Students hear from modern slavery expert

· 7 min read

Students hear from modern slavery expert

Presentation part of Human Trafficking and Migration Initiative's virtual summit
A slave carries a drum of burned wood to make charcoal in Brazil. Forests have been decimated in the country to create coal, which is then used for Brazil's steel industry. The forests are cut down and burned with slave labor.
A man, who is enslaved, carries a drum of burned wood to make charcoal in Brazil. Forests have been decimated in the country to create charcoal, which is then used for Brazil's steel industry. The forests are cut down and burned with slave labor. Bale used this image to demonstrate how slavery is intrinsically connected to climate change.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln journalism students learned the complexities of identifying modern-day slavery and the work on the ground to end it from one of the world’s foremost experts in human trafficking.

Kevin Bales, professor of contemporary slavery and research director of the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, met with students in the class, “Social Justice, Human Rights and the Media,” taught by Barney McCoy, professor of broadcasting, over Zoom.

Kevin Bales

Bales gave an overview of his research into contemporary slavery, the economic, climate and social costs, and the work of the Rights Lab to liberate people across the globe. Bales’ organization helps take people out of slavery by building out infrastructure to create more economic stability, setting up education, job training and other economic opportunities.

“There’s about 40.3 million people in slavery around the world,” Bales said. “That’s a conservative estimate, but our measurements have grown much more precise and much more reliable (over the last decade).

“It would cost about $23 billion over 10 years to get everybody out of slavery in the world. That sounds like a lot, but that’s what Apple made in their spring quarter — just three months — so when you spread it out to all countries and philanthropists, it’s chicken feed.”

Bales’ talk with students was recorded and will be uploaded for viewing Oct. 19 in the Human Trafficking and Migration Initiatives Virtual Summit, which is happening throughout the month. Six video presentations already have been included, with seven more planned. The annual summit is sponsored by the College of Journalism, the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences, and campus partners.

Through visual aids, Bales illustrated the widespread problem of slavery, showing that it is a global issue, affecting every country in the world, and many products and services used every day.

“One of the things that’s a real challenge is that those of us who buy things and use things and eat things, everything comes through the supply chain,” he said. “That supply chain has a complexity that is very hard to see if you’re standing at the cash register, and you’re the final recipient of whatever the thing is that’s gone all the way around the planet.

“By the time it’s reached you, almost all the badness that’s happened, the subterfuge and concealment has happened, and that’s why it’s so important to figure out ways to start at the bottom, not the top, of the supply chain. In other words, we go back to where the slavery happens.”

Bales showed this image, illustrating the many products and services encountered every day that may come from slave labor.

He also tied the problem of slavery to climate change, explaining that slavery is the third largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, through actions such as the decimation of forests and unscrupulous mining for precious minerals.

In the question and answer portion of the presentation, students asked how they could be part of the solution — if it could be as simple as not purchasing certain products or patronizing specific companies.

“The tricky thing is how do you know the company is using slave labor?” Bales said. “Sometimes the companies themselves don’t know. I’m not saying they shouldn’t know, but sometimes they don’t. The reason why is because — let’s look at electronics for a minute — the criminals at the bottom of the supply chain, are running these mines on slave labor. They work really hard to hide the criminality and the origin of these minerals, because they’re making a lot out of it.”

Bales said some things they can do is research a company’s practices for procuring raw materials, or use tools such as apps that rate companies on their ethical and sustainability practices. Some examples of these apps are Good on You and Safe Car Wash. Or, citizens can give dollars to help do the work of liberation.

“What can we do to really make a dent in contemporary, modern slavery?” Bales said. “At the end of the day, it sounds crazy, but it’s really taking $5 a month and giving it to an anti-slavery organization that does work in the developing world. The reason why is that $5 doesn’t seem like much, but it goes a long way in places like India, Bangladesh, even Brazil, and it has a multiplying effect.”

Additionally, Bales said some countries are hiding slave labor. When a question was asked about the slavery heat map he showed illustrating where most slavery is occurring, and how accurate it is, Bales said some countries shown to have less slave labor may be hiding it because they’re profiting from it through corruption, or have state-sanctioned slave labor, such as in China, where the government is imprisoning Uighurs in labor camps.

“Our data on China is not as good as our data from, say, India, because the Chinese are very keen to keep out researchers,” he said. “In China, it’s not criminals enslaving people, it’s the country itself. It’s something we should understand better as Americans.”

The public is invited to learn more about human trafficking and modern-day slavery by viewing presentations in the summit.

The following presentations in the Human Trafficking and Migration Initiative Virtual Summit are available now:

  • A welcome to the UNL Human Trafficking and Migration Initiative.
  • Dr. Anita Ravi and Keisha Walcott, “Financial health: Solving the health-poverty trap in human trafficking.”
  • Leonard Rubenstein, lawyer, author and professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “Drivers and consequences of violence against health care.”
  • Amelia Watkins-Smith, doctoral student at the University of Nottingham and research associate in the Rights Lab, “A feminist analysis of Chinese bride trafficking.”
  • Jason Pope, executive director and founder of the Rain Collective, and Leah Edwards, founder of the Kaart Consulting and lead researcher at Rain Collective, “Building connections and facilitating partnerships: Human trafficking in the Middle East and Gulf states.”
  • Oana Burcu, Rights Lab, “Understanding risks of exploitation for vulnerable migrant workers in the U.K.”
  • Rochelle Dalla, professor in Child, Youth and Family Studies at Nebraska, “Familial sex trafficking among the Bedia Caste of India: Defying the dominant human trafficking discourse.”

The following presentations will be uploaded on these dates:

  • Oct. 20: Monti Narayan Datta, associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond, “Contemporary slavery and armed conflict: Introducing the CSAC database.”
  • Oct. 22: Davina Durgana, co-author and senior statistician for Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index and senior multilateral engagement adviser for the Minderoo Foundation, “Finding today’s slaves: Statistics in the fight against modern slavery.”
  • Oct. 25: Lucy Mahaffey, Marshall Scholar Communication Fellow, University of Nottingham, “Oklahoma’s response to human trafficking.”
  • Oct. 26: Judi gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, and adviser and professor to the Native Daughters Projects in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, “Missing and murdered Indigenous women and children.”
  • Oct. 28: Christine Diindiisi McCleave, “Truth, healing and justice for Indian boarding schools.”
  • Oct. 29: Courtney Hillebrecht, director of the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, “Wrap of summit: What next?”

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