“As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery.” – Martin Luther King, speech, Aug. 16, 1967

The history of slavery across the centuries and in many countries around the world is a painful history to read, and slaves as well as enslavers have been of every race, religion and nationality. The history is painful to read because of the picture it paints of the human species. Slavery is essentially a system in which people are treated as property; bought, sold, and most importantly, they are forced to act against their free will. Slavery is still present today, seen in forced child marriages, child soldiers, work slaves, sex slaves and other forms. There are currently 29.6 million slaves around the world, more than ever before, about equal to the populations of Australia and Denmark combined. The slavery industry is worth roughly $32-billion a year, equal to the profit of McDonalds and Wal-Mart combined.

Currently, according to a newly released global index, Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan rank among the countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery. The report, courtesy of the Walk Free Foundation (WFF), ranked roughly 162 countries and estimated the number of people in each nation affected by a range of involuntary situations. The situations include forced and bonded labor, human trafficking, forced marriages, and the use of children in the military. Using reports from governments and non-profit organizations, as well as from statistical estimates, the charity said that Mauritania has the highest proportion of people in slavery, and that many people are inheriting slave status from their ancestors. About 140,000 to 160,000 people are enslaved in the west African nation, which has a population of just 3.8 million, the report said. The UK has an estimated 4,400 slaves, according to the study, which put the figure in the dozens for Iceland, which has a population of 320,000. The United States came 134th by prevalence (percent of the population) of slavery and and 52nd for the absolute number of slaves in the country.

sdlaveryWhen you think of slavery, the situation usually envisioned is that of an individual who is unable to leave (physically) according to their own will. Many individuals see “exploitative child labor” as a form of modern day slavery, but there is the distinct difference, in that those children tend to have the option to leave according to their will if they choose to.

Granted, that isn’t to say there wouldn’t be negative consequences for walking out, such as losing a job, familial stress, and needing to find a new source of income etc. These fears may keep people in unfavorable conditions doing unsafe work for unpaid overtime. But, if they have the option of physically walking out the door, then that right alone differs their situation from many other who have experienced slavery. If the children experience aggressive force preventing them from exercising their will to walk out the door, then their experience more accurately constitutes the semantic understanding of slavery. Traditionally when we use the word slavery, we refer to someone in bondage (captivity), someone unable to act according to their will, and who must work under the authority of another.

slavery2The definition of slavery is growing to also consist of individuals who experience harsh working conditions and low pay. Although many would argue that this differs drastically from the common understanding as to what slavery is. One situation constitutes direct force, and another doesn’t. If an individual is experiencing harsh working conditions, and low wages, but no force in the sense that they are not infringed upon if they wish to exercise their will, then terming it ‘slavery’ is referring to their lack of options in the face of existential economic fear. The threat these “wage slaves” face is that of homelessness and starvation, and not of the whip.

Although others make the decision to define modern-day slavery as individuals who work and receive no pay, and forced to work in harsh conditions, it is understandable to see why the State might want to broaden the definition. The WFF index has been endorsed by leaders including former U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates. Secretary Hillary Clinton stated about the index,

“I urge leaders around the world to view this index as a call to action, and to stay focused on the work of responding to this crime,”.

Perhaps the broadening of the definition, and consequent worsening of the apparent problem, will elicit more aggressive tactics from the United States toward other sovereign nations, in their quest to force their will and “democracy” on yet another problem which they will aim to eradicate (terror, drugs, obesity). According to the WFF index, India, China, Pakistan and Nigeria have the highest numbers of enslaved people. And along with five other countries, they account for three-quarters of the total estimated number of people in experiencing modern slavery conditions.

Lets hope that a war on “modern slavery” in the form of aggressive military action is not initiated, and that government representatives such as Hillary Clinton remember the simple fact that statism can also be a form of slavery. When governmental systems are forced onto individuals, who do not have the option of peacefully opting out; this constitutes a form of slavery. But, regardless of how we choose to define it: slavery, and the idea of ownership over another human or even life itself, is not appropriate or acceptable.