Professor of Ethics at the University of San Francisco in the United States, David Batstone is the president of the slavery abolitionist group, the Not for Sale Campaign. Following a visit to Australia earlier this year, the world-renowned author, social commentator and activist spoke with DAVID ADAMS...

This year, the world celebrates 200 years since the abolition of the legal slave trade in England. Why should we mark this anniversary?
“For two important reasons we should mark the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade 200 years ago. First, we should celebrate the occasion of a monumental achievement in our history. Secondly, in the midst of recounting our history, we can learn lessons that can be applied to our present social crisis of slavery of another kind. for instance, it helps us to understand how abolitionists used trade practices around sugar to use economic leverage.”

Not for sale

SENDING A MESSAGE: A banner from the Not for Sale anti-slavery campaign. 

 

"The worldwide glut of potential victims seems limitless to the trafficker, or slaveholder. So the slaveholder will aim to squeeze as much gain out of an individual slave without much concern for his or her well being. Like a battery that can be tossed away after its usefulness has been exhausted, modern slaves are disposable.”

- David Batstone

How extensive is the problem of slavery in the world today?
“I was first shocked to learn that the problem of slavery was so profound in my own country. The US government estimates that as many as 17,500 new slaves are transported into the usa each year. The total number of slaves in the US could be as many 200,000. Then I traveled to five continents and learned that more than 27 million individuals worldwide were in bondage and forced into labor. No country in the world is immune to human trafficking and forced labor, yet law enforcement and justice systems have not acted to challenge and undermine trafficking rings.”

How has the problem changed in the last 200 years?
“Perhaps the most distinguishing factor of modern slavery is not globalisation per se, but the nature of human ownership. Three hundred years ago, the cost of a slave meant a major investment. Not that slaves in those days were treated with dignity, but they were treated like a valuable beast, the care of which led to higher likelihood of profitability. In today's slave trade, human beings are disposable. The worldwide glut of potential victims seems limitless to the trafficker, or slaveholder. So the slaveholder will aim to squeeze as much gain out of an individual slave without much concern for his or her well being. Like a battery that can be tossed away after its usefulness has been exhausted, modern slaves are disposable.”

Who are those most vulnerable to slavery?
“Slave recruiters most typically target poor communities that have reached the point of desperation. They also target individuals that have perilous citizen status. For instance, the Vietnamese community inside Cambodia, or the Burmese refugees inside Thailand are prime targets for traffickers.”

Are most slaves born into slavery or do they become slaves later in life?
“I would estimate that the proportion may be 50/50. In many parts of Asia - above all in India - children are born into debt slavery. They inherit the unjust debt placed upon their parents. On a recent trip to southern India, I met a 12-year-old girl who then introduced me to her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, all of whom had spent their entire lives working off a $US10 debt that the great grandmother's father took from a landowner during a time of drought. Four generations later their destiny was controlled by this landowner. Other children around the globe are sold into slavery by a family member, or are abducted by traffickers.”

What countries or regions are the worst offenders when it comes to slavery?
“India is one of the worst offenders - estimates range from 12-15 million individuals in slavery. The caste system is offered as a justification for the practice in many cases. China has such a closed society, but signs indicate that the practice of forced labor is significant. The most egregious numbers of sex trafficking come out of Cambodia and Thailand, as well as republics of the former Soviet Union in eastern Europe. When it comes to destination countries for trafficked girls, Israel, Russia, Germany, the UK and the USA are high on the list.”

Is this just an issue which occurs in the developing world?
“Modern slavery is ubiquitious. No country in the world escapes its reach. Law enforcement officials estimate that it is a $32 billion annual industry, rivaling weapons sales and drugs as the top illicit trafficking enterprise.”

What can be done to combat slavery both at an individual,governmental and corporate level? Can we learn anything about how to do so from the work of William Wilberforce and those who battled slavery 200 years ago?
“I would urge readers to go to our website, www.notforsalecampaign.org. We offer tangible actions for individuals from every walk of life. Our ‘free to work’ platform addresses the demand side from global businesses. Our ‘free to learn’ platform shows how students can be involved in making the invisibibility of modern slavery very visible in their own backyard. The ‘free to play’ shows students how to tie their passion and performance in athletics to freeing children so that they, too, can be free to play. We also have activities for artists and churches.”

You recently came to Australia for a tour with World Vision's Stop the Traffik campaign. What message did you bring for Australians?
“During the trip to Australia, I concentrated on raising awareness of what is happening in the South Asia-Pacific region. Australia could play a leading role in undermining trafficking rings in this part of the globe. I also lobbied for the creation of a ‘trafficking visa’ for victims of human trafficking. After the passage of such a law, the USA saw a dramatic increase in victims and witnesses coming forward because they feel safe from criminalisation.”

“We have a clear mission to recruit a wave of shock troops that will confront the practice of modern slavery and human trafficking. Once recruited, we educate and mobilize that constituency for effective actions. In short, we want to catalyze a modern abolitionist movement.”

- David Batstone

On a personal note, how did you come to be an abolitionist? Your book, Not for Sale, chronicles slavery in numerous different places around the world. What prompted you to write it?
“I stumbled across a major trafficking ring from India into the USA in my local restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area. As I investigated further, I found that the problem was enormous, yet I had trouble finding ways that I, as a concerned individual, could get involved to fight it. So I took a leave of absence from my other activities and traveled to five continents to uncover how slavery works in the 21st century - who are the victims?; who are the slaveholders?; how do trafficking rings work, and how deeply involved are the organized mafia; what are the best practices for confronting the crime?”

You've since founded the Not for Sale campaign. What do you see as its purpose?
“We have a clear mission to recruit a wave of shock troops that will confront the practice of modern slavery and human trafficking. Once recruited, we educate and mobilize that constituency for effective actions. In short, we want to catalyze a modern abolitionist movement.”

How successful have been and how are you working with other abolitionist organisations?
"We are working in a very close coalition with other abolitionist organisations. In the USA, our stakeholder partners involve international justice mission, free to slaves, polaris and the Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). In Australia, our key stakeholder is World Vision Australia. In South-east Asia our key stakeholder is Hagar. We do not want to compete with other abolitionist groups, but inspire a new wave of volunteers and resources to flow their way.”

Can you tell us about one particular you've story you've heard since you started looking at the issue of slavery which has particularly touched you?
“Yes, I was deeply touched by the way that my university students in San Francisco worked hard to identify a sex trafficking ring that brought young girls from China, South Korea, and Thailand for the pleasure of businessmen during lunch breaks or after work. One of the key establishments lay in the heart of the San Francisco business district. But when we took the evidence forward to the law enforcement sector, they refused to act on our credible evidence, saying they lacked protocols and resources to investigate and prosecute human trafficking operations. My response: if these were blue-eyed, blonde hair girls from Sausalito (a city in California near San Francisco) you would take immediate action. But because they are Asian girls without identity papers, without English, and without advocates, you consign them to a life of terror, raped 10 to 12 times a night for a trafficker's financial benefit.”

Can you foresee the day when slavery is completely eradicated in the world?

“Yes, I believe this generation can be the one that eradicates slavery as a mainstream criminal activity and make it an aberration. Today it is business as usual in global markets.” 

www.notforsalecampaign.org