Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Slavery today

(CNN) - If you have $90 then you could own your slave.

Depending on the kind of person you are that sentence could be at once shocking, saddening or darkly comical. However you might feel though, it’s the plain truth, says Kevin Bales.

The modern-day slavery expert explained to CNN that the current $90 rate for a human slave is actually at an historic low. Two hundred years ago, a slave cost about $40,000 in today’s money. The reason for this price slide: a massive boom in the world’s population, especially in developing countries, has increased the supply of “slaveable” people.

And this has basically turned a human being into a cheap commodity – Bales says like a Styrofoam cup that’s cheaply replaceable if damaged, “If they get sick, what’s the point of paying for medicine – it’s cheaper to let them die and acquire a new one than it is to help the ones you’ve got.

At this very moment, between 12 million and 30 million slaves are working around the world. That’s according to low and high estimates from sociologists and the International Labor Organization.

Despite the spread, any way you cut that number, it’s still a figure that’s big beyond belief. And slaves are everywhere says the United Nations. Breaking down the numbers, more than half of all forced labor sadly occurs right here in Asia. The regions of Latin America and the Middle East both have about 10% of the world’s forced labor. Sub-Saharan Africa has just more than 5%.

And which industries are these slaves in? Well the ones you might expect of course –- prostitution and sweatshop manufacturing. But they also occur in industries you might not associate with slavery – coffee and tea trades, food processing and even health care. That takeaway you might be tucking into could also use forced labor.

And one question we might want to consider as we go about our daily lives: Have the hands of a slave touched what I’m touching now? If the numbers above are to be believed, then it’s not far-fetched to think the answer just might be yes.

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