On Slavery: “A Crime So Monstrous”

Our guest expert today (via Skype, which we hope will work) is the journalist E. Benjamin Skinner, author of the book A Crime So Monstrous, which was published last year to critical acclaim. Ben’s book is available on reserve at the PPA Department general office (622 Meng Wah) and an article of his that was recently published in World Policy Journal can be downloaded from the WebCT course content area. I recommend that you at least read Chapter 8 – the India chapter – of the book, which is an example of excellent reportage.

I should also note that Ben was recently interviewed by Mike Papantonio on the weekly Ring of Fire program on the liberal  Air America Radio Network in the US (the second part of the interview may be viewed by clicking the link that appears after you have viewed the first part).

What we will discuss today with Ben is how economic globalization may be fueling slavery in parts of the world and what we ourselves as consumers can do to address the problem. Our discussion with Ben will start at 2 pm – technology willing. He will be with us for about an hour (also technology willing).

You may also wish to check out this essay on “Slavery and Globalization” by Marian L. Tupy of the Cato Institute, which defends free markets, and this piece by Roehampton University academic and anti-slavery activist Kevin Bales, “Expendable People: Slavery in the Age of Globalization”, which appeared in Spring 2000 issue of Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs.

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2 Responses to “On Slavery: “A Crime So Monstrous””


  1. 1 Paula 23/09/2009 at 10:36 pm

    I have finished reading the two articles. I think the articles are very good, in the sense that they provide a more comprehensive analysis on slavery. And I would like to raise two points.

    Kevin Bales talked about the new form of slavery. He said that slavery was transformed in the Age of Globalization, and slaves are no long viewed as property but merely as disposable inputs into production. One thing immediately comes into my mind: the situation of slaves today is even worse than before. In the past, although they need to work endlessly, at least they are ensured that they would have food. Somehow a sense of security is provided. They continue to work, and their reward is food and shelter, although very limited. Today, they become slaves during the period where they have the highest productivity and then they are disposed of. No food. No shelter anymore. They regain their freedom, but that means they need to depend on themselves. However, with a long-been-tortured body, they might not be able to find a job, especially when they need to compete with other slaves. They may face problem of subsistence.

    Tupy argued that the only way for Africa to escape scourge of poverty is capitalism and free market. I agreed with his view. After all, we can see many successful examples. Even China, a socialist country on the rise, the money it earned comes mainly from activities of capitalism. Although the undesirable consequence of capitalism is not negligible, so far it seems to be only and the quickest way to generate wealth. Yet, to combat poverty, a non-corrupt government and a good legal system are essential.

    Paula Lam
    Mon 2-3pm

  2. 2 Chow Chui Yin, Kuma 09/10/2009 at 7:11 pm

    I’d like to respond to the article written by Kevin Bales. At first glance of the article, I thought ‘what a dangerous thought it is to treat slavery as a question appeared on economics textbook and study the supply, demand and price of it’. The problems that capitalist countries share is we tend to put a price to everything, everything can only be valuable if it carries a price. That is why when advocating the preservation of a chimp, a dolphin and a tree requires environmentalists to calculate a price for all the concerned spieces for the ‘better judgement’ of citizens to gain their votes in the advocacy.

    You cannot put a price to people’s freedom, so you can’t really price slavery. But as in the article, calculating the economic values the enslaved people generate does help the rest of the world understand why there is an increased demand for slavery in globalization and explains why at this time of history we have the highest number of ensalved people.

    In less developed places where technology is backward, they export labor intensive products. They sell in bulk to big multinatioanl companies from the richer parts of the world with an increasing pressure to drive the price of raw materials and products lower and lower as these companies survive on making growing profits. Slavery as a profitable trade in itself also ensures profits are made for big companies in the global market.

    Globalization is also making the poor people poorer. Poverty is attributed to be one of the causes of slavery and so is world population boom, according to Kevin Bales.

    All in all, the relationship between globalization and slavery is not that slaves are shipped around the world, as is found that the majority of slavery is internal, i.e. the enslaved work in the countries where they were enslaved. The relationship is actually being globalization make the poorer poor easily fall victims to slavery in the craze for lower prices and higher profits.

    I am not satisfied with the purely monetary explanation as to why slavery happens although the writer does provide a good explanation as to why slavery increased in globalization.

    Looking into how people become slaves, aside from some got kidnapped, some are victims of debt bondage in cases where the debt was made 7 generations before (as said by Ben Skinner in the radio show interview), more people become slaves because they are tricked–because young people aspire to provide income support to their families, because they aspire to have a job opportunity, and because they want the holy grail of education.

    The monetary illustrustion of the slaves industries amidst globalization sheds little light as to how to solve the slavery problem besides asking big companies to take up responsibilities and ensure no slavery occures in their production lines and warn the consumers to be wary. By looking into enslaved people’s initial chasing after food, living expenses, education, health care… you can see that to eliminate the slavery problem, it is important to curb it from its roots, it is to provide security to the poor. Equip these people with better skills so they can find better jobs, offer them with education opportunities, provide primary care…so that parents won’t have to sell their kids, so that kids do not have to trust strangers who promise an education in an afar land, so that people who need to afford some medical treatments in their families do not end up being in a debt bondage.

    Slavery is a whole array of issues and is a problem made bigger under globalization, but I do think the essential and most efficient solutions would be tackling the roots of poverty.


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