Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy

Reviewer: Patrick Swanzy

Slavery is documented to have been abolished, but Bales’s fascinating book timely awakens us from our slumber and brings to our attention that this is an illusion. The author highlights how slavery has metamorphosed and saliently taken a new form that requires critical observation and analysis to identify its existence in modern society. Bales deserves applause for this scholarly exercise and for his quest to see slavery in whatever form eradicated in modern times. Even though

Bales’s book is not the first book to highlight slavery, what makes his work exceptional is that he focuses on new forms of slavery and how the new global order has helped facilitate this heinous crime. Instead of reiterating slavery as it were in the olden days, interestingly, he 

Captures the similarities between olden and modern slavery by showing the role violence plays in both endeavours.  

The author argues throughout the book that slavery occupies the peak of human rights violation close to murder and prescribes political will and ability to protect the victim as the antidotes to solving this menace. With empirical data from Thailand, Ghana, Brazil, Pakistan, Mauritania, and India, the author accurately describes how the new form of slavery manifests in these contexts.  Bales states that, in Thailand, prostitution is illegal, yet girls mostly from the rural regions, are lured into the vibrant sex industry and are tortured and enslaved in brothels.  The author laments that religion assisted in facilitating the sale of girls to the kingpins of these brothels.  He states that even though these girls go through horror in plying their trade, faith compels them to accept that they have been destined to experience this menace.  Bales makes a shocking revelation that state agencies are aware of the atrocities meted against the girls trapped in these brothels, but because they benefit in kind and or in cash, it has rendered them powerless, making this modern slavery a reality in the country. 

Bales makes a shocking revelation about Mauritania in his book. The author states that Mauritania has rhetorically abolished slavery so many times, yet one can observe slavery in every facet of society in the country.  He recounts how the status of Mauritania as a police state compelled him to go against the ethics of research in order for him to obtain empirical data to report on slavery in the country. He highlights how Mauritania’s status as a police state assists her in covering up slavery. Bales sadly reports that the slavery practiced in Mauritania is unique, and an example exists nowhere in the world. The closers to what happens in Mauritania is the description of slavery in the Old Testament. This makes the situation in Mauritania highly resistant to change. 

In Brazil, the author blames Europeans and, specifically, the Portuguese for introducing slavery to the country but was quick to argue that the new form of slavery emerges out of social chaos.  The good news portrayed in the book is that the author tags the slavery in Brazil as temporary slavery because of the role the phenomenon plays in the degradation of the forest in the region. The author assumes that the destruction of the forest can occur once, and afterward, there is nothing left to be destroyed.  What is sad about the Brazilian situation is that the people who live in the forest and rely on it are usually the ones forced to destroy it by the gatos, who are key players in the process of enslavement.  

Modern slavery in Pakistan is also discussed in this book. This relates to children and the task they perform in a brick kiln. The author indicates that it may seem that the work environment the children find themselves may not necessarily pose a danger; however, most of the families making bricks are likely working against a debt owed to the owner of the kiln. He complains that the violent enforcement of debt bondage by the police in Pakistan is a key element of the new slavery perpetuated in the country, similar to Thailand and Brazilian police. 

Bales tags India as the country with the possession of artifacts to help trace slavery in human history. According to the author, India can boost as the country with the highest number of slaves globally. The author argues that slavery is rampant in India, and this has been facilitated by the glaring poverty that stirs in the faces of most people in the country, but he shows astonishment at the progress India has made towards eradicating slavery in the country. 

From the book’s account, slavery is still visible in the countries reported in this book even though the International Community, Governments, Non-Governmental Agencies, and individuals are working hard to abolish it. 

Bales's book is an excellent academic artifact for scholars and activists who are hungry for in-depth knowledge about modern slavery and want to see its demise in every part of the world. In the future, it will be interesting to see Bales’s project on slavery report on the role colonization, trade deals between the North and South, austerity measures by the Bretton Woods institutions and China has played in plunging some countries, especially those in the South into perpetual debt bondage. This new form of slavery seems to manifest in these countries’ debt stockpiling every day. The effect is the lack of development in these countries and the poor living conditions experienced by the citizens with no hope of any sign of improvement any time soon.

 Dr. Patrick Swanzy is a Lecturer at the Department of Teacher Education, Faculty of Educational Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana.