Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy


Slavery is illegal throughout the world, yet more than twenty-seven million people are still trapped in one of history's oldest social institutions. Kevin Bales's disturbing story of slavery today reaches from brick kilns in Pakistan and brothels in Thailand to the offices of multinational corporations. His investigation of conditions in Mauritania, Brazil, Thailand, Pakistan, and India reveals the tragic emergence of a "new slavery," one intricately linked to the global economy. The new slaves are not a long-term investment as was true with older forms of slavery, explains Bales. Instead, they are cheap, require little care, and are disposable.

Three interrelated factors have helped create the new slavery. The enormous population explosion over the past three decades has flooded the world's labor markets with millions of impoverished, desperate people. The revolution of economic globalization and modernized agriculture has dispossessed poor farmers, making them and their families ready targets for enslavement. And rapid economic change in developing countries has bred corruption and violence, destroying social rules that might once have protected the most vulnerable individuals.

Bales's vivid case studies present actual slaves, slaveholders, and public officials in well-drawn historical, geographical, and cultural contexts. He observes the complex economic relationships of modern slavery and is aware that liberation is a bitter victory for a child prostitute or a bondaged miner if the result is starvation.

Bales offers suggestions for combating the new slavery and provides examples of very positive results from organizations such as Anti-Slavery International, the Pastoral Land Commission in Brazil, and the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan. He also calls for researchers to follow the flow of raw materials and products from slave to marketplace in order to effectively target campaigns of "naming and shaming" corporations linked to slavery. Disposable People is the first book to point the way to abolishing slavery in today's global economy.

All of the author's royalties from this book go to fund anti-slavery projects around the world.


“I spoke of these people as captives. I talked about the harsh conditions they found in New York. They were malnourished, diseased. Infant mortality was high.” Dr. Michael Blakey heads up the African Burial Ground Project in New York City. More than four hundred slaves are buried in Lower Manhattan, and Blakey, a physical anthropologist, is drawing out the stories their bones tell. Blakey described how the remains of one young man show that he was probably trafficked from Africa to the United States:

He has evidence of treponemal disease, probably yaws. So he’s been exposed
to a tropical disease. He has evidence of hard work and some healed frac
tures in his spine. He also has the most subtle and elegantly filed teeth

This man’s bones bear witness to the destructive nature of slavery: he was no more than thirty-five when he died. There are also a very large number of small children buried in the cemetery. The impact of slavery on these families was enormous: “When children die in large numbers,” Blakey notes “people feel a significant sense of loss.”

Blakey’s work ties us to slavery in the past. It shows us the reality of slavery’s pernicious and ugly damage to human life. The slaves buried in Manhattan also help us to understand something very important:

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