This is the fourth part of my summary of the book “Ending Slavery” by Kevin Bales. You can read the first, second and third parts in this same blog. This fourth part will cover the chapter “Global problem, global reach”.

Global problem, global reach

Slavery is global. Need to find a how to use global organisations to fight it. This chapter is about how groups like the UN, WTO and World Bank can help.

The United Nations

The Slavery Convention was created in 1926. It is important because it was the first time the world agreed officially that slavery must end and in even tried to define it. It was important in three ways: (1) it set the moral position, (2) it was the first global treaty to ban slavery and (3) it addressed slavery “in all its forms”. However, it wasn’t such a practical instrument to end slavery.

The International Labour Organisation was established in 1919. It 1998 it issued the Declaration of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This opened the door for Anti-Slavery International to lobby and in 2001 the ILO Special Action Program to Combat Forced Labour was created. An in-depth investigation was undertaken, which resulted in a global report in 2005 that helped bring the subject to the notice of governments. This research is so clearly documented that it can be repeated in a few years to compare. Because incredibly, no one knows if slavery is growing or shrinking, or how many slaves are men, women or children.

One of the reasons the UN and ILO don’t do more against slavery is that they’re completely dependent on its member nations. The UN is anything but democratic, because one primary body exercises the most control: the Security Council. It has five permanent members (Great Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States) and 10 rolling members elected on a rolling basis, allowed to participate for two years but not be re-elected. The General Assembly can recommend, but only the Security Council can decide. The five permanent members have veto power. Two examples:

  1. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Two countries failed to vote for it: Somalia, which didn’t have a functioning government that could vote for anything) and the US, which in part argued that it would ban 17-year-olds from military service.
  2. International Criminal Court, an idea first explored in 1946. Idea: court where individuals could bring cases of fundamental human right violations when their national courts were unwilling/unable to give them a hearing. The US is now its most vigorous enemy. It joined six other countries (Iraq, Israel, China, Yemen, Libya and Qatar) to vote against it. As countries began to ratify the convention, the US bullied them shamelessly, threatening to pull foreign aid, credits, education grants, unless they promised the US a special exemption from the court’s jurisdiction (see p. 150 for references).

The UN can play a role no other can perform, but the cooperation of the Security Council is needed. That doesn’t need to be complex or difficult, and can be broken into clear and easy steps. It starts with the appointment of a special representative of the secretary-general on slavery. One of its main products is an in-depth report that assesses a problem and gives specific recommendations for addressing it. A special representative on slavery would not be revolutionary, and one is needed for two reasons:

  1. the UN work on slavery is piecemeal and uncoordinated: he could resolve the different conventions since 1926 into a coherent single statement (slavery is one of the few crimes with “jus cogens” status, meaning all countries agree it’s illegal everywhere, all the time and no country is allowed to make it legal)
  2. The UN needs a much more robust response to slavery (the Security Council passed a resolution in 2005 on children and armed conflict, but the only actions were monitor and report). It could be achieved by the Special Representative organising a Security Council meeting about slavery. This meeting would have 4 objectives:
    1. Make it clear the UN is serious about it
    2. Demonstrate that the Security Council supports the work of the Special Representative and the secretary-general
    3. Make the Security Council set up a small group of experts to review all existing UN conventions
    4. Make the Security Council establish a commission to determine how the existing UN inspection mandate could be extended to slavery (the inspection mandate is what made the UN look for weapons in Iraq and ultimately punish when there wasn’t cooperation; see p. 153-155).

Other ways in which the UN can help (p. 156):

  • Bread: although the food the WFP (World Food Programme) delivers is sometimes the difference between life and death, dropping large amounts of free food in a weak economy can threaten the viability of local agriculture, increasing poverty and vulnerability to exploitation. It has its uses though: free lunches in a local school quells the hunger that pushes many parents to give their children for promises of jobs, it draws children to school where they get education and helps them crawl out of poverty, and it’s much more likely that teachers come every day. The UN food programme knows how to get food to the people who need it. Only two steps are needed to make it fight slavery as well: (1) build awareness of slavery into its planning, and (2) make sure it has the resources to assemble a special unit that searches out and attacks slavery through food aid.
  • Pills: when slaves come to freedom, one of the first things they need is medical care for their children and themselves. If the World Health Organisation incorporates slavery, when health workers find slaves they will recognise them and liberation will be hastened. Medical care for them will improve their chances of staying out. This is just adding slavery sensitivity, like when gender sensitivity was added as part of UN policies.
  • Guns: if a UN peacekeeper force can open the door, other UN agencies can bring the food, education and medical care that ensures lasting freedom.
  • Roses: UNESCO has the kind of global reach for a campaign to end slavery. Its programs filter into schools.
  • Satellites: slavery is often hidden in unmapped areas, but they’re hard to hide from satellites, especially as usually they destroy the environment and those scars are visible.

The World Bank

The World Bank, by its own definition, focuses on ending poverty. A lot of money goes to projects in developing countries, but a lot of money comes back as repayments and interest.

The World Bank could add anti-slavery requirements to the list of requirements that governments have to meet to get funding for specific projects. They have already announced that the Bank won’t approve any loan that undermines human rights, but they have to go further and be more specific.

And that’s it for now. The next (and last!) post will cover chapters “Ending the (product) chain”, “Ending poverty to end slavery to end poverty to end slavery”, the coda and the appendix.