More people are in slavery now than ever in human history.
Slavery what we now call human trafficking. I think people imagine slavery is something that happened in the past. It was bad, but we learned from it and now it doesn’t exist anymore.
The ancient history of slavery
Slavery possibly began after the agricultural revolution, around 1760 B.C. and is rarely found in hunter gatherer societies. It began in Africa, in the cradle of civilization, Sumer.
The highest population of slaves I found was 90% in Arab-Swahili Zanzibar, as well as 50% in Madagascar.
What percentage of the population in the Americas were slaves?
Across the Atlantic in Brazil was the largest population of slaves in the Americas. 35.3% of all slaves in the Atlantic slave trade went to Brazil. (“The West: Encounters and Transformations”) Imagine if every 3 people you saw on the street, 1 was a slave.
In comparison, 5% of slaves went to “the New World,” with the majority going to Caribbean sugar colonies, South America, or Brazil.
Every region and culture in the world has taken part in slavery
Every imaginable group and region was engaged in slavery. Christians were taken as slaves, Christians sold Muslims as slaves, and Muslims engaged in slavery.
“At the beginning of the 19th century, an estimated 3/4 of all people alive were trapped in bondage against their will either in some form of slavery or serfdom.” – David P. Forsythe, The Globalist
3 in 4! Imagine if every 4 people you saw, 3 of them were slaves. I used to wonder why they didn’t all rise up, since they were the majority, but apparently they did frequently, and they were almost always overpowered for a reason I can’t seem to find.
Denmark-Norway was the first European country, at least, to ban slavery. Which is great and also not a surprise because the Scandinavian countries always seem to be more ahead of the game than the rest of the world!
The Atlantic slave trade and the Middle Passage
In America, we mainly only hear about the Atlantic slave trade. I don’t think I ever remember learning that any other culture had slaves except western Europeans. It’s presented to us as children in public school as a stain upon our history. Understandably. And at least for myself, it was only when I got older that I learned just how horrific the Middle Passage truly was.
Probably the most horrific thing I can think of that I read was from the book The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker. In it, he states the harshest punishments were given to slaves who tried to rebel. One event included the captain of a ship punishing a failed rebellion by killing one of the slaves involved and forcing two other slaves to eat his heart and liver.
That’s definitely up there with the worst thing I’ve ever heart. How could someone even think that up?
And you certainly never hear about that in school. Probably because they want to keep things age appropriate and white washed. But for high schoolers, I think it is important for them to know and would probably keep them more interested in the education as well. Maybe they would turn out to be people of action who donate money or time to charities that pressure governments to crack down on human trafficking now. Maybe.
15% of slaves died making the voyage from Africa to south america in the 18th century. (The Creation of the British Atlantic World by Mancke, Elizabeth and Shammas, Carole)
The economics behind slavery
Could the industrial revolution only have happened if it weren’t for free labor? Well, not really. The British Caribbean, at least, profited most from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.
So what then ended British slavery? The people. Specifically, the voting British population, who were morally outraged by the practice. (Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition)
The truth is that slavery WAS profitable in the 1830s, but also in large part due to innovations in agriculture. The profits from the slave trade only amounted to less than 1% of domestic investments in Britain. (The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume II: The Eighteen Century)
By 1750, Africa became wealthier due to the slave trade, and could demand higher payment, while it became less profitable for Europeans to profit from it because of the larger cost to profit ratio they were getting. Costs meaning shipment, slave mortality on the journey overseas, killings of British peoples in Africa, and defense.
The profits from slavery in the British economy during the Industrial revolution was around 5%. But this number is also disputed as too high or too low. So take it with a grain of salt.
What REALLY ended slavery? Some ideas with some evidence but mostly ideas.
My theory that I have no proof for, is that the British government was getting pressure from the people, formerly and recently enough in history peasants themselves, to rid the practice, and at the same time, the government found the practice to not be all that profitable for them anyway, so it was a win-win situation. Sadly, my impression from what I’ve read is that that could possibly be the case.
Another hypothesis of mine is that we have such unrest and poverty in Africa today due to an economy that was historically based so heavily in slavery of its own people.
In Africa, groups of people would capture other groups of people and sell them to the Europeans or the Arabs or whoever, for a profit of raw materials like indigo or rum. Meanwhile, Europeans would cross the Atlantic and sell the slaves for the modern day equivalent of $32,000-$40,000 per slave. (“Hell on the Water” by Ron Soodalter)
The slave trade caused destabilization of the economies and depopulation in the millions in Africa, which I think at least, we still see today as a result.
I also think the generations of slavery, when all you know is slavery, could be a cycle of abuse continuing because of generations of this dynamic. Much like abuse of a child from a parent can cause that child, when it becomes an adult, to abuse their own children. It’s all they know.
I also wonder, but can’t find information on civilization development and the agricultural revolution playing a large part in the African slave trade. Social stratification began at this time. Sub-saharan Africa was one of the last regions in the world to develop into the Iron Age. The beginnings of civilization began around 11,000 BC, with Sub-saharan Africa being second to last, 5,000-4,000 BC, and the Eastern USA being very last, 4,000-3,000 BC.
I wonder if the late development of civilization in Sub-saharan Africa is what contributed to the rest of the world thinking Africans were backwards, sub-human, and “barbarians,” of which the word comes from, unsurprisingly, all non-Greek-speaking peoples. Maybe, due to the rest of the world getting a leg up on the benefits of economic systems early, it became easier to profit off the backs of the African people, without feeling too bad about it.
What is going on in modern day slavery.
The League of Nations, as late as 1926, which later became the UN, pressured and continues to pressure governments into ending slavery, which was a large contributor to reducing legality of the practice.
The very last country to have legal slavery, Mauritania, just made the practice illegal in 2007. This officially at least, makes slavery illegal in every country in the world. However, 20% of their population still remains in bonded labor.
Currently 29.8 million people are living in slavery today, or .4% of the world population. 55% of which are women and girls. 43% are used for sexual exploitation, and 32% for economic exploitation.
Reparations. Should we pay them today?
How far back should we pay reparations if you think we should, and should it only be for black people or should it also be for Asian internment and white slaves too?
How far back in history should a culture go, to pay back its debt to society? It’s a seemingly impossible question to answer.
I think it’s a catch-22 and we’re pretty fucked just in general because if we pay reparations directly OR give grants or some kind of subsidy, we’ll have to either 1. raise taxes 2. cut spending on social programs, or 3. print more money, inflating the currency.
What’s being done about modern slavery by the U.S. government right. now.
It seems like governments in underdeveloped countries take a blind eye to this. It’s already the law though and it still happens.
I didn’t know that it’s illegal to accept any slave labor or sweatshop labor created products to enter the US.
And as of THIS. YEAR.
It specifically includes slave labor in regards to fish. They block the supply chains now so they can’t make money.
Also, apparently we still have child labor on farms in the US and it’s totally ok by law. Which is also terrible.
There are more slaves in the world than ever.
Here is a map of what percentage of slaves are located in different countries in the world
This is an interesting article if you want to boycott slave made products:
It feels hopeless and unavoidable but knowing it’s not found everywhere in the world in every culture still is encouraging. Hunter-gatherer societies, without social stratification, have egalitarian societies that don’t participate in slavery.