There are an estimated 29.8 million people who are enslaved today. Roughly 60,000 of those people are enslaved in the United States. Twenty-nine point eight million people.
A couple weeks ago, 12 Years a Slave took home a well-deserved Oscar for Best Picture. In his acceptance speech, director Steve McQueen provided us insight on what drove him to turn Solomon Northup’s story into an Academy Award winning film. “Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” he said “I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million that still suffer today”.
Maybe I am just nineteen and naïve, but when I heard Steve McQueen’s speech I thought he was surely exaggerating. In a world as great, advanced and ruled as we are, there is no possible way that there are more people enslaved today than any other time in human history. Confused, I did some research. After taking into account information from several sources, I knew that Steve McQueen was not lying. In fact, his numbers were lower than the official Global Slavery Index.
The first edition of the Global Slavery Index was released in 2013 based off research done by Kevin Bales for the organization “Free the Slaves”. Being the first of its kind, this index is based on the measurement of people living in modern slavery today. Country by Country, the estimates are reliable and heart breaking.
This organization, Walk Free, provides an online, interactive map that demonstrates to the extent of which slavery extends with quantitative and qualitative research. By clicking on a dark red country, one can see that slavery is prominent not only by habit, but by that country’s level of human and economic development; the stability of the government and the institutions of the country; the level of discrimination against women; anti-slavery policies; and the country’s respect for human rights.
Ranking number one with the highest percentage of people enslaved is a Sub-Saharan African country, Mauritania. This country is estimated to have roughly 150,000 enslaved with a total population of about 3.8 million. Haiti is ranked second with 210,000 enslaved followed closely by Pakistan.
In the past, human slaves were documented for the slave holders to trade and claim ownership. With the world’s recent spike in population, “people have become cheap and disposable,” says researcher Kevin Bale. In 1850, purchasing a slave cost what today would be around $40,000. In 2013, humans were being bought and sold for roughly $90. With these factors, slavery documentation is non-existent and not needed for slave holders. Whereas before skin color drove the slave industry, profit is now more important.
For those of you who are like me, completely ignorant about this major issue and still questioning its authenticity, Free the Slaves and the University of California, Berkley conducted research proving cases of slavery and human trafficking in over 90 cities across the US. Cocoa is harvested by slaves in the Ivory Coast while the steel in Brazil is produced by slave made charcoal. Slaves weave carpets in India and eventually these products and more reach our stores and homes. Those are just to name a few.
Every day, people all over the world are forced to work without pay, treated like property and suffer a life without freedom. Some governments have already made steps to help this issue, but that is not enough. I can’t be the only one shocked by this revelation or the one outraged and ready to help. Simply spreading the word and knowing the signs of slavery can go a long way. Learn more at www.GlobalSlaveryIndex.org or www.freetheslaves.net.
*This post isn’t as happy and flowing as I usually like to write. But this issue isn’t happy and flowing either. It is something that I am starting to become very passionate about and I want to be part of a change! I want to help give freedom to those who who have none. As Steve McQeen said, “Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live”.