The Anti-Slavery Crusade

Article excerpt

In "Winning the Fight" (Spring 2009), Kevin Bales, one of the leading observers on human trafficking, addresses the much-needed grand strategy for abolishing slavery today. He aptly emphasizes both the debt used by traffickers to ensnare and subjugate victims and the necessity for business to play a key part in the solution. To break the invisible but very real chains of today's slaves, from brick kilns to brothels, our grand strategy must achieve three balances.

First, the biggest lesson of my tenure as anti-trafficking Ambassador is the imperative to address sex and labor slavery with equal vigor. In their concern about the uniquely degrading and violating nature of sex slavery, some anti-trafficking activists de-prioritize the immense global sweep of slave labor. Others feel that sex trafficking has been overemphasized, and seek to avoid debates about volition among prostituted people. To read Kevin Bales' essay, one might think sex trafficking is a minor element of slavery in the world today.

Second, we need a balance between our focus on poverty as an impetus for slavery--Bales' focus--and other causes, such as the absence of a rule of law, demand for labor, and ethnic prejudice. We need data, as Bales stresses, but the success fighting slavery by fighting poverty will not be measurable.

As for prejudice, Bales estimates that there are 27 million enslaved today, and 10 million in debt bondage in South Asia alone. In the practice of human trafficking, certain categories of humans, such as children, women, migrants, minorities, and castes, are exploited as subhuman species. The Dalit people are a striking example. In the Gulf Region, women and migrants are each treated as less than human, and women migrants are doubly vulnerable (such as the Indonesia maid I met in Kuwait whose female employer covered her with bite marks).

Finally, we need a balance between corporate social responsibility and corporate social accountability. Bales is wrong to imply that businesses are doing more than governments today to fight slavery; they need to, but aren't. …