OTI Online Spring 2009

Book Reviews by Christine E. Hutchins:
Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves

In our Spring ’09 edition, On The Issues Magazine writers and artists discuss feminist and progressive values that transcend politics -- our Lines In The Sand.


The Struggle Against Modern-Day Slavery

 

Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves by Kevin Bales.

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Bales's 2007 book, Ending Slavery, is the latest in his series of books addressing modern-day slavery in the global economy. Bales is president of the organization Free the Slaves, the United States affiliate of Anti-Slavery International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I first saw the 2003 documentary Anonymously Yours, in which director Gayle Ferraro captures courageous interviews with women in Myanmar who have been victims of sex-trafficking, I have been following the movement to end the appalling increase in modern-day slavery.

Choices between difficult, dangerous and disasterous.

Shortly after 2003, I met a young woman who as a child had been bought and brought to The United States to work as an undocumented domestic worker. There was little any of the many lawyers who worked with us could do to end her slavery unless she were willing to testify against the family to whom her relatives had sold her. Were she to agree to testify, she would apply for a temporary visa for the period of her testimony. Without the temporary visa, she risked return to relatives who did not want her. She opted not to testify, not to risk return. Her alternatives seemed, at least to me, choices between difficult, dangerous and disastrous.

Kevin Bales's 2007 book, Ending Slavery, is the latest in his series of books addressing modern-day slavery in the global economy. Bales is president of the organization Free the Slaves, the United States affiliate of Anti-Slavery International.

In earlier books such as his 2004 Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Bales documents the plights of modern-day slaves. In his new book, Ending Slavery, he shows what individuals, community organizations, and governments can do to make good on the laws all countries have, but often ignore, against slavery.

Officially, global slavery ended long ago. Practically, it not only continued, but worsened. Bales shows that there are some 27 million enslaved persons in the world, with hundreds of thousands in the United States.

Except in sections on individual and local community anti-slavery efforts, Bales's is not a practical book. His conclusions mirror those of Siriporn Skrobanek, Nattaya Boonpakdi, and Chutima Janthakeero in their book The Traffic in Women: Human Realities of the International Sex Trade. To date, the most successful actions against slavery have taken place at the local level, in villages and towns, among ordinary people who educate, rescue, and support slaves and former slaves.

Bales's impractical larger argument is packed with information well worth reading. This man knows his stuff. In readable prose and with impressive supporting evidence, Bales explains what works and what does not work in anti-slavery movements.

27 million enslaved persons in the world today.

As Bales clearly shows, mistakes in such movements can be deadly. He describes "successful" efforts to "free" slaves in Nepal that ended in mass homelessness, epidemic illnesses and widespread deaths. Getting it right matters. Bales explains what can go wrong and why, and offers strategies for avoiding disasters such as the one in Nepal. Bales's discussions of causes of and solutions to human rights violations are not only for those of us interested in ending the traffic in humans but also for all of us concerned with human rights generally.

Bales identifies government corruption, population growth, and abject poverty as causes of the global slave trade. As he says, if we eradicate these evils, we can hope to end slavery. However, I think we have to admit here that we are talking about a very large task. Sadly, if we could get government leaders such as those in the Sudan to lighten up on murdering their own citizens we will have made progress.

Ending global government corruption much less poverty and oppression seem a long way off. Yet, as Bales argues, we begin now. Perhaps it will take a long while. Despite this, the traffic in humans who are coerced and beaten into working in brothels, kitchens, factories, and mines is so offensive and frightening a violation of human rights that there is, as Bales says, no time to begin but now.

Visit Christine E. Hutchins review of The Reproductive Rights Reader: Law, Medicine, and the Construction of Motherhood, also in this issue of On The Issues


Christine E. Hutchins, Book Review Editor, is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English, Marymount Manhattan College in New York City.

Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves by Kevin Bales (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007).

Also See Fighting Prostitution at the Expense of Slavery: The 2007 Federal Law by Melynda H. Barnhart in the Summer 2008 edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See Anti-Immigrant Fervor Translates to Terror for Women by Melissa Nalani Ross in the Fall 2008 edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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