Friday, March 11, 2005

Slavery Endures

Though it garners only marginal attention in Western media and little outcry from racial activists - largely because there's no politically correct villain to blame - slavery remains quite an active trade in large parts of Africa.
Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human rights group, estimates that 43,000 slaves are held in Niger, which the United Nations reckons to be the second-least-developed country in the world. Slaves in the landlocked west African country form a stigmatised, closed class. Even freed slaves carry the taint of their hereditary status, and their former masters or parents' masters may claim some or all of their income, property and dowries.

In 2003, Niger finally got around to amending its laws to make slave ownership punishable with up to 30 years in prison. (The practice was outlawed with Niger's independence from France in 1960, but carried no penalty.) Facing jail, a chieftain in western Niger offered to free the 7,000 slaves held by him and his clansmen in a public ceremony, due to take place on Saturday March 5th. But in the week leading up to the event, Niger's government came to fear that a massive release of slaves would draw unwelcome attention to slavery's existence in the country. The government declared that slavery does not exist in Niger, the ceremony was cancelled and the slaves left as slaves. Far from avoiding a public embarrassment, Niger has multiplied its worldwide shame.
Slavery persists not only in Niger, but in surrounding countries as well.
In Sudan, too, slavery is widespread. Some 14,000 people were abducted and forced into slavery during the country's two-decade-long civil war between the Arab-run government in Khartoum and blacks in the south. Most of these were women and children forced into domestic work and herding. Many children of abductees, fathered by the slaves' masters, in turn become slaves. Around 12,000 Sudanese remain in bondage. And according to a recent UN report, abduction and slavery have been extended to Darfur in western Sudan, where a separate conflict rages.
Where outright slavery isn't practiced, often equally invidious forms of servitude are common.
The form of slavery that perhaps affects the greatest number of people is bonded labour, which is particularly rife in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Desperate workers are given a loan for as little as the cost of medication for a child, and are forced to work to repay the loan and "interest". But no clear contract is offered-the unfortunate bonded labourer often winds up working years to repay such loans, and the bond is even often passed on to children after the original labourer's death. Because of the apparently voluntary nature of the bondage, many do not see it as slavery. But the labourer is often so desperate for a loan, without other sources of credit, that there is little real choice involved. And once bonded, the threat of violence and the limitations on personal freedom involved make the practice in effect no different from chattel slavery.
One hundred and forty years after Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, forms of slavery still exist even in the US.
And in the United States, Free the Slaves, another anti-slavery group, found illegal forced labour in at least 90 cities, involving over 19,000 people. The CIA has estimated the number of slaves in America at 50,000. Chinese, Mexicans, Vietnamese and others work against their will in the sex trade, domestic service, farms and sweatshops.
Of course, the overwhelming majority of these "slaves" are illegal immigrants who find themselves indebted to or imprisoned by the very people who smuggled them into the country - usually for the exact purpose of using them as cheap labor or for prostitution. So long as American borders remain porous, the numbers of such victims will only grow. The penalty for smuggling aliens into the country should be elevated to life in prison and the forfeiture of all property. High penalties and strict border enforcement are the only way to mitigate such crimes. Tolerance of illegal immigration only breeds more criminal activity.

Update: Note that the Economist article cited above pointedly avoided any mention of slave labor in China. The US House of Representatives, having heard extensive testimony on the subject, has prepared legislation (H.R. 2195) designed to tighten enforcement of the US ban on importing products produced by slave labor, especially products manufactured in "Communist China's vast archipelago of slave labor camps --the infamous 'Laogai'."

The Laogai--a contraction of laodong gaizao, or "reform through labor"--has been an integral part of Chinese totalitarianism since the inception of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Designed for the dual purposes of political control and forced economic development, it is modeled on Stalin's Soviet Gulag. Laogai survivor Harry Wu has estimated that some 50 million Chinese men and women have passed through these camps, of whom 15 million perished. Today, anywhere from six to eight million people are captive in the 1,100 camps of the Laogai, held and forced to work under grossly inhumane conditions.

But if the Laogai is a horror to its inmates, it is a source of profit as well as political control for the Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party. As Harry Wu has testified, "the Laogai has the lowest-cost labor in China." According to official statistics, the Laogai operates 140 export enterprises, selling products to over 70 nations abroad--including the United States, which has banned 27 different products of Laogai camps. Forced labor is responsible for producing key commodities (including uranium, graphite, rubber, cotton, asbestos, and one-third of Chinese tea), as well as a huge array of consumer goods--including, ironically, toys, artificial flowers, and even Christmas lights and rosaries.

Although the United States entered into binding agreements with China in 1992 and 1994 to bar trade in prison-labor products and allow inspection of its forced labor camps, the Chinese Government has frustrated their implementation, both by using dual names to disguise camp products and by denying access to the camps. In 1996, the Chinese Government granted access to just one prison labor camp requested by our Customs Service. The two most recent State Department Human Rights Reports on China each stated that "[r]epeated delays in arranging prison labor site visits called into question the Government's intentions regarding the implementation of [the two agreements]." And in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 22, 1997, Customs Commissioner George J. Weise stated, "We simply do not have the tools within our present arsenal at Customs to gain the timely and in-depth verification that we need."

Whilst browsing through the endless aisles of cheap Chinese-made products at the local Wal-Mart, Americans may want to recall that not only do these products fund Chinese military expansion and threaten the US and its allies, but that many were produced by political prisoners of the same brutal dictatorship who reaps the profits from their sale.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home