Book summary: Ending Slavery (I)

Ending Slavery is a book about modern slavery and the possibility of ending slavery forever. It defines slavery, shows that there is still a lot in this world, explains how it works, why it still exists, why people end up in slavery, and finally it describes a plan to end it once and for all. It’s a very good book, although sometimes I wished that there were less “stories” and more “information”. That said, the summary ended up being huge, especially for a relatively small book (250 pages).

This first post will cover the introduction, and the chapters “The Challenge” and “Building the Plan”. Other posts will cover “Rescuing slaves today”, “Home-grown freedom”, “Governments”, “Global problem, global reach”, “Ending the product chain”, “Ending poverty to end slavery to end poverty to end slavery” and the coda and appendix.

EDIT: see the second, third, fourth and fifth parts.


5000 years of slavery can end forever, as well as 200 years of pretending we don’t have slavery. We just need a plan, and this book helps in laying it out. Freedom is not just possible, it’s inevitable, for the seed of freedom grows and grows. Our job is to nourish those seeds.

The Challenge

It used to be clear for everyone what slavery was. It was defined and protected by law. When it became illegal, many people thought it was over, and it became less clear what slavery is. In essence, slavery it controlling people through violence and using them to earn money. It doesn’t depend on the duration.

In modern times, slaves are cheap and disposable. Three factors after World War II led to resurgence of slavery:

  1. World population explosion: from 2 to over 6 billion people in about 50 years, most in the developing world.

  2. Dramatic social and economic changes. As colonies gained independence, they opened to western businesses. In that process, the poor were left behind and they had even less opportunities and resources. If we compare poverty and slavery levels, the pattern is obvious.

  3. Police corruption, In rich countries there’s slavery in spite of the police. In many other countries it flourishes because of it. If the policeman salary is $10/$20 a month, getting $100 extra a month is the difference between being able to feed your children and have electricity or not. Question: how was “corruption” measured?

Looking at everything supporting slavery, it’s discouraging: world poverty, corruption, greed, population explosion, environmental destruction, armed conflicts that impoverishes countries, international debt, governments not applying laws. But not everything has to be done at once, and not everything has to be solved to end slavery. People in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.5 to 1.1 billion people (from 1981 to 2001) even with the world population increasing. Many changes are already taking place, just need a plan to support them.

Building the plan

When releasing slaves, freedom is the beginning, not the end (as in most of the challenges start then). The obvious thing when a slave is freed would be to consult the body of knowledge by doctors and psychologists, except it doesn’t exist. It’s being compiled now.

When freeing a slave making rugs, some questions point at us: who buys them? do the wholesale vendors know they’re profiting from slavery? how do we differentiate slave rugs from others? If we stopped buying rugs, would that help slaves? Ending slavery is solving a lot of puzzles. Did rich countries end slavery, or did they move it to other countries while keeping the benefits without the moral discomfort?

Key ingredients to end slavery:

  1. Public awareness. We have three advantages over abolitionists in the past: (a) the moral argument is already won, (b) the monetary value of slavery is very small, it doesn’t threaten any country’s livelyhood, and (c) for the most part, laws are already in place. The missing link is governments enforcing laws: until it reaches the public agenda there will be slaves.

  2. Education. Many slaves are tricked into it, violence only comes when it’s too late to escape. It’s an ancient method. Education is key to fight slavery, but we’re hardly taking advantage of it. There are large sums for teen pregnancy and drugs, but how much for slavery? Question: it that a good argument? Training is needed in law enforcement too. The US spends more than any other country in law enforcement, but it was only in 1998 that a human trafficking task force was created. It has started training police, but has been criticized for being low-priority and haphazard. Question: by whom?

  3. Honest law enforcement. In poor countries, police not only needs training, but overhauls to remove corruption. If the pay is poor, they’ll find ways to make more cash. Corruption levels there now are similar to those in the US in the 19th century.

  4. Government action.

  5. Economic support for anti-slavery workers.

  6. Rehabilitation. Essential to sustained freedom. Some return to slavery by choice, because they only find insecurity. Without help to create a new life, people often can’t by themselves. When equipped with skills and education, ex-slaves are empowered and committed to end slavery, become village leaders, and are not afraid of confronting police. A single ex-slave can change a whole village.

The UN millennium development goal for 2015: provide every child in the world with basic education. That’d be around $28 billion, and while it sounds like a lot that’s what Michigan charities spend a year, the personal wealth of IKEA’s owner, or what Philip-Morris had to pay a single person who sued them.

There are other costs: anticorruption campaigns, debt reduction, police training, rehabilitation, training/paying anti-slavers workers. But in the end, there’s profit in ending slavery.

And that’s it for now. The next post will cover ”Rescuing slaves today” and “Home-grown freedom”.