Editor’s note: This blog post was written by Benjamin Skinner, a longtime friend of Free the Slaves who won the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace prize for his book A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery. To learn more about Mr. Skinner’s work as an investigative journalist and abolitionist, check out his website here.
Sex Slaves-UK, which premiered this past Sunday, May 22, at 9pm EST, documents the efforts of the British police to root out sex trafficking networks. Human bondage is a problem as old as recorded history, and England is where the organized fight against it began.
There, in the late eighteenth century, the first international human rights movement took shape when Wilberforce, Clarkson, Equiano and others pressed to abolish the slave trade, an effort magisterially portrayed in Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains. Those vanguard abolitionists inspired their brothers and sisters across the pond, including Douglass, Garrison, Truth, and Tubman. That American struggle culminated in the Civil War—the sesquicentennial of which we mark this spring—the Thirteenth Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Not to be outdone, in the late nineteenth century, British journalists reclaimed the abolitionist mantle by first crusading against sex slavery in urban England, then by uncovering the extent of Belgium’s slave empire in the Congo Free State. E.D. Morel, who conducted the Congo investigations, triggered the third abolitionist movement, also magnificently described by Hochschild in King Leopold’s Ghost.
Now, at the start of what Kevin Bales—President of Free The Slaves, the American wing of Wilberforce and Clarkson’s organization—has dubbed The Fourth and Final Abolitionist Movement. Britons are once again trying to slay the 5,000-year-old snake. As I explain in The Huffington Post, the modern British effort is a far cry from its eighteenth century forebears, but it certainly makes for engrossing television. Sex Slaves-UK is worth a watch.
(post script: As long as I’m given the opportunity to gratuitously plug Hochschild, his latest, To End All Wars, out this month, is typically brilliant.)
Last year, Ben Skinner was featured on CNN’s Larry King Live, along with Dan Rather, Mira Sorvino and Julia Ormond. The topic was modern-day slavery. Watch a clip here.
More from CNN’s Freedom Project: Free the Slaves President Kevin Bales, along with other modern-day slavery experts discusses the difficulty in counting the number of slaves around the world.
The challenges of counting a ‘hidden population’
By Manav Tanneeru
Slavery still exists. Of that there isn’t much dispute, if any. But how widespread is what many experts call modern-day slavery?
Estimates range from about 10 million to 30 million, according to policymakers, activists, journalists and scholars.
The International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations that focuses on, among other things, labor rights, put the number at a “minimum estimate” of 12.3 million in a 2005 report.
Kevin Bales, a sociologist who serves as a consultant to the United Nations and has authored several books about modern-day slavery, estimated the number was 27 million people in his book “Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.” The book was published in 1999.
There is yet another estimate. Siddharth Kara, a fellow on trafficking at Harvard University and also an author, recently told CNN that his calculations put the range between 24 million and 32 million. That number was current as of the end of 2006, he said.
There are several reasons behind the variance in numbers, said Ben Skinner, who published a book about modern-day slavery – “A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-day Slavery.”
“There are two big problems with the count,” Skinner, a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, said during a telephone interview. “The first is that the people we are counting are, by definition, a hidden population.
“The second problem is more of a theoretical one where the definitions are not in place. We don’t have a common definition still as to what slavery is.”
‘A hidden population’
Slave labor has been a part of civilization for much of history. It was practiced openly and its legality wasn’t much of a question. During the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, its scale was carefully documented.
Today, slavery is illegal in every country. Yet it persists, in secret, exploiting the poor and the marginalized – which poses immense challenges for legal authorities, activists and experts working to track the problem.
Last night the entire hour of Larry King Live was given over to modern day slavery. And we were excited to see that in his interviews, King quoted generously from Free the Slaves research. He used our website (FreetheSlaves.net) as the source for some of the facts and statistics he mentioned. Some of the information he gleaned from us:
- There are 27 million slaves in the world today.
- The average cost of buying a slave today is $90.
- Slave holders can use many different terms to avoid using the word “slavery.” Terms like bonded labor, attached labor, forced labor.
Guests on the show included journalist and anti-slavery activist Benjamin Skinner; actress Julia Ormond, who is the founder of the anti-slavery NGO ASSET; Mira Sorvino, UN Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking; Dan Rather, who has has produced investigative reports on domestic human trafficking for his show Dan Rather Reports; Florencia Molina, a former enslaved garment worker in Los Angeles, and member of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking’s Caucus of Survivors; and Amanda Bonella, who was trafficked into sex slavery as a teenager.