March 7th, 2011
02:26 PM GMT
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(CNN) - If you have $90 then you could own your slave.

Depending on the kind of person you are that sentence could be at once shocking, saddening or darkly comical. However you might feel though, it’s the plain truth, says Kevin Bales.

The modern-day slavery expert explained to CNN that the current $90 rate for a human slave is actually at an historic low. Two hundred years ago, a slave cost about $40,000 in today’s money. The reason for this price slide: a massive boom in the world’s population, especially in developing countries, has increased the supply of “slaveable” people.

And this has basically turned a human being into a cheap commodity – Bales says like a Styrofoam cup that’s cheaply replaceable if damaged, “If they get sick, what’s the point of paying for medicine – it’s cheaper to let them die and acquire a new one than it is to help the ones you’ve got.

At this very moment, between 12 million and 30 million slaves are working around the world. That’s according to low and high estimates from sociologists and the International Labor Organization.

Despite the spread, any way you cut that number, it’s still a figure that’s big beyond belief. And slaves are everywhere says the United Nations. Breaking down the numbers, more than half of all forced labor sadly occurs right here in Asia. The regions of Latin America and the Middle East both have about 10% of the world’s forced labor. Sub-Saharan Africa has just more than 5%.

And which industries are these slaves in? Well the ones you might expect of course –- prostitution and sweatshop manufacturing. But they also occur in industries you might not associate with slavery – coffee and tea trades, food processing and even health care. That takeaway you might be tucking into could also use forced labor.

And one question we might want to consider as we go about our daily lives: Have the hands of a slave touched what I’m touching now? If the numbers above are to be believed, then it’s not far-fetched to think the answer just might be yes.

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Edward

    "Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, has been awarded a bonus of £6.5m ($10.5m) for 2010..."

    "The modern-day slavery expert explained to CNN that the current $90 rate for a human slave is actually at an historic low."

    What is wrong with this picture?

    March 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  2. buzz

    There are few more poignant bellwethers of the state of human evolution than this story. That currency supersedes the value of human life. That the population explosion is the driving social problem behind all other social problems.... more so than education as written by Thomas Jefferson. That the people of third world and developing countries are doomed to a life of fewer and fewer options. And, that education, itself, no longer offers a path to a better life.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  3. Reddy

    People need to reproduce less ! This simple fact seem to escape even smart people ! And then you have the religious nuts preaching procreation !

    March 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  4. Larivejd

    I think the approach to human life has to do with the approach to life generally, and by that I don't primarily mean the legal side of things, but the psychological side of things. Not saying that eg. a child is the same as a dog, but both are living beings who wouldn't be mistreated by normal human beings. (and obviously, when it comes to rationing in hard times, I wouldn't be against the dog ending up on the plate for meals, especially when a hungry child/ren are around)

    While it would be nice to (able to) abolish all forms of slavery straight away, many of the then-former slaves would practically end up in the wilderness without having gained any outdoor surviving skills in their lives, and many 'slaves' need rehab and additional support, especially those who were forced to 'prostitution'. Those in forced-labor are unfortunate generally of course, but in particular that their 'owner' is in so much illegality that they don't have any 'legal reason' to improve the working conditions and look after the health of 'their workers' – in other words, for such 'owners' there is no legal difference of whether 'their workers' are beaten and work more than 14 hours 7 days a week or not, and obviously many 'slaves' have been somewhat brainwashed and have kind of stockholm syndrome, making it difficult for authorities find out and prove wrong-doings, especially when the paperwork of a company looks alright (with 'workers' working more hours and receiving less to no wage than listed and not even being able of speaking out, with resistance being even more unlikely). Not implying that vassalage to 'slave owners' would be the way to go, but vassalage eg. in history of Europe usually meant that a noble with vassals was responsible for the well-being of the vassals in their dominion (and not just all vassals being servants to the noble at as might be perceived).

    March 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  5. J.E.

    Your article's pic is part of the problem. It shows a sex trade business sign. Most of the slave-like labour conditions leading to an early death do not happen in brothels or sex shops...they happen in factories making toys and DVD China, it was not uncommon to see them full of 15 to early 20s year old women, breathing in the fumes that make your cell phone or calculator a silver color...I would leave those factories with a horrible cough...but your article at least focusses on the exploitation occurring in those sweat shops...CNN should write more of them...

    March 7, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  6. Albert

    Makes you ashamed of being human, doesn't it?

    March 7, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  7. 2b|!2b

    > At this very moment, between 12 million and 30 million slaves are working around the world.

    Thats totally naive. Oh, wait...

    March 7, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  8. bam

    The pyramids didn't build themselves

    March 8, 2011 at 3:37 am |
  9. JK

    Sorry, but this article does not really tell a lot, what is the definition of a "slave" here, the price tag, how is it calculated (where?) and what is it compared with? An African slave in Arabia? or in the US?

    Looks like a lot of hot air to me, making up or taking out of context extreme numbers.....

    March 8, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  10. egal

    The average salary is still $ 40.000, so I argue nothing has changed, really.

    March 8, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  11. Woo

    actually, the pyramids were built by people who were well paid and proud of their job. the slave builder myth has been disproven decades ago.

    but what exactly constitutes slavery or forced labor.. aren't we all slaves in some way or another? i don't go to work because i don't know what to do with my time, i go to work because i have bills to pay and a family to support.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  12. gnosis

    To JK: "At this very moment, between 12 million and 30 million slaves are working around the world. That’s according to low and high estimates from sociologists and the International Labor Organization." Don't this tell you a lot? It means slaves anywhere, compared to humanity, to life and to you.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  13. Lanfear

    $90? You aren't a slave if you're getting paid.

    March 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  14. Balbulus

    @Woo: No, you're not a slave simply because you need to work in order to survive and thrive — that's the common lot of existence in this universe. One might as well speak of being a slave to gravity, or mathematics, or the laws of thermodynamics: you can't beat them, you can't ignore them, and you have to do what they say, or else. But that isn't slavery, because you still have freedom of choice about whether to stay here or go there, and willingly accept the consequences either way.

    You can freely and willingly choose to limit your autonomy and freedom to choose — even give them up completely — for the sake of the happiness and well-being of someone else. We call that "love". That isn't slavery either, simply because it's an act of free will, no matter how constraining the results may be. (Neither is it a transaction: it doesn't depend on whether the beloved appreciates it, or even knows about it. Love is the exercise of free will in its highest and purest form.)

    None of this is at all the same as being enslaved by another person, being bought and sold as property without your consent, losing whatever free choices you could have had under pain of torture or death, and generally being treated as something less than human. That is nothing less than the essence of evil, under whatever set of values you might choose to call it that. And that is what human nature can sink to, and will always sink to unless decent people call it out and condemn it.

    March 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  15. jimmy cracks capricorn

    Laughable story. And we wonder why there's so many unemployed Americans....pricing pressure, there's just oo many of them!

    March 8, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  16. PhillupSpace

    No, Elizabeth, overpopulation is the third rail of politics; and because of the religeous element. You simply cannot mention the hundreds of millions who are born due to the practices of the catholic church. Just check family size in central and south america as an example. It is an implied sin to say no to the husband and has been universally declared a sin to exercise birth control!

    And then there is the reluctance to publish anything about the moslem birth rate; 17 or 18 children, even larger than brazils natives. And, shamefully, these populations are the least capable of feeding, educating or providing healthcare or even sanitation for the children. Other societies have carried the burden of this charity and are too intimidated by the PC police to admit the population bomb is real.

    March 9, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  17. RUMI

    I really dont like how CNN did this. They seem like they are talking about a regular everyday job statistic. THESE ARE REAL PEOPLE . I mean at least they should give some air time if they are doing it to speaking out against it and not just saying " ok so a slave today is cheaper than 200 years ago" i dont feel like they condemed it enough. it was like they were talking about a ball game.. i didnt like that and they need to think about that unless this was a clip of a larger section that they did talk more in depth an condemn it.

    March 9, 2011 at 4:14 am |
  18. Jouhny

    And MEN or people who exploit women or children into prostitution and or sex slavery should be drug out in the street and executed. blow their head off

    March 9, 2011 at 4:18 am |
  19. simon do say

    I am disappointed of the report which does not reflect the actual situation of the world.
    In fact there are more than you have known but dare not to reveal, UN or whatever you call it are not working for the world but only on their own interest of politics.
    The world are suffering and suffering................................... all because of politics power which only interest of manage slaves and control their mind to fit in their politics world as ever this present moment, mideast unrest are for whose slaves to fight for their LIFE and their people are lying and die for it, but UN are only interest to protect their own interest (OIL), if by mean of sending whatever weapon or aids or another nation slaves to there, it still create more slaves as you will known that will happen.
    Many human being are now awake of the actual situation around their country including ASIA, the unseen evil master are having fun on them by using fear, money, and most worse than that they brainwashed their slaves to become cheat labour at any cost.
    UN known about it and what they did are only to monitor it to make sure it will not lose their interest of power.
    Human being are slaves of what they are interested in.
    Are we still have to continue forever with this live.
    Please be REAL.

    March 9, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  20. 1337

    I would advice a slave, to take a knife and stub your master.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  21. Emlix

    People make me so sad. Greedy, exploitative, mendacious turds that they are. I would like to be an albatross.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  22. LL

    "Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, has been awarded a bonus of £6.5m ($10.5m) for 2010..."

    "The modern-day slavery expert explained to CNN that the current $90 rate for a human slave is actually at an historic low."

    What is wrong with this picture?"

    There is no relation between them. Your silly tentative to link them is what is wrong.

    March 10, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  23. Matt

    Maybe well-off people should buy them and set them free?

    March 11, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  24. Curtis Howard

    It really bothers me to know I live in a world where 4,000 children die everyday of starvation, 12-30 million people are in slavery, and imprisonment is the punishment for growing the cure to cancer.

    There is so much suffering in the world.

    March 13, 2011 at 1:35 am |
  25. Ken

    That's an absurd amount of people who are slaves of course. Someone mentioned that we are all slaves in a sense, but the distinction here is that slaves are direct property of their owners, while we willingly engage in our form. Pretty much all of us would agree that human beings should not be held as property, especially where people are not free to enter into contracts.

    There are way too many people on Earth already though and this just adds to the problem of course. People without sufficient means to provide for themselves breeding like rabbits. This is forecast to get worse as the years go by, even Scrooge's eliminating the surplus population ideology doesn't work that well. When you think of all the suffering this causes, including slavery and folks who might even welcome it as a step up in their being provided for, this is what we really need to be focusing on. If we put half as much thought and effort into this as we do for the environment, at least we'd be making an honest effort to affect much needed change.

    As for the relation between a guy making 10 million and someone being sold for $90, I guess the answer would be that the free market has determined both. By overbreeding at a ridicuous rate, the supply is going to exceed the demand, and people being bought and sold for less than the average person makes in a single day of his or her life should be pretty alarming I'd say.

    March 13, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  26. Andy

    Weird article, to say the least. How are they defining "slave"? If it can be someone who has been kidnapped, then of course the "price" would be low because the buyer runs the risk of criminal prosecution. Can't really compare that to legally purchasing a human being as your property, with all the legal protections that went along with it.

    March 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  27. Aston

    I accidentally my own slave. Is that bad?

    March 18, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  28. Matt

    The reported statistics in the video and the story are not the same. Even the reporter explains there are between 10million and 30 million people in slavery. The number he shows on the video screen that breaks down where the slaves are show there are only 2.5 million in the world. What gives?

    March 19, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  29. Marian

    "" describes the actual purchase and redemption of slaves. $90 is representative. We redeemed a family in October 2010 for around $250.

    March 19, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  30. Zulch

    Ah yes, and after spending decades trying to abolish slavery and crusading for human rights, slavery is now popular AND cheaper than before! The general futility of these aims from yesteryear is somewhat astounding, though not totally unexpected. We'll see how the prices on slaves fluctuate...

    March 26, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  31. GoRobGo

    Remember too that the $90.00 is just the purchase price. You still have to feed the thing, give it a place to sleep, wear-and-tear on shackles, and the like. So don't go thinking that your 90 bucks is gonna get you to work cheaper than a $500.00 scooter. If I order two or more do I get free postage?

    April 1, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  32. Angry Canuck

    Lanfear wrote: "$90? You aren't a slave if you're getting paid."
    If you actually meant to write that, I doubt that the simplest of corrections would get through to you. That's to buy a slave, not pay to a slave. Remedial reading classes are down the hall.

    April 11, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  33. yo

    Reddy said

    "People need to reproduce less ! This simple fact seem to escape even smart people"

    The last thing smart people need to do is reproduce less. The world's average IQ drops off a point every year by smart people reproducing less while the brain dead masses spawn like rabbits.

    October 24, 2011 at 2:19 am |
  34. Yes

    Are you sure which group you belong to? The average IQ is set to 100, you know...

    October 26, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  35. Hm

    FIrstly – How did they come up with the cost of $90? Is that their upkeep? Or how much it costs to create one? – is it for a good one? a bad one, the average...?

    Secondly – Why the 'historic low'? I am pretty sure that they are only comparing it to 200 years ago, not to mention, they are completely disregarding old empires (e.g. Rome) And that they cost less than that then.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  36. notjebbush

    so you're saying i can buy a human to do anything i need forever for $90+upkeep? can't afford not to own slaves, the 21st century is getting more incredible by the hour.

    October 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
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