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Lord Giddens: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate on this very important subject. Having said that, I do not think that slavery exists in the modern world. I do not mean that there are not rampant forms of exploitation and oppression, which are found in all
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societies, including western countries. I want to make a conceptual point, but I hope it is not purely academic, because important policy implications flow from it.
Slavery has existed throughout human history. In Aristotle's Politics, which is the first account of how to create an organised society or state, the relationship between master and slave is described as one of the three core pillars of any organised society. In all traditional cultures until the 18th or 19th century slavery was everywhere regarded as a natural human condition. There were many slave revolts, of course, but ethical and economic objections to slavery came very late.
I was glad that the noble Earl mentioned the trans-Atlantic slave trade because that was one of the greatest stains on western civilisation, but it was also a major lever for transformation. The slave trade energised a movement for change and the abolition of slavery that eventually became a global movement.
In my view, the term "slavery" should be restricted to what some people call "chattel slavery". That is what slavery always meant. It was an institutionalised and legal part of society; slaves were normally expensive to buy and usually yielded only low profits for their owners. In the deep South of America in the 19th Century, for example, the average cost of a slave was $40,000 in today's terms. Slaves also normally had a long-term relationship with their owners, because they were expensive property.
Slavery in this senseor something close to itcontinues to exist in the modern world. We have only to think of the notorious case of Niger, which made slave ownership punishable in law as late as 2003. Of course, that law did not eliminate the practice completely. Similar instances exist in Chad, Mali, Mauritania and elsewhere. But when we turn to what people now call slavery, it means something different. We have to tease out these differences if we are to have adequate policies to confront the various forms of deprivation and exploitation that exist across the world today.
For me, the debate about slavery has been shaped by one very important book: Kevin Bales's Disposable People. That book was indeed a brilliant intervention in the global debate about slavery. He rightly separates what the calls the "old slavery"traditional slavery throughout history as I have described itfrom the "new slavery". He estimates that there are 27 million new slaves in the world today.
Bales is the head of an NGO, Free the Slaves. The work of Anti-Slavery International, which describes itself as the world's oldest international human rights organisation, has also been cited. In no sense do I mean to criticise the work of those agencies, which all do excellent work. However, I do want to argue about the nature of slavery itself. If we do not abandon the term, we should at least be cautious about using it. I want to suggest three reasons for caution and, if I may be forgiven for being academic, three policy conclusions which stem from those.
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First, if we continue to call the various things mentioned by the noble Earl in his opening speech "slavery", we risk suggesting that history is continuousthat slavery has always been with us and therefore always will be with us. In the same sense, one could argue that poverty has always been with us; but this is not true. The movement against the global slave trade had enormous, transformative impact on the world. It served to eliminate almost completely the form of slavery which had existed for so many centuries. What we have therefore is an historical break. The kinds of exploitation that exist in the world are mostly only remotely connected with what used to be quite rightly called slavery.
Secondly, as Bales points out, both the nature and origins of the so-called new slavery are utterly different from the past. No-one owns the so-called new slaves, whereas ownership was always the principle of what slavery meant. Today, slaves cost next to nothing; Bales estimates an average of $100 to pay for the vast category of people included under the notion of slaves. As the title of his book suggests, they are disposable. That is very different from the past.
Thirdly, and most importantly, if we use the term slavery to cover such a wide range of circumstances that in fact differ from one another, we do not necessarily pick up the differences between their causes and how we should respond to them. For example, bonded labourwhich, as was mentioned, is a big problem across large parts of the worldhas nothing really in common with the sexual exploitation of children, early or forced marriage, or many of the other categories included under that loose notion of slavery. We have to prise them apart if we are to have adequate policies to deal with them.
I conclude by mentioning what three of these policy orientations might do. First, as an academic, I would say that a lot more research and precision is needed in the debate about global slavery. To say that there are 27 million slaves in the world is meaningless, given the diffuse and highly emotional nature of the term. I looked through a lot of literature before this debate, and there are wildly divergent figures bandied around. Tracing those figures to their origins, in most cases I could not find the evidential basis for them. We are told that millions of people are involved in human trafficking and so on, but it is very hard to find the evidential base for those claims.
We need more research of the kind carried out in Niger by Timidria, a local NGO group. It interviewed 14,000 people and was able to give a good account of what slavery means and the kind of exploitation that exists on the ground. We need more of that kind of research.
Secondly, we should separate out those cases where the issue is a lack of modernisation from those cases which are the result of the outcome of modernisation and globalisation, which are very different. For example, bonded labour has existed for centuries. It existed alongside, but was different from, traditional slavery. In this area we need education, a change of family structures and direct intervention from the local state.
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Compare that with human trafficking, which is largely, but not entirely, a creation of the globalised world in which we live and the rapid means of communication which exist within it. Here we need something quite differentstrong international action and collaboration.
Thirdly, and finally, as we have only seven minutesoh! I am therethere has been much discussion about what could be done in the West by individuals to contest these forms of exploitation, whether or not you call them slavery. Some suggestionssuch as looking at the nature of pension fundsmake good sense, but a great deal of what now passes for slavery is organised through the state. Some states play a direct role in the persistency of these practicesfor example, Burma and Sudanand other states are complicit in them.
After the Iraq war, many liberals and people on the Left suddenly have rediscovered sovereignty. But human rights must take precedence over sovereignty in the world. We therefore must be prepared to be interventionist and for states and international organisations to be much firmer than they have been hitherto in contesting these forms of oppression.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for introducing the debate. I was delighted to listen to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. Today is probably the right time to debate this issue. One aspect of the problempovertycould be solved if it is tackled by those discussing it at the G8 conference.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is right to say that forced labour is a significant component of all forms of contemporary slavery. This consists of compulsory work against an individual's will or conditions of labour under the threat of severe punishment or other awful consequences if they fail to abide by their abuser's rules. The figures cited by the noble Earl are very interesting. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that, although they may not have a proper statistical baseit will require research to determine the correct figuresthe generally accepted number of such people is approximately 12.3 million.
Contemporary slavery can be divided into a number of forms. Bonded labour has been cited, which begins when impoverished individuals exchange their labour for a loan from a private contractor. This practice exists in many parts of the world. The scheme often goes sour when the person's debt is inflated out of a repayable proportion through excessive interest charges, fanned by the lender's greed.
Bonded labour is estimated to affect about 80 per cent of the world's forced labour and therefore makes up a significant proportion of modern slavery. It may be said that globalisation sponsors a great deal of this forced labour. Certain multinationals enter into poorer countries and recruit locals into inadequate or forced labour with no regard to labour ethics. Of the world's 12.3 million forced labourers, 8.4 million are suspected to be children working in what are called the "unconditional" worst forms of child labour. As with
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forced labour and slavery, the most helpless seem to go the most unhelped. The terrible example of children as some of the greatest sufferers goes quite unimpeded. I am sure that all of us agree that we cannot allow this situation to continue.
Human trafficking is more profitable than drug trafficking. It can be traced as one of the main channels through which exploited labourers pass. Approximately 2.5 million people have been trafficked into forced labour, and about one third of them are enrolled into forced or exploited labour such as domestic or factory work. Migrant workers are undervalued and so unprotected by many governments, and most are faced with restricted access to legal migration channels despite a demand for labour in destination countries.
Just as we call for the recognition of minority communities as the most at risk of enslavement, we want the countries that are accountable for even a small proportion of this epidemic to rethink their position on it.
The same resolve applies to the problem of forced labour imposed by the state. Although states are responsible for a much smaller percentage of forced labour cases than individuals, certain governments, such as that of Burma, are directly responsible for such practices. Governments are far more difficult to prosecute than guilty individuals, especially when there is little or no legislation against the act. In North Korea, forced labour is considered a part of the re-education process for those who are detained for drug addiction, theft and prostitution.
Discrimination can be identified as one of the primary causes of much forced labour and slavery. In some countries, people of particular descent or ethnic groups are expected ritually to do polluting or unpaid work, examples of which were cited by the noble Earl.
For any eradication of contemporary slavery to be possible, highly prioritised national and global action plans are needed. Before even that is possible, there needs to be a total acceptance of the situation of modern slavery. At the moment, many of the world's governments seem to have their eyes closed to the culpable practices that either exist in their own countries or are viewable in the world around them. The reality is that in the modern international society, everything concerns everyone.
One can cite examples of countries where such practices are prevalent. We should be asking what the solutions are. First, national and international plans to fight slavery need to cover the structural make-up that produces those susceptible to it.
Poverty is another highly influential factor in slavery. As we saw with debt bondage, the poor often enter into the unending cycle of slavery in a genuine attempt to earn a wage. When faced with a choice between extreme poverty and starvation or slave labour, even the latter appears more attractive.
By removing the present obstacles, prioritising and abolishing slave labour will work as part of an integrated strategy to achieve existing development targets such as the millennium development goals. For this reason, I
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value a number of organisations which are doing some important work in this respect. I declare an interest as a member and trustee of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. On a positive note, that museum is a unique example of where a good acceptance of the issue of slavery in modern society has been developed into a strong educational base for the abolition of slavery's causes. Young people and visitors to that charming museum are taught the importance of understanding the history of the transatlantic slavery trade within the context of the British Empire. The museum also works actively with Anti-Slavery International to promote engagement with national and local slavery, heritage and contemporary issues and solutions. Most importantly, the museum raises awareness of the terrible situation in a refreshing and successful way.
Such organisations need sustained funding to help broadcast the main message of anti-slavery bodies and eventually to help end slavery. Why are the Government half-heartedly involved? Will the Minister speak to his colleague to see how we can assist one of our finest museums, which is being deprived of resources adequately to pursue this type of work?
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