"Disposable People" by Kevin Bales is an important book on the topic of slavery in our time. The author intelligently combines original cases studies and third-party research with a solid understanding of global economics. The result is a startling but convincing expose that should be read by everyone.
Mr. Bales describes the major factors driving slavery today. First, the post-WW II population explosion has created a huge and desperate reserve army of the unemployed. Second, the process of proletarianization continues in many so-called "developing" nations as millions of peasant farmers are displaced by mechanization. Third, economic globalization serves to break down the social fabric as materialism and greed substitutes for the communal values that prevail in peasant societies.
Mr. Bales is careful to contrast the "New Slavery" of today with the "Old Slavery" of the past. The New Slavery is clearly embedded within the logic of post-industrial production, where capital avoids its social and environmental responsibilities and ruthlessly exploits human and natural resources for maximum profit. In this light, the New Slavery represents the race to the very bottom of a brutal system that is controlled by speculative investors and is accountable to no one.
Case studies examining prostitution in Thailand and coal production in the Brazilian rainforest help us further understand the dynamics of the New Slavery. Subcontractors do the dirty work of luring and keeping laborers in servitude while shielding owners from justice. Mr. Bales tells us that in the case of Brazil, the landowners who blithely ignore such practices include some of the largest corporations in the world.
The Old Slavery defined by the traditional master/slave relationship has survived into the present as well. Mr. Bales courageously traveled to the police state of Mauritania to gather evidence of slavery at great risk to himself and the locals who assisted him. The author devotes chapters to Old Slavery practices in India and Pakistan, where repressive sexist, class, and religious beliefs enforce an essentially Feudal social order. However, Mr. Bales makes clear that the economic forces unleashed by globalization are effectively breathing new life into these ancient practices. For example, upper caste slave owners in India are heavily dependent on slave labor to support both their privileged social positions and their increasingly Western-style consumerist lifestyle.
As many in the U.S. theorize and debate from their easy chairs about the reasons why industrial jobs may be rotating to low-wage countries, Mr. Bales' book effectively shocks us from our complacency. As amply demonstrated in this book, slavery is an expression of the infinite demands of capital taken to its logical conclusion. Clearly, eradicating slavery is essential to reclaiming our humanity. To that end, Mr. Bales makes a number of policy recommendations and provides resources at the end of the book to help readers get involved in the anti-slavery struggle.
I give this sensitive, perceptive and important book the highest recommendation possible.