Slavery – the dark underbelly of success

moderne slavernijI have blogged before about modern slavery. I have my students work on this topic in my Social Problems class and most of them cannot believe that slavery is still so widespread despite being illegal everywhere. There are several reasons why. First, sometimes, institutions of global governance (such as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO) directly contribute to the rise of slavery. For instance, as mentioned in the film Slavery – A Global Investigation, when they required the government of Ivory Coast to remove price guarantees for cocoa, the price of cocoa on the world market plummeted and plantation owners found a solution to maintain their levels of profit: slavery.

Another reason is the Walmart model of retail. Everyday low prices mean that Walmart squeezes its suppliers who then turn to several layers of contractors and sub-contractors in peripheral or semi-peripheral countries, and go for the lower prices. Often, these sub-contractors are the ones using slaves. So slavery is invisible, buried deep in the lower layers of the global production chains.

Who becomes a slave? Welt, pretty much anyone who is vulnerable or has experienced downward mobility. Or disabled people (via Ken Schaefer):

“At 30, Liu Xiaoping is more boy than man, with soft doe eyes that affix visitors with the unabashed stare of the very young and glisten with reluctant tears when his bandages are changed.

It takes effort not to show the pain of the wounds that read up and down his body as a testament to the 10 months he was held captive at brick factories in the Chinese countryside.

His hands are as red as freshly boiled lobster from handling hot bricks from a kiln without proper protective gloves. On the backs of his legs, third-degree burns trace the rectangular shape of bricks, a factory foreman’s punishment for not working fast enough. Around his wrists, ligature marks tell of the chains used to keep him from running away at night.

Liu was found wandering in the small town of Gaoling, north of Xian1, on Dec. 22, 10 months after his family reported him missing. He was wearing the same clothing as when he’d disappeared in February, but the trousers were glued to the festering wounds on his legs and the gangrene of his frostbitten2 feet stank through the gaping holes in his shoes.

Despite his injuries and an intellectual impairment, he was able to tell how he’d been tricked by a woman who bought him a bowl of soup and promised him the equivalent of $10 per day, good wages for manual work in rural China.

Instead, he became a slave.

“They took advantage of my brother because he has a mental disability,” said his 26-year-old brother, Liu Xiaowei. “They forced him to work, beat him, tortured him, and then when he was too weak to take it anymore, they threw him out on the street.”

In an adrenaline-paced economy with a chronic shortage of manual laborers, ruthless recruiters often prey on China’s3 mentally disabled. The worst offenders work with the brick kilns that are feeding a seemingly insatiable appetite for the new apartment complexes and malls cropping up around the countryside.

“The brick factories can never get as many workers as they need. The work is heavy and a lot of people don’t want to do it,” said Ren Haibin, the former manager of one of several brick factories where Liu said he had worked. “Possibly the mentally disabled can be intimidated and forced to work…. They are timid and easier to manage.””

And if you think this is bad: “Young women have been sold by psychiatric hospitals as sexual partners and wives.”

And, as usual, the authorities do not do much on this issue.

  1. 1

    For instance, as mentioned in the film Slavery – A Global Investigation, when they required the government of Ivory Coast to remove price guarantees for cocoa, the price of cocoa on the world market plummeted and plantation owners found a solution to maintain their levels of profit: slavery.

    I agree. I would have been better for the IMF not the extend any emergency credit to the economy and government of the Ivory Coast. Better to let them starve. Idiot.

  2. 2

    @1

    Or perhaps the IMF could have given the emergency credit *without* demanding they remove the price guarantees. Wouldn’t be the first time the IMF has put up certain economic demands that are detrimental to a third world economy.

  3. 3

    So does this brick factory for example, have dozens of chained handicapped slaves? dozens of chained slaves (but not all handicapped)?, or only this guy? It’s hard to imagine how modern day slavery looks like.

  4. 4

    In an ideal world, sure. Even nations in a quasi-federation like the EU demand harsh conditions when they bail-out weaker partners (Ierland, Greece). It is idiotic to underlie each of your talking points with the premisse that solidarity should be universal and infinite.

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    @4 “It is the way it is, therefore it is this way, insert profanity”. Excellent points you got there!

    Anyway, who’s saying anything about universal and infinite solidarity? Right now it seems that settling for enough solidarity to prevent slavery is a pretty good deal. And quite frankly, to me that seems like putting the bar a bit low, actually.

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    @5: Might be a good deal but it is totally NOT REALISTIC. As I said: we are even willing to squeeze peoples with which we have a political union for paying back every penny they owe us (with interest).

    Also:
    Wow “profanity”, you’re so smart. Anyway, if you get play-angry because the world isn’t a fair place and humans are altruistic beings then you aren’t contributing to any kind of social progress. You’re just getting play-angry probably cover-up a lack of substance.

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    Impressed by the word “profanity”, JSK?

    The EU/IMF aren’t pushing the Irish or the Greek to slavery. If you’re looking for an example of why it’s not realistic to expect that the IMF “rescues” countries without fomenting slavery, this is not one.

    Anyway, here’s my problem with this article: “his eyes glisten with reluctant tears”, “ruthless recruiters prey on disabled”, etc. Might all be true, but the presentation is shallow.

  8. 9

    So you only mention the word ‘women’ in combination with the word ‘slavery’ ?
    What about constitution ?
    Don’t tell me it’s defected …
    Cheap is when requirements cannot be adapted ‘cause the previously ‘qualified’ guys would suffer from that …

    I’m willing to work for my employer any time. Not slavery. Employment.
    Nearest thing to deployment that I’ve heard of …
    This is actually the 21st century …

  9. 10

    The EU/IMF aren’t pushing the Irish or the Greek to slavery.

    They are pushing one sixth of the Greek population into soup kitchens (see: http://www.grreporter.info/en/poverty_greece_looms/3175)

    The IMF wants their money back, it does not proscribes slavery as a solution (that is really up to the debtors themselves). It is too weak to cite the IMF as the cause of third world poverty. My neighbor isn’t poor because I do not give him money.

    Also:
    Impressed by the word “profanity”, JSK?

    Never heard of sarcasm, Pablo?

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    #1
    The foreign exchange reserves of the Ivory Coast and neighbouring countries are all parked in the French central bank, thereby giving an indirect subsidy to the French banks operating in these African countries, as they can transfer their CFAs into euros without any risk penalty.

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    @JSK

    Read all of mine and your responses again and then decide who’s the one getting (play) angry, please.

    Anyway, realpolitik is one thing, being fatalistic is another. I can just imagine this type of discussion a few months ago, with you arguing the point that democracy in the middle east is not a realistic goal.

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    I’m sorry, i just don’t see the constructiveness of wailing about how unfair the
    world is. The IMF/Worldbank mainly enforces the property rights of its share holders (the developed countries). The same people who expect the police to show up when there is a burglar in their living room, now see the enforcement of property rights on a global scale as the cause of all the world’s problems. Get real and grow up.

    Slavery in Africa is mainly a function of its poverty. It’s popular in Mauritania without any having required IMF/Worldbank envolvement at all. Trying to pin all the world’s troubles on one group of people or organisation severely clouds your judgement at best.

    with you arguing the point that democracy in the middle east is not a realistic goal.

    It is not something that you should enforce by gun point. Anything else I did not say, perhaps you have me confused with someone else.

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    Ook slavernij (versus vrijheid) kan heel goed uitpakken qua concurrentiepositie, levensgeluk etc. Rechteloosheid nooit.

    Give or take a double quotationmark.

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    @JSK The IMF is not about giving away money or alleviating poverty. It is about opening up markets for foreign companies and suppressing labour rights. With the structural adjustment program of the IMF aid comes with strict conditions about privatization. The money just enriches corrupt elites in undemocratic underdeveloped countries. As nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz strongly argues the conditionalities of the IMF do lead to a reduction of inflation, but it doesn’t lead to economic growth and raises unemployment in countries that follow the IMF-rules. With that the ‘aid’ of the IMF actually makes the situation for the world’s poorest worse. So your point in #1 is not valid, since more not less people will starve by IMF credits.

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    So your point in #1 is not valid, since more not less people will starve by IMF credits.

    Why would countries then agree to accepting IMF credit? Think alternative scenarios, counter-factuals. How are the inhabitants of a food importing country affected by having no foreign currency ie if the government refuses IMF credit?

    I’ve of course read Stiglitz (like everybody and his dog it seems like) and eventhough your description of his book is right enough, he would not agree with your conclusion “IMF causes Third World poverty”. He says it doesnt help, but that is completely different.

  16. 17

    @16 It’s not that difficult to get what’s going on. We are talking about mostly undemocratic countries with corrupt elites. Those elites control both politics and the economy (compare it for example to the situation in North Africa). They do profit a great deal from the IMF lendings and the opening up of the markets. This money doesn’t flow to the big group of poor people, however.

    (You’re right the remark that it makes poverty worse isn’t from Stiglitz. I also read other authors on this, for example Naomi Klein who I think is quite convincing in her core arguments.)

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    Ah Naomi Klein… i’m sure she’s happy with the money you’ve spend on her books.

    Anyway, did IMF/Worldbank cause those countries to be “undemocratic with corrupt elites”?

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    @18 So, only people with the right neoliberal political views are allowed to make a living? That remark is totally bollocks!

    The IMF didn’t create those elites in the first place, however they are keeping them in place. The way I read it your argument basically comes down to might makes right. I don’t agree with that kind of moral relativism.

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    No, but people who make millions selling books in which they renounce capitalism and the profit-motive (KLein, Chomsky) deserve some ridicule.

    I don’t agree with that kind of moral relativism.

    Yes, send in the tanks and hang their corrupt leaders.

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    @20: I suppose if you can’t make a coherent argument against them, ridicule is the next best thing. Come on, you can’t equate profiting from the fruits of your own labour, i.e. writing a book, to capitalist malpractice.