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TED2010

Kevin Bales: How to combat modern slavery

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Views 869,948

In this moving yet pragmatic talk, Kevin Bales explains the business of modern slavery, a multibillion-dollar economy that underpins some of the worst industries on earth. He shares stats and personal stories from his on-the-ground research -- and names the price of freeing every slave on earth right now.

- Anti-slavery activist
Kevin Bales is the co-founder of Free the Slaves, whose mission is to end all forms of human slavery within the next 25 years. He's the author of "Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves." Full bio

You know for me, the interest in contemporary forms of slavery
00:16
started with a leaflet that I picked up in London.
00:20
It was the early '90s,
00:22
and I was at a public event.
00:24
I saw this leaflet and it said,
00:26
"There are millions of slaves in the world today."
00:29
And I thought, "No way, no way."
00:32
And I'm going to admit to hubris.
00:36
Because I also, I'm going to admit to you,
00:39
I also thought, "How can I be like
00:41
a hot-shot young full professor
00:43
who teaches human rights and not know this?
00:45
So it can't be true."
00:48
Well, if you teach, if you worship
00:50
in the temple of learning,
00:52
do not mock the gods,
00:54
because they will take you,
00:56
fill you with curiosity and desire,
00:58
and drive you. Drive you with a passion
01:01
to change things.
01:04
I went out and did a lit review,
01:07
3,000 articles on the key word "slavery."
01:09
Two turned out to be about contemporary -- only two.
01:12
All the rest were historical.
01:15
They were press pieces and they were full of outrage,
01:17
they were full of speculation, they were anecdotal --
01:20
no solid information.
01:23
So, I began to do a research project of my own.
01:25
I went to five countries around the world.
01:28
I looked at slaves. I met slaveholders,
01:30
and I looked very deeply
01:33
into slave-based businesses
01:35
because this is an economic crime.
01:38
People do not enslave people to be mean to them.
01:40
They do it to make a profit.
01:44
And I've got to tell you, what I found out in the world
01:46
in four different continents,
01:48
was depressingly familiar.
01:51
Like this:
01:53
Agricultural workers in Africa,
01:56
whipped and beaten,
01:58
showing us how they were beaten in the fields
02:00
before they escaped from slavery
02:03
and met up with our film crew.
02:05
It was mind-blowing.
02:07
And I want to be very clear.
02:10
I'm talking about real slavery.
02:14
This is not about lousy marriages,
02:16
this is not about jobs that suck.
02:18
This is about people who can not walk away,
02:20
people who are forced to work without pay,
02:23
people who are operating 24/7
02:25
under a threat of violence
02:28
and have no pay.
02:30
It's real slavery in exactly the same way
02:33
that slavery would be recognized
02:35
throughout all of human history.
02:37
Now, where is it?
02:40
Well, this map in the sort of redder, yellower colors
02:42
are the places with the highest densities of slavery.
02:45
But in fact that kind of bluey color
02:48
are the countries where we can't find any cases of slavery.
02:50
And you might notice that it's only Iceland and Greenland
02:53
where we can't find any cases of enslavement
02:56
around the world.
02:58
We're also particularly interested
03:00
and looking very carefully
03:02
at places where
03:04
slaves are being used to perpetrate
03:08
extreme environmental destruction.
03:10
Around the world, slaves are used to destroy the environment,
03:14
cutting down trees in the Amazon; destroying
03:17
forest areas in West Africa;
03:19
mining and spreading mercury around
03:21
in places like Ghana and the Congo;
03:24
destroying the coastal ecosystems in South Asia.
03:26
It's a pretty harrowing linkage
03:30
between what's happening to our environment
03:33
and what's happening to our human rights.
03:35
Now, how on Earth did we get to a situation like this,
03:37
where we have 27 million people
03:40
in slavery in the year 2010?
03:43
That's double the number that came out of Africa
03:45
in the entire transatlantic slave trade.
03:48
Well, it builds up with these factors.
03:51
They are not causal, they are actually supporting factors.
03:53
One we all know about, the population explosion:
03:56
the world goes from two billion people to almost
03:59
seven billion people in the last 50 years.
04:01
Being numerous does not make you a slave.
04:04
Add in the increased vulnerability of very large numbers of people
04:06
in the developing world,
04:11
caused by civil wars, ethnic conflicts,
04:13
kleptocratic governments, disease ... you name it, you know it.
04:16
We understand how that works. In some countries
04:19
all of those things happen at once,
04:21
like Sierra Leone a few years ago,
04:23
and push enormous parts ... about a billion people in the world, in fact,
04:25
as we know, live on the edge,
04:29
live in situations where
04:31
they don't have any opportunity and are usually even destitute.
04:33
But that doesn't make you a slave either.
04:38
What it takes to turn a person who is destitute and vulnerable
04:41
into a slave, is the absence of the rule of law.
04:44
If the rule of law is sound, it protects
04:48
the poor and it protects the vulnerable.
04:50
But if corruption creeps in
04:52
and people don't have the opportunity
04:54
to have that protection of the rule of law,
04:56
then if you can use violence,
04:58
if you can use violence with impunity,
05:00
you can reach out and harvest the vulnerable
05:02
into slavery.
05:05
Well, that is precisely what has happened around the world.
05:07
Though, for a lot of people,
05:11
the people who step
05:15
into slavery today
05:17
don't usually get kidnapped or knocked over the head.
05:20
They come into slavery because
05:24
someone has asked them this question.
05:26
All around the world I've been told an almost identical story.
05:28
People say, "I was home,
05:31
someone came into our village,
05:33
they stood up in the back of a truck, they said, 'I've got jobs,
05:35
who needs a job?'"
05:37
And they did exactly what
05:39
you or I would do in the same situation.
05:41
They said, "That guy looked sketchy. I was suspicious,
05:44
but my children were hungry.
05:48
We needed medicine.
05:51
I knew I had to do anything I could
05:53
to earn some money to support the people I care about."
05:55
They climb into the back of the truck. They go off with the person who recruits them.
05:59
Ten miles, 100 miles, 1,000 miles later,
06:02
they find themselves in dirty, dangerous, demeaning work.
06:06
They take it for a little while,
06:10
but when they try to leave, bang!, the hammer comes down,
06:12
and they discover they're enslaved.
06:15
Now, that kind of slavery
06:18
is, again, pretty much what slavery has been all through human history.
06:21
But there is one thing that is particularly remarkable
06:25
and novel about slavery today,
06:29
and that is a complete collapse
06:31
in the price of human beings --
06:35
expensive in the past, dirt cheap now.
06:38
Even the business programs have started
06:41
picking up on this.
06:43
I just want to share a little clip for you.
06:45
Daphne: OK. Llively discussion guaranteed here, as always,
06:47
as we get macro and talk commodities.
06:49
Continuing here in the studio with our guest Michael O'Donohue,
06:52
head of commodities at Four Continents Capital Management.
06:55
And we're also joined by Brent Lawson
06:57
from Lawson Frisk Securities.
07:00
Brent Lawson: Happy to be here.
07:02
D: Good to have you with us, Brent.
07:04
Now, gentlemen ... Brent, where is your money going this year?
07:06
BL: Well Daphne, we've been going short on gas and oil recently
07:10
and casting our net just a little bit wider.
07:13
We really like the human being story a lot.
07:15
If you look at a long-term chart,
07:18
prices are at historical lows and yet global demand
07:21
for forced labor is still real strong.
07:23
So, that's a scenario that we think we should be capitalizing on.
07:26
D: Michael, what's your take on the people story? Are you interested?
07:30
Michael O'Donoghue: Oh definitely. Non-voluntary labor's greatest advantage
07:33
as an asset is the endless supply.
07:36
We're not about to run out of people. No other commodity has that.
07:38
BL: Daphne, if I may draw your attention to one thing.
07:41
That is that private equity has been sniffing around,
07:43
and that tells me that this market is about to explode.
07:46
Africans and Indians, as usual,
07:49
South Americans, and Eastern Europeans in particular
07:51
are on our buy list.
07:54
D: Interesting. Micheal, bottom line, what do you recommend?
07:56
MO: We're recommending to our clients
07:59
a buy and hold strategy.
08:01
There's no need to play the market.
08:03
There's a lot of vulnerable people out there. It's very exciting.
08:05
D: Exciting stuff indeed. Gentlemen, thank you very much.
08:08
Kevin Bales: Okay, you figured it out. That's a spoof.
08:13
Though I enjoyed watching
08:15
your jaws drop, drop, drop, until you got it.
08:17
MTV Europe worked with us and made that spoof,
08:21
and they've been slipping it in between music videos
08:24
without any introduction, which I think is kind of fun.
08:26
Here's the reality.
08:29
The price of human beings across the last 4,000 years
08:31
in today's money has averaged about 40,000 dollars.
08:34
Capital purchase items.
08:37
You can see that the lines cross when the population explodes.
08:40
The average price of a human being today,
08:43
around the world, is about 90 dollars.
08:46
They are more expensive in places like North America.
08:48
Slaves cost between 3,000 to 8,000 dollars in North America,
08:51
but I could take you places in India or Nepal
08:55
where human beings can be acquired for five or 10 dollars.
08:58
They key here is that
09:01
people have ceased to be that capital purchase item
09:03
and become like Styrofoam cups.
09:07
You buy them cheaply, you use them,
09:09
you crumple them up, and then when you're done
09:12
with them you just throw them away.
09:14
These young boys are in Nepal.
09:16
They are basically the transport system
09:19
on a quarry run by a slaveholder.
09:22
There are no roads there, so they carry loads of stone
09:24
on their backs, often of their own weight,
09:27
up and down the Himalaya Mountains.
09:30
One of their mothers said to us,
09:32
"You know, we can't survive here,
09:34
but we can't even seem to die either."
09:36
It's a horrible situation.
09:39
And if there is anything that makes me feel very positive about this,
09:41
it's that there are also --
09:45
in addition to young men like this who are still enslaved --
09:47
there are ex-slaves who are now working to free others.
09:49
Or, we say, Frederick Douglass is in the house.
09:53
I don't know if you've ever had a daydream
09:56
about, "Wow. What would it be like to meet Harriet Tubman?
09:59
What would it be like to meet Frederick Douglass?"
10:01
I've got to say, one of the most exciting parts about my job
10:03
is that I get to,
10:06
and I want to introduce you to one of those.
10:08
His name is James Kofi Annan. He was a slave child in Ghana
10:10
enslaved in the fishing industry,
10:13
and he now, after escape and building a new life,
10:15
has formed an organization that we work closely with
10:19
to go back and get people out of slavery.
10:22
This is not James, this is one of the kids that he works with.
10:24
James Kofi Annan (Video): He was hit with a paddle
10:27
in the head. And this reminds me
10:29
of my childhood when I used to work here.
10:31
KB: James and our country director in Ghana,
10:35
Emmanuel Otoo are now receiving regular death threats
10:39
because the two of them managed to get
10:42
convictions and imprisonment for three human traffickers
10:44
for the very first time in Ghana
10:47
for enslaving people, from the fishing industry,
10:49
for enslaving children.
10:51
Now, everything I've been telling you,
10:53
I admit, is pretty disheartening.
10:55
But there is actually a very positive side to this,
10:58
and that is this: The 27 million people
11:02
who are in slavery today,
11:04
that's a lot of people, but it's also
11:06
the smallest fraction
11:08
of the global population to ever be in slavery.
11:10
And likewise, the 40 billion dollars that they generate
11:13
into the global economy each year
11:16
is the tiniest proportion of the global economy
11:18
to ever be represented by slave labor.
11:21
Slavery, illegal in every country
11:25
has been pushed to the edges of our global society.
11:27
And in a way, without us even noticing,
11:32
has ended up standing on the precipice
11:35
of its own extinction,
11:37
waiting for us to give it a big boot
11:39
and knock it over. And get rid of it.
11:42
And it can be done.
11:44
Now, if we do that, if we put the resources
11:46
and the focus to it,
11:48
what does it actually cost to get people out of slavery?
11:50
Well, first, before I even tell you the cost
11:53
I've got to be absolutely clear.
11:56
We do not buy people out of slavery.
11:58
Buying people out of slavery is like
12:02
paying a burglar to get your television back;
12:04
it's abetting a crime.
12:06
Liberation, however, costs some money.
12:09
Liberation, and more importantly
12:11
all the work that comes after liberation.
12:13
It's not an event, it's a process.
12:16
It's about helping people to build lives of dignity,
12:18
stability, economic autonomy,
12:21
citizenship.
12:23
Well, amazingly,
12:25
in places like India where costs are very low,
12:27
that family, that three-generation family that you see there
12:30
who were in hereditary slavery --
12:34
so, that granddad there, was born a baby into slavery --
12:36
but the total cost, amortized
12:41
across the rest of the work,
12:43
was about 150 dollars to bring that family
12:45
out of slavery and then take them through a two year process
12:47
to build a stable life of citizenship and education.
12:50
A boy in Ghana rescued from fishing slavery, about 400 dollars.
12:55
In the United States, North America,
12:58
much more expensive. Legal costs, medical costs ...
13:00
we understand that it's expensive here:
13:02
about 30,000 dollars.
13:04
But most of the people in the world in slavery
13:06
live in those places where
13:09
the costs are lowest.
13:11
And in fact, the global average is about what it is
13:13
for Ghana.
13:16
And that means, when you multiply it up,
13:19
the estimated cost of
13:22
not just freedom but sustainable freedom
13:24
for the entire 27 million people on the planet in slavery
13:27
is something like 10.8 billion dollars --
13:31
what Americans spend on potato chips and pretzels,
13:34
what Seattle is going to spend on its light rail system:
13:37
usually the annual expenditure in this country on blue jeans,
13:40
or in the last holiday period
13:44
when we bought GameBoys and iPods and other tech gifts for people,
13:46
we spent 10.8 billion dollars.
13:50
Intel's fourth quarter earnings: 10.8 billion.
13:53
It's not a lot of money at the global level.
13:57
In fact, it's peanuts.
13:59
And the great thing about it is that
14:01
it's not money down a hole,
14:03
there is a freedom dividend. When you let people out of slavery
14:05
to work for themselves,
14:08
are they motivated?
14:10
They take their kids out of the workplace,
14:12
they build a school, they say,
14:14
"We're going to have stuff we've never had before like three squares,
14:16
medicine when we're sick,
14:19
clothing when we're cold."
14:21
They become consumers and producers
14:23
and local economies begin to spiral up very rapidly.
14:25
That's important, all of that
14:30
about how we rebuild sustainable freedom,
14:32
because we'd never want to repeat
14:34
what happened in this country in 1865.
14:38
Four million people were lifted up out of slavery
14:41
and then dumped.
14:44
Dumped without political participation,
14:47
decent education,
14:49
any kind of real opportunity
14:51
in terms of economic lives,
14:53
and then sentenced to generations of
14:55
violence and prejudice and discrimination.
14:58
And America is still paying the price
15:00
for the botched emancipation of 1865.
15:02
We have made a commitment
15:06
that we will never let people
15:08
come out of slavery on our watch,
15:10
and end up as second class citizens.
15:12
It's just not going to happen.
15:15
This is what liberation really looks like.
15:17
Children rescued from slavery in the fishing industry in Ghana,
15:29
reunited with their parents,
15:33
and then taken with their parents back to their villages
15:35
to rebuild their economic well-being
15:37
so that they become slave-proof --
15:39
absolutely unenslaveable.
15:42
Now, this woman
15:45
lived in a village in Nepal.
15:47
We'd been working there about a month.
15:49
They had just begun to come out of a hereditary kind of slavery.
15:52
They'd just begun to light up a little bit,
15:56
open up a little bit.
15:58
But when we went to speak with her, when we took this photograph,
16:00
the slaveholders were still menacing us
16:02
from the sidelines. They hadn't been really pushed back.
16:07
I was frightened. We were frightened.
16:10
We said to her, "Are you worried? Are you upset?"
16:13
She said, "No, because we've got hope now.
16:16
How could we not succeed," she said,
16:20
"when people like you from the other side of the world
16:24
are coming here to stand beside us?"
16:28
Okay, we have to ask ourselves,
16:31
are we willing to live in a world with slavery?
16:35
If we don't take action, we just leave ourselves open
16:39
to have someone else jerk the strings
16:42
that tie us to slavery in the products we buy,
16:44
and in our government policies.
16:47
And yet, if there's one thing that every human being can agree on,
16:49
I think it's that slavery should end.
16:53
And if there is a fundamental violation
16:57
of our human dignity
16:59
that we would all say is horrific,
17:02
it's slavery.
17:04
And we've got to say,
17:06
what good is all of our intellectual
17:09
and political and economic power --
17:12
and I'm really thinking intellectual power in this room --
17:14
if we can't use it to bring slavery to an end?
17:18
I think there is enough intellectual power in this room
17:21
to bring slavery to an end.
17:23
And you know what? If we can't do that,
17:25
if we can't use our intellectual power to end slavery,
17:28
there is one last question:
17:31
Are we truly free?
17:34
Okay, thank you so much.
17:36
(Applause)
17:38

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About the speaker:

Kevin Bales - Anti-slavery activist
Kevin Bales is the co-founder of Free the Slaves, whose mission is to end all forms of human slavery within the next 25 years. He's the author of "Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves."

Why you should listen

As an author, a professor of sociology, and consultant to the United Nations Global Program on Human Trafficking, Kevin Bales is one of the world’s foremost experts on modern slavery. He has made it his mission to eradicate global slavery.

Along with traveling the world doing investigative research, authoring books, racking up human rights awards, and teaming up with Simon Pell to form a fundraising consultant firm, Pell & Bales Ltd., he established Free the Slaves, a nonprofit whose brilliant website is packed with facts and inspirations to action. With Free the Slaves, Bales has mapped out ways to spread the message and gain resources that assign governments, the UN, business, communities and individuals specific roles in the fight to end slavery. In his new book, The Slave Next Door, he explores the relationship of slavery and environmental destruction. Armed with a compelling presence and a hopeful heart, he is enticing the world to help, so that we can all one day say the words: Mission Accomplished.

More profile about the speaker
Kevin Bales | Speaker | TED.com