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  • New Approaches to Combating Modern Slavery
  • Joel Quirk (bio)
Kevin Bales, Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007);
Buying Freedom: The Ethics and Economics of Slave Redemption, (Kwame Anthony Appiah and Martin Bunzl eds., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

The last decade has seen the rapid emergence of modern slavery as a major human rights issue. The main focus here has been trafficking in persons for the purposes of forced prostitution. Other key issues include bonded labor, the worst [End Page 257] forms of child labor, classical slavery, forced labor for the state, various wartime abuses, and the exploitation of migrants and domestic workers. This expansive agenda reflects contributions from human rights activists and international organizations, ongoing government initiatives, and a series of popular exposés and high profile cases.

Research into forms of modern slavery remains very much a work in progress. While overall levels of activism, analysis, and public interest have improved greatly in recent times, there remain many issues that have yet to be adequately explored. In this environment, both of the works under consideration here represent important and innovative contributions in a slowly maturing field. With Ending Slavery, Kevin Bales offers a wide ranging and often self-reflective analysis of recent initiatives to combat human bondage, building a multi-faceted blueprint for the effective eradication of modern forms of slavery. With Buying Freedom, Kwame Appiah and Martin Bunzl bring together scholars from a variety of backgrounds to explore the dimensions and implications of slave redemption and slave emancipation. Both works break substantially new ground. By combining a distinctive global vision with a series of targeted strategies for combating slavery, Bales develops a strong case for shifting the primary focus of inquiry away from describing and diagnosing problems and towards identifying and evaluating solutions. By considering the problem of slave redemption from a variety of perspectives, Appiah and Bunzl’s volume offers an innovative approach to a contentious topic that has rarely been explored in any depth. While both works are not without flaws, they nonetheless mark significant milestones in a subject area which remains prone to sensationalism and duplication.

Kevin Bales established his reputation with his 1999 book Disposable People, which played a leading role in raising public awareness of the assorted problems which fall under the rubric of modern slavery.1 Disposable People was the right book at the right time. While forms of human bondage had attracted a relatively modest amount of interest in earlier decades, their global profile underwent a major transformation from the mid-1990s onwards, with growing concerns over post-Cold War human trafficking serving as a decisive catalyst.2 In an environment where most people were learning of modern slavery for the first time, Bales offered an authoritative and accessible global survey, combining detailed case studies with a larger analytical framework based upon underlying differences between “old” and “new” slavery.

In the mid-1990s, information on modern slavery was often in short supply. This is no longer the case. While many silences and shortcomings persist, tremendous energies have recently been expended documenting and analyzing many different practices throughout the globe.3 Parallel efforts to improve both public awareness and official engagement have also made substantial headway. [End Page 258] These trends are reflected in the organization and orientation of Ending Slavery. While the main goal of Disposable People was to publicize a hitherto largely neglected issue, the main goal of Ending Slavery is to identify and evaluate practical solutions to an increasingly familiar yet seemingly intractable problem. For Bales, this means taking “a hard look at people and organizations—working locally, nationally, and internationally—that say they are trying to stop slavery, and some that don’t say that but should.”4

Ending Slavery begins with a brief overview of the defining features and underlying causes of modern slavery. These opening chapters reprise some of the main themes of Bales’ earlier works.5 Modern slavery is defined in terms of “control through violence, economic exploitation, and the loss of free will,”6 and is distinguished from the legal slavery of the past in a number of key respects, as recent population growth and...


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pp. 257-267
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