with facts and inspirations to action. With Free the Slaves, Bales has mapped out ways to spread the message and gain resources that assign governments, the UN, business, communities and individuals specific roles in the fight to end slavery. He’s working on a book about the relationship of slavery and environmental destruction. Armed with a compelling presence and a hopeful heart, he is enticing the world to help, so that we can all one day say the words: Mission Accomplished.
You know for me, the interest in contemporary forms of slavery started with a leaflet that I picked up in London. It was the early '90s, and I was at a public event. And I saw this leaflet and it said, 'There are millions of slaves in the world today.' And I thought, 'No way, no way.' And I'm going to admit to hubris. Because I also, I'm going to admit to you, I also thought, how can I be like a hot-shot young full professor who teaches human rights, and not know this, so it can't be true.
Well, if you teach, if you worship in the temple of learning, do not mock the gods. Because they will take you fill you with curiosity and desire, and drive you, drive you with a passion to change things. I went out and did a lit review. 3,000 articles on the key word 'slavery.' Two turned out to be about contemporary -- only two. All the rest were historical. They were press pieces and they were full of outrage. They were full of speculation. They were anecdotal. No solid information.
So, I began to do a research project of my own. I went to five countries around the world. I looked at slaves. I met slaveholders. And I looked very deeply into slave based businesses. Because this is an economic crime. People do not enslave people to be mean to them. They do it to make a profit. And I've got to tell you, what I found, out in the world in four different continents, was depressingly familiar. Like this. Agricultural workers, in Africa, whipped and beaten, showing us how they were beaten in the fields before they escaped from slavery and met up with our film crew. It was mind-blowing.
And I want to be very clear. I'm talking about real slavery. This is not about lousy marriages. This is not about jobs that suck. This is about people who can not walk away, people who are forced to work without pay, people who are operating 24/7 under a threat of violence, and have no pay. It's real slavery in exactly the same way that slavery would be recognized throughout all of human history.
Now, where is it? Well, this map in the sort of redder, yellower colors are the places with the highest densities of slavery. But in fact that kind of bluey color are the countries where we can't find any cases of slavery. And you might notice that it's only Iceland and Greenland where we can't find any cases of enslavement around the world.
We're also particularly interested and looking very carefully at places where slaves are being used to perpetrate extreme environmental destruction. Around the world, slaves are used to destroy the environment, cutting down trees in the Amazon, destroying forest areas in West Africa, mining and spreading mercury around in places like Ghana and the Congo, destroying the coastal ecosystems in South Asia. It's a pretty harrowing linkage between what's happening to our environment and what's happening to our human rights.
Now, how on Earth did we get to situation like this where we have 27 million people in slavery in the year 2010? That's double the number that came out of Africa in the entire transatlantic slave trade. Well, it builds up with these factors. They are not causal, they are actually supporting factors. One is, we all know about: the population explosion, the world goes from two billion people to almost seven billion people in the last 50 years. Being numerous does not make you a slave. Add in the increased vulnerability of very large numbers of people in the developing world, caused by civil wars, ethnic conflicts, kleptocratic governments, disease, you name it, you know it.
We understand how that works. In some countries all of those things happen at once, like Sierra Leone a few years ago. And push enormous parts, about a billion people in the world, in fact, as we know, live on the edge, live in situations where they don't have any opportunity, and are usually even destitute. But that doesn't make you a slave either. What it takes to turn a person who is destitute and vulnerable into a slave, is the absence of the rule of law. If the rule of law is sound it protects the poor, and it protects the vulnerable. But if corruption creeps in, And people don't have the opportunity to have that protection of the rule of law, then if you can use violence, if you can use violence with impunity, you can reach out and harvest the vulnerable into slavery.
Well, that is precisely what has happened around the world. Though, for a lot of people, the way they come into slavery today, the people who step into slavery today don't usually get kidnapped or knocked over the head, They come into slavery because someone has asked them this question.
All around the world I've been told an almost identical story People say, 'I was home, someone came into our village, they stood up in the back of a truck, they said, 'I've got jobs, who needs a job?'' And they did exactly what you or I would do in the same situation. They said, 'That guy looked sketchy. I was suspicious. But my children were hungry. We needed medicine. I knew I had to do anything I could to earn some money to support the people I care about.' They climb into the back of the truck. They go off with the person who recruits them. 10 miles, 100 miles, 1,000 miles later, they find themselves in dirty, dangerous, demeaning work. They take it for a little while, but when they try to leave, bang, the hammer comes down, and they discover they're enslaved.
Now, that kind of slavery is, again, pretty much what slavery has been all through human history. But there is one thing that is particularly remarkable and novel about slavery today. and that is a complete collapse in the price of human beings. expensive in the past, dirt cheap now, even the business programs have started picking up on this. I just want to share a little clip for you.
Video: Woman: Okay, lively discussion guaranteed here, as always, as we get macro and talk commodities. Continuing here in the studio with our guest Michael O'Donohue, head of commodities at Four Continents Capital Management. And we're also joined by Brent Lawson from Lawson Frisk Securities.
Brent Lawson: Happy to be here.
Woman: Good to have you with us, Brent. Now, gentlemen, Brent, where is your money going this year?
BL: Well Daphne, we've been going short on gas and oil recently and casting our net just a little bit wider. We really like the human being story a lot. If you look at a long-term chart prices are at historical lows and yet global demand for forced labor is still real strong. So, that's a scenario that we think we should be capitalizing on.
D: Michael, what's your take on the people story? Are you interested?
Micheal O'Donohue: Oh definitely. Non-voluntary labor's greatest advantage as an asset is the endless supply. We're not about to run out of people. No other commodity has that.
BL: Daphne, if I may draw your attention to one thing, that is that private equity has been sniffing around. And that tells me that this market is about to explode. Africans and Indians, as usual, South Americans, and Eastern Europeans in particular are on our buy list.
D: Interesting. Micheal, bottom line, what do you recommend?
MO: We're recommending to our clients a buy and hold strategy. There is no need to play the market. There is a lot of vulnerable people out there. It's very exciting.
D: Exciting stuff indeed. Gentlemen, thank you very much.
Kevin Bales: Okay, you figured it out. That's a spoof. Though I enjoyed watching your jaws drop, drop, drop, until you got it. MTV Europe worked with us and made that spoof. And they've been slipping it in between music videos without any introduction, which I think is kind of fun. Here is the reality. The price of human being across the last 40,000 years in today's money, has averaged about $40,000. Capital purchase items. You can see that the lines cross when the population explodes.
The average price of a human being today, around the world, is about $90. They are more expensive in places like North America. Slaves cost between $3,000 and $8,000 in North America. But I could take you places in India or Nepal where human beings can be acquired for $5 or $10. They key here is that people have ceased to be that capital purchase item, and become like styrofoam cups. You buy them cheaply. You use them. You crumple them up. And then when you're done with them you just throw them away.
These young boys are in Nepal. They are basically the transport system on a quarry run by a slaveholder. There are no roads there. So, they carry loads of stone on their backs, often of their own weight, up and down the Himalayan mountains. One of their mothers said to us, 'You know, we can't survive here, but but we can't even seem to die either.' It's a horrible situation. And if there is anything that makes me feel very positive about this it's that there are also, in addition to young men like this who are still enslaved, there are ex-slaves who are now working to free others. Or, we say, Frederick Douglass is in the house.
I don't know if you've ever had a daydream about, wow, what would it be like to meet Harriet Tubman? What would it be like to meet Frederick Douglass? I've got to say, one of the most exciting parts about my job is that I get to. And I want to introduce you to one of those. His name is James Kofi Annan. He was a slave child in Ghana, enslaved in the fishing industry. And he now, after escape and building a new life has formed an organization that we work closely with to go back and get people out of slavery. This is not James. This is one of the kids that he works with.
Video: James Kofi Annan: He was hit with a paddle, you know, in the head. And this reminds me of my childhood, when I used to work here.
KB: James and our country director in Ghana, Emmanuel Oto* are now receiving regular death threats because the two of them managed to get convictions and imprisonment for three human traffickers for the very first time in Ghana for enslaving people in the fishing industry, for enslaving children.
Now, everything I've been telling you, I admit, is pretty disheartening. But there is actually a very positive side to this. And that is this, the 27 million people who are in slavery today, that's a lot of people, but it's also the smallest fraction of the global population to ever be in slavery. And likewise, the 40 billion dollars that they generate into the global economy each year is the tiniest proportion of the global economy to ever be represented by slave labor.
Slavery, illegal in every country 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. And it can be done.
Now, if we do that, if we put the resources and the focus to it, what does it actually cost to get people out of slavery? Well, first, before I even tell you the cost I've got to be absolutely clear. We do not buy people out of slavery. Buying people out of slavery is like paying a burglar to get your television back. It's abetting a crime. Liberation, however, costs some money.
Liberation, and more importantly all the work that comes after liberation. it's not an event, it's a process. It's about helping people to build lives of dignity, stability, economic autonomy, citizenship. Well, amazingly, in places like India where costs are very low that family, that three generation family that you see there, who were in hereditary slavery, So, that grandad there, was born, a baby, into slavery. But the total cost, amortized across the rest of the work was about $150 dollars to bring that family out of slavery and then take them through a two year process to build a stable life of citizenship and education.
A boy in Ghana rescued from fishing slavery, about $400. In the United States, North America, much more expensive, legal costs, medical costs, we understand that, it's expensive here, about 30,000 But, most of the people in the world in slavery live in those places where the costs are lowest. And in fact the global average is about what it is for Ghana.
And that means, when you multiply it up the estimated cost of, not just freedom, but sustainable freedom for the entire 27 million people in the planet in slavery is something like 10.8 billion dollars, what Americans spend on potato chips and pretzels, what Seattle is going to spend on its light rail system, usually the annual expenditure in this country, on blue jeans, or in the last holiday period when we bought GameBoys and Ipods and other tech gifts for people, we spent 10.8 billion dollars. Intel's fourth quarter earnings, 10.8 billion.
It's not a lot of money at the global level, in fact it's peanuts. And the great thing about it is that it's not money down a hole, there is a freedom dividend. When you let people out of slavery to work for themselves, are they motivated? They take their kids out of the workplace, they build a school, they say, 'We're gonna have stuff we've never had before like three squares, medicine when we're sick, clothing when we're cold. They become consumers and producers and local economies begin to spiral up very rapidly.
That's important, all of that about how we rebuild sustainable freedom, because we'd never want to repeat what happened in this country in 1865. Four million people were lifted up out of slavery and then dumped, dumped without political participation, decent education, any kind of real opportunity in terms of economic lives, and sentenced to generations of violence and prejudice and discrimination. And America is still paying the price for the botched emancipation of 1865.
We have made a commitment that we will never let people come out of slavery on our watch, and end up as second class citizens. It's just not going to happen. This is what liberation really looks like. Children rescued from slavery in the fishing industry in Ghana, reunited with their parents, and then taken with their parents back to their villages to rebuild their economic well-being so that they become slave-proof, absolutely unenslaveable.
Now, this woman lived in a village in Nepal. We'd been working there about a month. They had just begun to come out of a hereditary kind of slavery. They'd just begun to light up a little bit, open up a little bit. But when we went to speak with her, when we took this photograph the slaveholders were still menacing us from the sidelines. They hadn't been really pushed back. I was frightened. We were frightened. We said to her, 'Are you worried? Are you upset?'
She said, 'No, because we've got hope now. How could we not succeed,' She said, when people like you from the other side of the world are coming here to stand beside us?'
Okay, we have to ask ourselves, are we willing to live in a world with slavery. If we don't take action we just leave ourselves open to have someone else jerk the strings that tie us to slavery in the products we buy, and in our government policies. And yet, if there is one thing that every human being can agree on, I think it's that slavery should end.
And if there is a fundamental violation of our human dignity that we would all say is horrific it's slavery. And we've got to say, what good is all of our intellectual and political and economic power, and I'm really thinking intellectual power in this room, if we can't use it to bring slavery to an end? I think there is enough intellectual power in this room to bring slavery to an end. And you know what? If we can't do that, if we can't use our intellectual power to end slavery, there is one last question, are we truly free? Okay, thank you so much. (Applause)