How Capitalism Perpetuates Modern Slavery
Note: This is my most recent Lang essay and I wanted to post it because it’s a subject that I’m extremely passionate about and want to inform others as much as possible.
It is ironic that the exploitation and enslavement of humans in the modern era has prospered due to the expansion of capitalism. Human trafficking, hidden in the backrooms of nail salons located in the suburbs of Boston and on Bangladeshi shrimp boats, is a more delicate way of saying modern slavery. It’s easy to ignore and even easier to unintentionally fund. Every day thousands of dollars move through the intricately connected global economy into the hands of human traffickers and slave owners. It is fast and easy and so very discreet because regulations of business are effortlessly stepped over. The entitlement that developed, capitalist nations take for granted comes at the very free price of a human life. We must recognize the liberties granted to business and then examine the effects they have on humans across the globe.
The privacy and intimacy of business has compromised the privacy and intimacy of the bedroom. Worldwide, the total profit for the illegal sex industry was $35.7 billion in 2007 (Kara 19), and that was amidst a global recession. It’s an illegal business, but a business nonetheless. A common misconception is that sex trafficking happens solely in the red light districts of impoverished countries, but the 2016 U.S. National Trafficking Hotline reports that there were 5,819 reported sex trafficking incidents this past year (“More Assistance, More Action.”). This number fails to account for the thousands of undocumented and past cases. There is a huge demand for commercialized sex and as a result there are people willing to find a supply. We naively call it prostitution; it’s not. A thirteen year old cannot legally be a prostitute. Those who are impoverished and neglected often fall into the hands of pimps, men who offer love and a life of disguised imprisonment. They are then advertised to the world through secret websites where the buying of humans for sex is rationalized because “the industry is inevitable” (Lloyd 219). The ideal of free enterprise has people continuously justifying and funding slavery. This universal understanding that business is business and that because there is a free market it’s okay, is completely misinformed. We’ve come to the point where freedom is our mantra and free business is a right, but oftentimes we are ignorant to the fact that our freedom comes at the cost of other humans.
Labor trafficking is the most abundant of the types of slavery and as a result, the most normalized. We’ve established that slavery is a business, but we have not quite examined the scope of it. These trafficked victims are everywhere numbering at about 28 million, although the total number is impossible to determine and is estimated to be much larger. America’s Fortune 500 companies are often under fire for having factories overseas that violate human rights in some way. Apple has been scrutinized for using Foxconn, a Chinese factory in which workers are submitted to harsh and dangerous working conditions just so manufacturing costs are lower. Companies participating in free market economies usually abide by local laws that prohibit child labor or uncompensated work, but the lack of labor laws in third world countries make it so incredibly easy for large foreign companies to invest. Capitalism thrives on competition, but many are unable to compete with lucrative businesses who can afford to subjugate others. The shrimping industry in Bangladesh is beating out shrimp farmers in Louisiana because laborers are slaves. The cost of production is significantly reduced when wages are nonexistent and labor is replaceable. In the U.S. 85% of seafood is imported and of this 50% is shrimp (76 Bales). In Bangladesh, the capitalists are profiting on the backs of their slaves. Ghana is plagued by a similar problem; gold pours out of illegal mines like blood seeping out of a wound. The most common form of enslavement in the gold mines of Ghana is debt. Miners are in perpetual debt to their bosses, which essentially makes them slaves. Phone companies obtain the gold through an intentionally long chain of salesmen; the more distance placed between the consumer and the producer the more feasibly the company can claim ignorance. But the government is unable to claim the same ignorance as foreign businessmen. Slavery isn’t invisible in Ghana like it is in America. How could it be? Ghana’s economy is dependent on gold, government officials are entangled in the industry, and villages are built around mines. Sometimes foreign companies deal directly with the Ghanaian government (Bales 160). It’s acceptable for American companies to buy and sell with whomever they please under the Dodd-Frank bill with the condition that companies are transparent with what products contain slavery tainted materials. The products we so thoughtlessly buy have a careless impact on people far away from us.
Slavery happens in our suburban town and on the streets of Cambodian cities. The products we buy and the services we use tie us all to the dangerous industry of slavery; when we import chocolate we are also importing slaves across borders. Capitalism itself isn’t capable of supporting human trafficking, but it’s adaptable rules allow us to slip the buying and selling of people into the picture. Johns fly into the Miami airport at 5pm, stay for an hour of sex with an underage virgin they bought on a website, and then leave at 6pm to fly back to their families. How could the airline know? Did the hotel know that the room they rented out is the murder site of a young girl’s innocence? All of this unregulated industry are accessories in a huge crime network. Wealthy families have a Cambodian house slave and churches have a choir of Zambian slaves (Batstone 212 & 225). These labor practices and industries play a big part in our economy and lives. We are unable to imagine the damage done and unwilling to admit that we have played a role in this destruction. The shrimp is in our stomachs, the gold is in our phones, and the blood is on our hands.
Bales, Kevin. Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016. Print.
Batstone, David B. Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print.
Kara, Siddharth. Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. Print.
Lloyd, Rachel. Girls like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale: A Memoir. New York: HarperPerennial, 2012. Print.
“More Assistance, More Action.” Polaris. 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.