Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
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21st Century Slavery Under Global Capitalism
TODAY, IT IS ESTIMATED THAT 27 MILLION people in Africa, Asia and Latin America work WITHOUT PAY—AS MODERN-DAY SLAVES.
Women are bought and sold in the trafficking of sex slaves. Bonded laborers are forced to work without pay and with no rights, to pay off debts. Children work with no pay and are sold into sexual slavery.
If things could talk…much of your clothes, your car, your food, your rugs…could tell you they were made with the use of modern-day slave labor.
The fishing industry in Lake Volta, Ghana. Children, as young as three, mend, set and pull nets, and clean fish. Weights are tied on them so that when they dive into the lake to retrieve snagged nets, they will descend more quickly. A lot of this goes on at night, and in the dark depths these children get tangled and trapped in the nets and drown. Their bodies wash up on the shore. The ones who survive get little food. Two boys said when they ate some of the fish they netted, their master beat them with a cane.
Brick kilns in Pakistan. Whole families are lured into the work with promises of good pay. But then end up trapped in bondage – the whole family working for free in order to pay off their debts. Armed guards severely punish any worker who disobeys. A 30-year-old man has old and new scars from such treatment. Once he was beaten unconscious, then locked in a small shed. After three days he was brought out in front of the other workers, hung upside down by a rope and beaten.
A mining town on the Amazon River. Gold from here goes to the biggest banks in the world. Wilma Huamani Sacsi cries when she thinks about her son, Luis Alberto, who never saw his second birthday. With all the workers, he lived in the most unsanitary conditions and had little to eat. When his belly swelled up from a kidney infection, Wilma asked the boss for money to go to a health clinic. But he just told her to go back to work. Holding her son, Wilma set off on foot to the nearest clinic—14 miles away. A doctor there said Luis needed to go to a hospital. Wilma begged in the streets to pay for the trip. But by the time she got enough, Luis was dead.
WHAT KIND OF SYSTEM PRODUCES SUCH HORRORS?
A CAPITALIST-IMPERIALIST SYSTEM WHERE COMMODITY PRODUCERS WILL ALWAYS STRIVE TO FIND THE MOST PROFITABLE WAY TO MAKE THEIR PRODUCTS. And slave labor—not paying workers -- is VERY PROFITABLE.
Along the Amazon River in Brazil, thousands of bonded laborers produce charcoal by burning pieces of hardwood. Recruiters target desperate people in impoverished cities with the promise of jobs with pay. But people end up thousands of miles away into the jungle, working with no pay and no rights because of an endless debt for things bought from the company store – like food, clothing and supplies, even tools, boots and gloves they need for the job.
These slaves work in 95-degree heat and suffer from malaria and chronic coughs. They live in shacks made from plastic sheeting. They are fed rancid meat. Drinking water is contaminated. Latrines are just holes in the ground. Deep in the jungle, they can’t leave even if they want to. They don’t have money to make the trip home and armed guards threaten them if they try to escape.
Charcoal from these camps is used to make pig iron, a basic ingredient of steel. Brokers from steelmakers and foundries buy this pig iron. Then it’s purchased by some of the world’s largest companies to produce things like cars, tractors, sinks, and refrigerators. Companies like Nucor Corp., the second-largest U.S. steel company. Carmakers like Ford, General Motors, Nissan, and Toyota. Producers of appliances like Whirlpool and Kohler.
THE MOST PRIMITIVE AND BARBARIC FORMS OF LABOR SERVE THE INTERESTS OF THE LARGEST AND MOST MODERN CAPITALIST CORPORATIONS IN THE U.S. AND AROUND THE WORLD—which are driven by the need to maximize profit and to come out on top in the cut-throat competition with other capitalists.
The Brazilian government raids slave labor camps and frees people. But as long as Brazil is subordinate to imperialism, it can’t escape the logic of capital. And no matter how many slave labor camps are shut down, they will keep re-emerging—because this system will continue to produce desperate people with no way to survive and capitalist vultures looking to maximize their profits by maximizing exploitation.
Ideologues of globalization extol subcontracting and outsourcing. But in fact what this provides are two valuable things for the capitalists: 1) it cheapens production immeasurably and 2) it provides them with PLAUSIBLE DENIAL that distances them from the brutal, inhuman and murderous production process in which the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings are violently crushed.
And all this is happening under the dominance of U.S. imperialism, the direct and indirect involvement of major global corporations, and the enforcement of IMF and World Bank policies.
What does it say about this system that here in the 21st century you have the most high-tech knowledge and industrial capacity existing alongside the most barbaric, primitive and inhuman slave-like conditions of labor? It may seem like these two things are worlds and centuries apart. But in fact they are part of the integrated system of contemporary global capitalism. A system completely outmoded and unnecessary.
Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Kevin Bales, University of California Press, 2004.
Understanding Global Slavery: A Reader, Kevin Bales, University of California Press, 2005.
“The Secret World of Modern Slavery,” Michael Smith and David Voreacos, Bloomberg Markets, December 2006.
“Slavery Exists Out of Sight in Brazil,” Kevin G. Hall, Knight Ridder Newspapers, Sept. 5, 2004.
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