Origins of modern day slavery


MODERN day slavery or contemporary slavery, as it is sometimes called, refers to a situation during which ‘a person is under the control of another person, who applies violence and force to maintain that control, and the goal of that control is exploitation’.
The exploitation might take several forms in some of the following areas; sex slavery or enforced prostitution, bonded labour as a result of some concocted financial indebtedness, unpaid labour from undocumented migrants, minors commandeered to become child soldiers, conscripted ‘drug mules’ for sophisticated drug traffickers and barons and/or syndicates.
In fact, situations for the exploitation of the weak and vulnerable by the strong and powerful are many as well as varied and found in both developing and developed countries.
Recently, scores of Zimbabwean women found themselves in some Middle-East countries, such as Kuwait, lured by promises of good jobs and good pay packages.
Before long, they found themselves turned by their employers into sex slaves and a source of cheap labour.
All their travel documents were confiscated by either their recruitment agents or employers, rendering them virtual captives, vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation that one can only imagine.
According to some estimates by the United Nations (UN) in 2016, about 46 million people were enslaved globally in a slave industry generating between US$35-to-US$40 billion annually.
And this figure is huge considering modern day slavery has been banned in almost all countries of the world.
The general tendency so far has been to regard modern day slavery as a legacy from the past, a shameful remnant of a bygone era, something almost amounting to an anomaly which is bound to come to an end sooner rather than later.
According to pundits of the so-called modern world, what we need to do to eradicate this modern day slavery is to apply the rule of law, arrest some perpetrators and punish them accordingly in order to deter others from adopting such bad habits for purposes of self-enrichment.
But the modern world is supposed to outgrow such bad habits anyway, it is just a matter of time.
One can argue this approach to the challenges posed by modern day slavery seriously under-estimates the scope and magnitude of the problem.
While it is true that such slavery is closely related to poverty, to underdevelopment, to various forms of greed obtaining in both rich and poor countries, such an approach remains superficial in so far as it does not address the underlying structural issues which constitute the so-called modern world.
A few observations in regard to how the European slave trade and slavery, started by the Portuguese in 1450 came to an end of sorts in the 1860s, are helpful in so far as they shed some light on the so-called modern day slavery.
It is important to notice that when the classical legalised slavery was coming to an end in the 1860s and compensation calls were made in Britain, it is not the enslaved Africans who got the financial compensation but the slave masters who owned slaves and vast sugar estates in the West Indies.
In other words, the slave masters represented an economic system which needed to be sustained and transformed into one of a kind which would continue to generate value for the British, but this time without Africa and its people remaining as visible kingpins of the British economy.
A good example is the Barclays family which engaged in the slave trade between Africa, Europe and the Americas during the 1750s.
The family owned vast estates and vast numbers of slaves in the West Indies and got compensated for the slaves in what would today amount to millions of pounds.
The money which the Barclays family accrued during slavery and the compensation it received at the end of it all constituted the capital which gave birth to the Barclays Bank of today; this bank has now become a gigantic multinational corporation straddling several continents and remains one of the pillars of the modern British economy today.
Similarly, the Lloyds family established a coffee house in London and struggled to succeed financially until 1692.
The coffee house became known as the place to go to with recaptured runaway slaves for purposes of returning them to their white masters.
In good time the Lloyds realised that they could make more money from insuring slave ships than from selling coffee.
What came out of that slave enterprise is a global insurance behemoth of a company whose fortunes continue to multiply up to this day, thanks to the enslavement of Africa’s children.
Last but not least is the famous Condrington family who founded a vast fortune in Barbados on the basis of the big sugar plantations and the many slaves they owned.
When Christopher Codrington died, his will donated money plus his vast personal library of books to Oxford University.
Both formed the nucleus of the now famous Condrington Library at All Souls College, Oxford University of today.
Here is how one scholar, Greg Grandin describes the role of slavery: “Slavery created the modern world and the modern world’s divisions are the product of slavery…”
Another American scholar, Lorenzao Greene, continues: “Slavery formed the basis of the economic life of New England: about it revolved, and on it depended, most of her industries… fathers who made their fortunes outfitting ships for distant voyages left their money to sons who built factories, chartered banks, incorporated canal and railroad enterprises, invested in Government securities and speculated in new financial instruments and donated to build libraries, lecture halls, universities and botanical gardens.”
Another scholar describes the role of slavery in the making of the Western world as follows: “Centuries of buying and selling human beings, of moving them across oceans and continents, treating humans as property, paying taxes on them, putting them to labour, making profit off their reproduction, and using them as collateral and capital, brought together the Western Hemisphere’s diverse parts, even those parts that didn’t seem to be directly implicated in the slave trade, into a greater whole.”
In light of the observations stated above, it is obvious that the capitalist narrative which builds the whole of the Western world is a product of slavery, in particular African slavery.
Beneath the glimmer and shiny world of the modern day West are many layers of human enslavement, specifically the enslavement of Africa’s children.
In a sense, therefore, to talk of modern day slavery is to talk about the symptoms of a whole capitalist system which continues to thrive on the exploitation of others, especially those who reside in developing countries.


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