For Online E-newspaper
The East African : November 18th 2013
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 16-22,2013 VII Child labourers at China’s northern Shanxi Province. Picture: File where technology takes over the physical drudgery of industry, and at the same time, industries cannot expand unless they acquire new customers. Then it makes sense to free slaves, pay them some money that they can spend on manufactured goods, thus support industry. It is what led to the abolition of slavery among the Western powers in the 19th century. Compassionate societies are born when it makes economic sense to do so — or in the words of Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid!” So why does slavery persist around ). SlavBritish, Africa d workhen the nsport was the ble for ur, the rished, uch as ds and Africa, slaves. mericas, ds such olasses ricas to rienced gy was isation metal nd cast working ent ma- chines that could do farm jobs faster, better and cheaper; the seed drill was invented in 1701, cast-iron plough in 1730 and the threshing machine in 1784. But development of steam power during the Industrial Revolution was the game changer, adding another source of power on the farms that gradually displaced almost all of the others. The slaves themselves were not need- ed in Europe, where machines were already doing most of the work — not coincidentally, a 1702 case ruled that “as soon as a Negro comes into England, he becomes free. One may be a villein in England, but not a slave.” The Slave trade was abolished in Britain in 1807, and slavery abolished in the British colonies in 1834. As its economy grew and its manufacturing industries needed bigger markets, Britain then began pushing other countries to abolish slavery too; it was abolished in the French colonies in 1848, by the US in 1865, and by Brazil in 1888. Adam Smith, champion of free mar- the slave t≥ade — m e l bo e n e p d a — The Black Death, maller outbreaks outbreak of the e decimated lation, and suddenly, odied workers emand. The labour nt workers were d better rights and and before long, the erfdom collapsed in pe. Slaves below deck on the Albanez, a Spanish slave ship. Illustration: The Art Archive 16th to 19th centuries — The Trans-Atlantic slave trade When European powers established colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean, they had more land than they could work on. Africa was the source of much-needed workers. During the 18th century, the slave trade accounted for the transport of six million Africans. Manufactured goods such as cloth, tobacco, beads, metal goods and guns were shipped from Europe to Africa, where they were exchanged for slaves. The slaves were shipped to the Americas, and finally, new, luxurious goods such as sugar, rum, tobacco and molasses were transported from the Americas to Europe. 18th and 19th centuries — The Industrial Revolution Mechanisation took off after 1750, when new metal technologies made cheap steel and cast iron available. The new metal-working methods allowed farmers to invent machines that could do farm jobs faster, better and cheaper, so fewer workers were needed. As its economy grew and its manufacturing industries needed bigger markets, Britain abolished slavery, and pushed other countries to do the same. kets opposed slavery on both economic and moral grounds. As he wrote in The Wealth of Nations: “From the experience of all ages and nations, I believe, that the work done by free men comes cheaper in the end than the work performed by slaves. Whatever work he does, beyond what is sufficient to purchase his own maintenance, can be squeezed out of him by violence only, and not by any interest of his own.” So as Britain got richer (on the back of slave labour in the West Indies) and technology began doing most of the work of human beings, two things happened. First, an increasingly leisured middle class emerged, who led the compassionate humanitarian abolistionist movement, and second, many Britons began to see the benefits of a world economy where everyone was free to work for money, which could then be used to buy goods — which the British manufactured! Large-scale slavery only flourishes until a society reaches a tipping point, scale slavery only flourishes until a society reaches a tipping point, where technology takes over the physical drudgery of industry.” ‘‘ the world? The top 10 countries that have the greatest proportion of people living in slavery are all Third World countries. The exception is Moldova, which is still poor, by European standards at least; it has the lowest GDP in Europe and is a source country for human traffickers. But in reality, the kind of large-scale Large- slavery that was widespread before 1900 does not exist anywhere in the world today. Technology in all industries has advanced to the point where machines do many jobs faster, cheaper and better than human beings. What still persists is domestic slavery as in Mauritania, child exploitation as in Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Gabon, Benin and Haiti, and human trafficking and debt bondage in India, Pakistan and Nepal. These situations are not any easier than the slavery of times past — the desperation, anxiety, fear and helplessness is just as real. Slavery is profitable. Even as the world has become richer, slavery is relatively cheaper than ever (in terms of the cost of transporting and maintaining a slave, compared with pre-1900). Modern slavery can generate high economic returns, as anti-slavery activist Kevin Bales argued in a 2001 interview with the BBC, “In the United States before the Civil War, the average slave cost the Countries with the highest prevalence of modern-day slavery: 1. Mauritania 2. Haiti 3. Pakistan 4. India 5. Nepal 6. Moldova 7. Benin 8. Cote d’Ivoire 9. The Gambia 10. Gabon Source: Global Slavery Index 2013, published by the Walk Free Foundation equivalent of about $50,000… today, it can’t be more than $50 or $100. While the price has gone down, the return on the slaveholder’s investment has skyrocketed. In the antebellum South, slaves brought an average return of about five per cent. Bonded labourers in India generate more than a 50 per cent profit per year for their slaveholders, and a return of 800 per cent is not at all uncommon for holders of sex slaves.” But slavery is illegal, and so requires corruption and crime to continue. The power of the slave owner is always subject to the power of the state; slavery can only exist if governments permit it. The determining factor in the continued existence of modern-day slavery is money, or rather the lack of it. Lack of financial institutions for the extreme poor can push them towards loan sharks who charge high interest rates or insist on large loans that leave them vulnerable to debt bondage; poverty can make it impossible for the poor to move to an area where they can be employed as free workers; poverty forces families to sell their child to a wealthy family just to put food on the table. As long as such exploitative social structures remain, slavery will be a feature of modern day life.
November 10th 2013
November 25th 2013