Modern Day Slavery
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The 21st century forms of servitude hidden around us.
By Charu Sudan Kasturi
More than 12 million slaves were shipped across the Atlantic to North and South America from the 16th century to the 19th century. When European nations and the U.S. abolished slavery in the mid-19th century, another form on bondage emerged — indentured laborers from China and India were shipped by British, Dutch and Portuguese colonizers to the Caribbean, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Today, those horror tales can seem like little more than uncomfortable chapters from history. Yet we know that systemic discrimination and racism persist. What’s easier to miss is that so does slavery — just in 21st century forms that often surround us, without being visible to us.
From Central Asia’s cotton fields to the Middle East’s patriarchal families, and from desperately poor Nigerian women to workers in California bars, OZY shines a light on forms of bondage that continue to blot mankind’s search for a fairer society, with a new series. Modern Day Slavery, our latest original series, also introduces you to an unlikely cast of characters fighting servitude in today’s world, and to tools that can help you understand how you might unknowingly be contributing to the practice.
Qatar has sought to portray itself, particularly to the West, as the most progressive of the Gulf monarchies since the political blockade by its more powerful neighbours, Saudi Arabia and UAE began in 2017. Now, a burgeoning feminist movement in the gas-rich nation is challenging Qatar’s monarchy, and trying to hold it to account. Using social media, young Qatari women have begun to protest openly about restrictions that continue to rob them of all freedom: for instance, their fathers and brothers alone can decide whether women up to the age of 25 can travel abroad or open a bank account. Others are holding seminars and resisting backlash, to slowly bring change.
Stacey Johnson taught in the classroom for two decades. She decided she couldn’t take it any more — slavery had been over for 150 years but it was alive in the classroom. So she dived back into academics. Now, she’s a lecturer at the University of Texas San Antonio and is a leading voice in research into how slave trade ideology still permeates American classrooms. At a time race relations are once again in the spotlight following the George Floyd murder, her work is a pointer to what needs to change in America’s schools, so the next generation doesn’t have to continue to deal with the upheavals we’re witnessing.
Since the 1950s, Uzbekistan has forced children and adults to pick cotton, while farmers have had little choice but to grow the cash crop that at one point contributed 65 percent of the GDP. That cotton slavery continued even after the end of communism, under the authoritarian Islam Karimov. Now, as the country finally opens up its economy under President Shavkat Mirziyoev, global market pressures are forcing it to change. Bit by bit, the world’s sixth-largest cotton exporter is ending agricultural slavery.
Born in Darfur, Sudan, Josephine Bakhita was taken as a slave by Arab invaders when she was a 7-year-old, and then over the course of 12 years, sold five more times to different owners. She once walked 600 miles in chains. But she eventually ended up in a Canossian convent in Italy, where she served as a nun for 45 years. More than half a century after her death in 1947, she was canonized as the first former slave to become a saint.
Edo state is home to less than 2 percent of Nigeria’s population. It is landlocked, and does not border any of Nigeria’s neighbors. Yet it is the source of 50 percent of human trafficking from Africa’s most populous nation. And the reasons lie in history.
Hasina Kharbhih a developed a comprehensive real-time trafficking tracking system that successfully brings together state and federal governments, security agencies, legal groups, the media, and citizen organizations to combat cross-border trafficking of children and women in the porous Northeastern states of India. Her efforts have come to be known as the Meghalaya Model — after the tiny state she hails from. She has rescued more than 70,000 women and children.
You care about justice, fairness and the environment. You oppose all forms of exploitation — including at the workplace. You’re a responsible buyer. Guess what? You likely effectively still have slaves working you, and just don’t know it. Everything we consume, from electronic gadgets to seafood, comes from a complex supply chain that involves, usually at the bottom, slavery-like conditions. This unique test helps you get real: by calculating just how many slaves you use to get what you consume.
- Charu Sudan Kasturi, OZY Author Contact Charu Sudan Kasturi