Amongst the many horrors that human beings have inflicted on one another, one of the very worst is slavery. The owning of another person as if he or she were a mere physical asset, and whose entire existence is then subject to the will, and the whims, of the legal proprietor, is a true abomination. It's a good thing, then, that slavery is a thing of the past, right? Wrong. It isn't. In a long piece in the Atlantic J.J. Gould writes about 'Slavery's Global Comeback':
Contemporary slavery is real, and it's terribly common - here in Burma, across Southeast Asia, and around the world.
The leading demographic accounts of contemporary slavery project a global slave population of between 20 million and 30 million people. The highest ratios of slaves worldwide are from South and Southeast Asia, along with China, Russia, and the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. There is a significant slave presence across North Africa and the Middle East, including Lebanon. There is also a major slave trade in Africa. Descent-based slavery persists in Mauritania, where children of slaves are passed on to their slave-holders' children. And the North Korean gulag system, which holds 200,000 people, is essentially a constellation of slave-labor camps. Most of the world's slaves are in sedentary forms of servitude, such as hereditary collateral-debt bondage, but about 20 percent have been unwittingly trafficked by predators through deception and coercion. Human trafficking is often highly mobile and dynamic, leveraging modern communications and logistics in the same basic ways contemporary business does generally. After the earthquake of 2010 devastated Haiti, Hispaniola was quickly overrun with opportunistic traffickers targeting children to sell into forced domestic work or brothels.
One interesting feature of the piece is Gould's diagnosis of why the continued existence of this great evil isn't as clear in public consciousness as it should be. One of the reasons he gives is that 'slavery has long settled in the public imagination as being categorically a thing of the past'. Doing something about modern slavery must, accordingly, involve making people more aware of it.