mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
the new slavery
Pakistan Has More Than Two Million Slaves

There are an estimated 30 million slaves in the world today, more than at any other time in history. In case you missed it, earlier this month Real Clear World ran a profile of what slave labor looks like in Pakistan today. There are 1.8 million “debt laborers” in the country, and 2.2 million slaves over all (only India and China have more). The debt laborers are kept under the thumb of landlords who sell them back and forth and cook up ways of keeping them in bondage:

“Usually we remain in debt because we take amounts from them [the landlords] for feeding our children and other day to day expenses,” he says, sitting outside his home, a mud hut sandwiched between an irrigation channel and the road. Nanji’s only contact with the landlord is through the farm manager.

Money rarely changes hands between landlord and tenants. Instead all transactions are recorded in a register maintained by the landlord. Each harvest is meant to pay off part of the debt, but costs—many of which the landlord is meant to bear himself under the few laws that are meant to offer protection to laborers in Pakistan—are added to the debt with interest.

“The actual thing that is keeping people in bondage is the manipulation of the records. The “hari” is illiterate and uneducated and doesn’t know how to keep the records,” explained Ghulam Hyder, director of the Green Rural Development organization, a Sindh-based group working with bonded laborers, using the Sindhi term for tenant

Americans are tempted to see this a third world problem, or as a problem “over there,” but that’s also wrong. On the one hand, a lot of products made by slave workers overseas find their way into our stores and markets. A former WRM researcher Ben Skinner has detailed instances of this at length, both in his book on modern slavery (“A Crime So Monstrous”) and subsequently. Here, for example, we discuss his research into the debt bondage and abuse behind the palm oil industry. The role slavery and death plays in the global shrimp trade made news recently. Moreover, we have slaves right here. The same report we quoted above found 60,000 slaves right here in the U.S.

Features Icon
show comments
  • ShadrachSmith

    Debt slavery is what Solon abolished in Greece some years ago. Islam has been at the heart of world slave traffic since the Mali Empire. Coincidence?

    • Curious Mayhem

      Yep, and the code in Deuteronomy put limits on it such that it eventually died out in the Israelite world.

      • johnrbell

        This wouldn’t be the war criminal who among other things gassed the Kurds long before Saddam allegedly did?

  • pst314

    “There are an estimated 30 million slaves in the world today, more than at any other time in history.”
    More in absolute numbers or more as a percentage of the total population? I very much doubt the former, since the the world population today is about 7 times what it was in 1800.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service