News & CommentaryArchive
Jun 25, 2007
Tolerance a Boon to Slavery
While poverty is certainly one of the main factors driving the persistence of slavery it is by no means the only one. In fact, while India and China have succeeded spectacularly at reducing poverty, slavery persists and is quite possibly growing. At root is a tolerance for slavery, whether from corrupt government officials, cultural apologists or passive business partners.
Two stories from The New York Times provide graphic illustrations of these dynamics of modern slavery. Recently there has been a lot of attention paid to the revelation of widespread slavery in Chinese brick-making factories. Migrants, particularly youth from rural areas in China, are being kidnapped or duped into slavery at many of these kilns. The drive for low prices and abundant supplies to fuel China’s growth boom (as well as bribes) has caused local governments and builders to turn a blind eye to what is happening. Yet the reality is now coming to light, mostly due to the families of the enslaved who have banded together to force access to the kilns to look for their missing children. Thus far over 500 enslaved people have been freed as a result of their efforts, a positive first step. The Chinese press and the local organizations are still putting pressure on the government to do more, a testament to the power of local groups.
It’s not just corrupt government officials at fault however. The ease with which the reality of slavery can be glossed over can be seen in a another recent Times story about brick kilns in India. Rather than noting the often brutal working conditions and the prevalence of slavery in India’s brick industry, this story highlights the brick kilns as an attractive alternative income generator for former subsistence farmers. Jobs for unskilled workers are a vital part of large-scale poverty reduction, and brick kilns can surely play a role there. These industries (including all commodity manufacturing) demand special attention though because they can so easily conceal slavery or slave-like working conditions. But ignoring the dangers to put a glossy spin on a boom industry, no matter how many jobs are created, is irresponsible. The article fails to mention the issue of slavery, nor does it even note that according to Indian law, the work being done by children under 14 is illegal. Reporting of this nature, while often well-intentioned, allows slavery, in one of its more insidious forms, to persist.
New York Times:
Reports of Forced Labor Unsettle China