Slavery in the 21st Century
Enlightenment ideals were the foundation upon which the United States built a new nation and proclaimed the ideals of a democratic republic. These ideals were restricted to white males who owned property. During the Jacksonian era, full citizenship rights were legally extended to all adult white males. As a result of a Civil War and the 15th amendment black males joined the select. And, in 1920, women were granted rights. The concept of progress, albeit slow, was served.
Today slavery no longer exists in the forms of the past. People are not captured in warfare to labor for the victors, just as prisoners of war are not legally killed without due process. People are not purchased in slave markets. Yet the issues of child labor, illegal migrants, many of them essentially kidnapped, especially women, from poor countries, the economic policies of the west, the World Bank, and a globalized economy have created a form of modern slavery. This slavery is less visible to most American consumers. There is no direct purchase of people. The middlemen, pimps, labor contractors, traffickers in illegal immigration, are the contemporary slave traders. Chattel slavery was a blight on civilizations for centuries until Enlightenment ideas gradually ended legal ownership of human beings and redefined citizenship.
It becomes more obvious with each distress signal from third world nations that the price to be paid for globalization is, once again, being paid by the poor. Is this a new edition of slavery? What is the cost of an international economy, which pays slave wages, or a World Bank whose policies result in death by starvation for workers who lose their jobs as a result of those policies? What possibilities exist for peace built upon such inequities and failures to even acknowledge the realities of daily life of the majority of the world’s people.
Norma Hervey (United States)
Professor of History
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)