LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The global anti-slavery movement must go beyond just freeing victims and convince millions of slaveholders worldwide that they can make a good living without relying on exploitation, a leading anti-slavery expert said on Wednesday.
Modern slavery will not end unless the traffickers and slavemasters who enslave about 40 million people worldwide are compelled to change their attitudes and habits, said Kevin Bales, co-founder of Washington-based charity Free the Slaves.
As countries strive to meet a United Nations global goal to end the $150 billion a year crime by 2030, working with slaveholders is a vital step, Bales told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual two-day Trust Conference
“If we have 40 million people in slavery worldwide ... we have at least 5 or 6 million slaveholders,” added Bales, who is a professor of contemporary slavery at the University of Nottingham in Britain.
“We have to reach slaveholders as well if we are going to reach ... global liberation,” he told the conference, which focuses on women’s empowerment and modern-day slavery.
“We need to take them to a point where they can make a decent life without being an oppressor.”
An estimated 40 million people are trapped as slaves - mostly women and girls - in forced labor, sexual exploitation and forced marriages, according to the United Nations.
Many victims are enslaved and exploited by people who have had slaves with their families or on their land for generations and do not consider themselves to be slaveholders, Bales said.
Some slavemasters see their bonded laborers as part of the family and are shocked if they take legal action, he added.
“Most slaveholders today are not beings of pure evil ... they have lived in a culture of pure privilege,” Bales said.
A growing number of studies suggest many slavemasters are themselves poor and struggling to get by financially, according to Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, a professor at both the U.S.-based University of San Diego and Britain’s University of Nottingham.
“The anti-slavery movement must develop a plan for them to exit mastery, and enter a world of freedom,” added Choi-Fitzpatrick, the author of “What Slaveholders Think”.
As well as analyzing the lives of slaveholders, Nottingham University’s Rights Lab, the world’s first large-scale research platform on slavery, is using satellites to locate brick kilns in India - sites infamous for using slaves, according to Bales.
Online volunteers sift through satellite images to identify possible hives of slavery for the “Slavery from Space” project, which relies on crowdsourcing and can also help to improve artificial intelligence, the anti-slavery expert said.
Such advances in technology and innovative new solutions are enhancing the world’s understanding of modern slavery and ability to spot patterns as the crime evolves, Bales added.
“We are sharing new ideas ... bringing new information to the fore ... and exploring the frontiers of slavery,” he said.
Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Michael Taylor Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org