How is Modern Slavery Different From Past Slavery?
One striking difference between modern day and historical slavery is the quantity: There are more slaves today than in the whole 400 years of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The increase in slavery today is driven by the increase in the world population and the growing economy in places where slavery is most prevalent.In today’s slavery, ownership is no longer central. In the past control came primarily through ownership. Today control comes primarily through violence and intimidation. Legal documentation of ownership is not as important. Written contracts are sometimes used, but their purpose is to entrap slaves and conceal what’s really happening from the outside world.
Race isn’t a key factor in slavery today either. Bales says, “The criteria for enslavement today does not concern color, tribe, or religion; they focus on weakness, gullibility, and deprivation.”
Slavery today is an economic endeavor, driven by money rather than simple hatred, and while slavery is illegal in every country there are very few economic controls on slavery. Economic sanctions have been successful in attacking drug and weapons cartels, but haven’t been widely used in fighting human trafficking. If governments and people make slavery unprofitable, it will stop.
Because so many people are readily available and vulnerable to being enslaved, they have become a less and less valuable commodity; slave prices are lower than they have ever been. Most slaves are used heavily until they are too sick or too weak, then they’re left to fend for themselves and often die.
In the past the cost of slaves was high, the return on investment was good, and there was motivation to keep and preserve slaves. Today the cost of slaves is low, the return on investment extremely high, and there is little motivation to keep and preserve slaves. Slaves become disposable. You work your car hard, but you take care of it through routine maintenance and repairs; however, you use a printer as much as you want, and then when it no longer works properly, you throw it away and get a new one—it’s not worthwhile to invest in maintenance or repairs. Slaves used to be like cars, now they’re more like printers.
One generation of slavery isn’t better or less criminal and inhumane than another—absolutely not. Old slavery and new slavery both take away a person’s freedom and humanity, but it’s critical to understand slavery today to stop it.