Contemporary Forms of Human Trafficking and Slavery
The most common form of modern slavery, occurs when people are forced to work to repay loans or monetary advances. Typically, these loans amount to $50 or less but are coupled with extremely high interest rates so that recipients are perpetually indebted to lenders. Worldwide, 20 million people work as bonded laborers, primarily in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Brazil, and the Caribbean.
Forced labor occurs when people are illegally recruited by governments, political parties, or private individuals and forced to work under the threat of violence. Multitudes of children across the globe are forced to work in dangerous or exploitative conditions. Many are inhumanely compelled to do manual labor, while many others are bought or kidnapped to be exploited in prostitution and pornography. Tens of thousands of women are bought, kidnapped, or lured by false promises and then trafficked into domestic and manual work or sexual exploitation. In some cultures women and girls are forced into marriages in which they function as slaves.
Traditional or Chattel Slavery
Finally, traditional or chattel slavery continues even now as people are bought and sold as commodities in direct violation of current law. Chattel slavery is most common in West Africa, particularly Mauritania, where people are abducted from villages and sold locally as slaves.
These categories are not mutually exclusive and frequently overlap. Contracts may be issued to chattel slaves in order to conceal their enslavement. Girls may be trapped into prostitution by debt bondage and will sometimes have contracts that specify their obligations. The one dimension common every type of slavery is violence; slavery in all its forms depends on violence to keep slaves in place. For some, violence looms in the form of threats, while for others threats escalate into terrible abuse.
Modern slaves are typically used in simple, non-technological labor, most commonly in agriculture, but also in brick-making, mining, quarrying, gem working, jewelry making, cloth and carpet weaving, domestic service, prostitution, and pornography. Slaves are also forced to clear forests, to make charcoal, and to work in shops.
The products of slave labor reach into homes around the world. Large international corporations, sometimes acting in ignorance through subsidiaries in the developing world, take advantage of slave labor to improve the bottom line and increase dividends to shareholders. Slave-made carpets, fireworks, jewelry, metal goods, as well as grains, sugar, and other foods harvested by slaves are imported directly to North America and Europe.
The value of slaves to their masters resides not so much in products or craftsmanship, but in the sheer volume of work they are driven to perform. Some slaves are forced to sleep next to looms or brick kilns, while others are chained to work tables. For slaves across the globe, to be awake is to be at work for the slavemaster.
One of the standard explanations that multinational corporations give for closing factories in the developed world and opening them in the developing world is lower labor costs. Whether corporations realize it or not, slavery sometimes constitutes a significant part of these savings.
The engine of modern slavery is thus economics rather than race or ethnicity. The question is no longer “Are they the right color to be enslaved?”, but “Are they vulnerable enough to be enslaved?” Slaves in a given area may tend to be ethnic minority in ackground, but the primary reason for their enslavement is simply that their poverty and powerlessness has left them easy prey for those powerful and ruthless enough to enslave them.