SOCIETY by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Slavery and trafficking are still big business
, November 22, 2014
We live in a democracy. It’s a system of government that works reasonably well. But it’s not perfect — nor can it ever be — because people are not perfect.
Image sourced from the
Salvation Army World Service Office
You may own a house, a car, a bird or a dog. But have you ever imagined what it would be like to “own” a man or a woman in the same way? This is what slavery is, and unfortunately it exists all over the world, even in Australia.
Several weeks ago, SBS television’s Dateline program broadcast a disturbing report which revealed the extensive trafficking of people from Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia, who were then sold into slavery and put to work in Thailand’s prawn industry. Australian viewers saw shocking film footage of slaves ready for sale on an island in Thailand.
Australia of course has its own slaves: these are youngsters trafficked from abroad and sold into prostitution. Sometimes they are lured to our shores by offers of high-paying jobs in the hospitality industry, but are promptly coerced into working in the sex industry.
Australian governments, both state and national, are frequently aware of this widespread practice, but find it “too hard” to take action. But if a government will not take action, should we ignore it? We have a moral duty to those less fortunate than ourselves to take action.
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares: “No-one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”
Slavery is evil because no man is fit to own another man. Certain rights in civilised countries are inalienable — that is, they cannot be removed. One of those rights is liberty. Even convicted prisoners retain certain rights. They may have some of their rights abrogated, but they retain other rights.
Under our laws, the right to liberty cannot be removed, either by the individual or the state. You cannot even sell yourself into slavery and, in that manner, alienate your rights. The rights you possess are part of being human.
You cannot alienate your right to liberty. You can sell a kidney, but you cannot sell your right to freedom. As the United States Declaration of Independence puts it, all people have the inalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
Slaves in Australia generally work for very low pay. A large share of the money they earn goes to the people-traffickers and other gangsters, initially to cover the costs of airfares, expenses and other “debts” the slaves have supposedly incurred in being trafficked to Australia, and later on to augment the traffickers’ profits.
Frequently, these slaves are too afraid to stand up for their rights. They may be threatened with exposure as illegal immigrants if they complain to the authorities. If they are exposed, it is likely their families will be forced to suffer the shame of having a family member in the sex industry.
Sex workers who are trafficked across international borders often have no-one to turn to and no money with which to escape their servitude. They are threatened with violence should they try to escape. People who try to help them escape, run the risk of being murdered.
Slave-owners and traffickers assume that some people are lesser beings than others. Some say slaves are “children of a lesser god”. But slaves have been of every race and colour. The Barbary pirates in North Africa used to kidnap and enslave white Europeans and Americans. In some areas — for example, in West Africa — people were prepared to deliver their own countrymen up to the slave-traders.
In today’s China, slaves work in the brickyards after being lured by offers of high wages. Once they enter the brickyards, they are never allowed to leave.
The following statistic may surprise you, but there are probably more slaves in the world today than at any other time in history.
But surely, you say, slavery was abolished centuries ago! After all, Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807; the United States abolished it in 1865.
However, some 20 to 30 million people around the globe are enslaved right now. But it isn’t always called slavery. It can be called serfdom, indentured servitude, debt bondage or sexual entrapment.
In some places, such as Saudi Arabia and Mauritania, slavery has been abolished, officially, only recently. These countries still have slaves, but they are described differently. The terminology may have changed, but the condition of servitude has not.
Slavery is also economically inefficient. Maintaining a slave in a condition in which he can work incurs maintenance costs which a free man would be prepared to pay for himself.
While in any particular instance a slave may superficially appear less expensive to hire than a free man or woman, an economic system based on free enterprise and on the free movement of labour is generally far more productive than an economy based on slavery.
In the Roman Empire, slaves undercut free men, meaning that Rome never industrialised because, while slavery as a system was inefficient, in any particular case slaves could undercut free workers. The Romans never had any incentive to industrialise because the supply of slaves was constant through much of the life of the Empire.
Amongst the most damning injuries inflicted on slaves is the horrific effect slavery has on children and families. Very young children are often sold into slavery, when they should be having fun and learning.
Being the child of a slave makes that child a slave. Children are often taken from their parents and sold like cattle with no consideration for their family relationships. This creates permanent psychological scars for both parents and children.
The children of slaves, being enslaved themselves, often inherit their parents’ debts. They will thus be enslaved for the term of their natural lives, and so will the next generation of slaves’ children. The interest on these loans keeps on accruing forever.
A man is not entitled to own other humans, be they children, women or men. We are all endowed at birth with the same inalienable rights. No one should ever be deprived of them.
In that sense, all people are born equal. No one is fit to be slave-master of another. People are not cattle to be bought and sold in the marketplace
That slavery and trafficking are still flourishing 200 years after Wilberforce ended the slave trade is wicked. It seems to confirm the dictum of the 18th-century French philosophe Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Man is born free yet is everywhere in chains.”
Jeffry Babb is a Melbourne-based writer.