Response to ‘Disposable People’ by Kevin Bales
Created by: Shannon Campbell
Millions of people throughout the world are un-employed, starving, and homeless. Hard labor is only rewarded with a few coins. Young children are forced to do extraneous labor instead of being sent to school, but yet none of this is considered to be any form of slavery. Many people do not know the difference between old and new slavery…and even more do not know that there is a new slavery altogether. Kevin Bales, the author of Disposable People, has created a simple yet complex collection of documents and stories of five countries; Thailand, Mauritania, Brazil, Pakistan, and India and their role in today’s new slavery.
Bales directly spoke with many of the people involved in the new slave trade, in whom he calls “disposable”. This is a new idea, with differences varying between old and new slavery. The people he spoke to ranged from brothel owners, to prostitutes, to brick-makers. However, despite of the role they played, they all were involved in the new slave trade. And ultimately, we are too, indulging in the many products that they are forced to create that are being sold throughout the world.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Bales introduces, “Disposable People”, with describing the current state of slavery in today’s society. “My best estimate of the number of slaves in the world today is 27 million”, states Bales (Bales 8). He then goes onto describing what the differences of slavery is today compared to that of many decades and centuries ago. Old slavery focuses on legal ownership being asserted, high purchase costs, low profits, shortage of potential slaves, long-term relationships, slave maintenance, and ethnic differences (Bales 15). New slavery focuses on legal ownership being avoided, very low purchase costs, very high profits, glut of potential slaves, short-term relationships, slaves being “disposable”, and ethic differences not being important.
With new slavery, there are differences between the three main kinds that are going on currently and globally. Chattel slavery is most comparable to the old form of slavery (Bales 19). This is when a slave is either captured, born into, or sold into a permanent form of servitude. This type of slavery is found in both northern and western Africa, as well as Arab countries such as Mauritania. Debt bondage is the second form of slavery, which is focused on a financial burden, such as a loan. This form of slavery can be found in Pakistan and India. And lastly, contract slavery is enforced through “modern labor relations”. Ultimately, this hides slavery, and can be found in Southeast Asia, Brazil, a few Arab States, and India. Together, these three types of new slavery generate $13 billion dollars annually (Bales 23).
Chapter 2: Thailand
“The overheads are low, the turnover high, and the profits immense” (Bales 53). Bales uses this quote to describe the current slave trade in Thailand, which includes a massive use of prostitution among female youth. “Thai children, especially girls, owe their parents a profound debt” (Bales 39). Brothels are spread across the city, with 35,000 young girls living in them, paying back debt to both their parents and pimps (Bales 43). Nearly a half of a million prostitutes are for service, including these young girls. Bales explains that the reason why it is so popular is because of their Thai and religious Hindu culture. Nearly 80-87% of Thai men have gone to a brothel in Thailand, regardless of their religion (Bales 45). With any sort of celebratory excuse, alcohol goes hand in hand with getting a prostitute for a night for these men. The brothel owners make an incredible amount of profit, with many employees depending on them.
Religion, once again, also plays a role in this process, with the Hindu religion supporting the idea of children owing debt to their parents. Previous lives are also included in the ideology, with sinners coming back to their present life due to poor actions in their past.
Chapter 3: Mauritania
Mauritania is one of the few countries in the world who practice slavery and still bases the practice off of one’s race. Chattel slavery is what is named, although it has been ‘officially” abolished by the government, most recently in 1980. However, “religion serves both to protect slaves and keep them in bondage”, similar to those enslaved in Thailand (Bales 85). Compared to old slavery, which Bales points out in the first chapter, Mauritania is one of the few countries that also practice a form of slavery that is similar to old slavery besides with associating it with race. Slaves in Mauritania have relatively high purchase costs, high profits, long-term relationships with their slaveholders, as well as having decent maintenance by their slaveholders (Bales 118).
There is some light being shed on the situation, with the organizations of SOS Slaves and El Hor working to help slaves into freedom (Bales 120). However, like many of the countries that Bales mentions, slavery is still an everyday practice.
Chapter 4: Brazil:
In Brazil, slavery has had a historic role in the founding’s of the country. Natives of Brazil were enslaved by Portugal, in addition to African slaves being shipped from their homeland to Brazil. Today, although many things have changed regarding their infrastructure and culture, the treatment of the slaves has not. Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, Brazil and its forests were being taken over by industrialized companies such as Nestle and Volkswagen. Gatos, who are in charge of the slaves, scam them and promise food, decent wages, and sporadic visits to see their families. However, none of this is true, and many receive black lung disease from the charcoal camps (Bales 129).
“Slavery is what is happening right here to us. We’re enslaved here……I was told that I would be paid 2 reais per load. But I get nothing. According to the gato all the work I do just covers the cost of my good and my debt” (Bales 135).
The above passage explains the false promises made to many of the enslaved workers by the gatos. It’s a never ending cycle that continuously imprisons Brazilians into debt.
Chapter 5: Pakistan
Pakistan’s major industry is hand made bricks, where 7,000 kilns produce 2 million bricks annually. Nearly 750,000 people are involved, which include many children, as well as grown men and women. The peshgi system of debt bondage is hundreds, if not thousands of years old in Pakistan (Bales 165). The families that are involved in brick-making are paid very little, and debt bondage soon takes into effect, affecting their families for generations to come. However, compared to many other slavery-based countries, the per capita income is $450, and families still can afford “sufficient food and leisure time” (Bales 185).
Chapter 6: India
There are nearly twenty million people who fall under debt bondage in India, making it worse than Pakistan because “ there is no piece rate and interest is payable on debts” (Bales 199). Koliya, their agricultural system, is existent in the country, and is very long-lasting and vast. Many do not know of the jewelry, precious stones, bricks, timber, stone sugar, fireworks, cloth, rugs are produced by the millions of bonded laborers in India (Bales 198). India denies that no debt bondage exists, and because of the many indigenous tribes, it does make it hard to distinguish the different types of debt bondage occurring. However, consumers throughout the world purchase the products the slaves make, with little knowledge of the debt bondage being hidden within.
Chapter 7: What Can Be Done?
Bales explains in the last chapter about “what can be done” to change the different forms of slavery he explains through his findings. He begins with explaining with three key factors that has morphed old slavery, into the new slavery that is being practiced today (Bales 231).
The factor Bales explains first is that there was a massive explosion in the population throughout the world, which caused labor markets to attract millions of poor people in need of work.
Poor farmers have been displaced with economic globalization and modernized agriculture, thus making them incredibly vulnerable to enslavement.
Lastly is the “chaos of greed, violence, and corruption created by the economic change in developing countries”, which ultimately ravishes through traditional ways of life, and twisting the social norms.
Slavery is a business, and Bales states in order to stop it is to be “putting our money where our mouth is”, however, we are still not changing our buying behavior.
Human rights workers are risking their lives in order to make a difference in this dilemma. Bales ends his novel with, “What good is our economic and political power, if we can’t use it to free slaves? If we can’t choose to stop slavery, how can we say that we are free?” (Bales 262).
Like Bales mentions before, it is necessary for his readers to learn, join with others who want to stop slavery, and act.
“Disposable People” was a book I heard about throughout my studies but never got around to actually reading it. I am an International Trade and Marketing major, and I learn about human trafficking sporadically throughout my studies. I mostly hear about sex trafficking, especially with young women in Thailand and Bangladesh. However, real-life human slavery seems to be a topic that is rarely discussed. After reading Disposable People, it is now clear to me why; slavery is being hidden by countries, and takes a true and passionate investigator to really dig deep and find out the facts and statistics behind the ordeal.
Beginning with Bales writing style, he writes both an incredibly captivating yet extremely detailed account of new slavery. During his introduction, he gives enough facts and statistics to keep the book flowing; but not nearly to any extent of being monotonous.When diving into the different countries of the world that are engaged in slavery, it was realistic to hear about the stories of the people Bales encountered rather than to simply hear a general overview. The flow of his words and language gave a “chilling” feel when telling the stories of those who have been, or still a part of new slavery. After going through each country and their take on new slavery, he organized all of the factors and pieces of information in a coherent and concise way, almost like mathematics. I truly think he is an abolitionist in today’s global anti-slavery movement of nearly twenty-seven million people. As he goes from the brothels of Thailand to the brick-making kilns of Pakistan, he investigates every crack and crevice. He shows the historical, cultural, and politics behind modern slavery, yet remains neutral on his personal feelings and emotions.
Personally, I would have enjoyed more stories from the civilians in the countries that Bales investigated. I would have also liked to hear more history, although he did include enough to back up what he was explaining in today’s society. For example, when explaining his encounter with Seba, I would have liked to have an understanding on the slavery issues in France over the past few decades, not just that it is happening today. Overall those are my personal preferences, and I truly don’t have a lot to argue against both Bales topic of choice and how he portrayed it.
Overall, I enjoyed Disposable People and would recommend the novel to anyone who is interested in global studies, world issues, international trade, or just for a good read!
Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2004. Print.