I 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.
“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.