DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross who's off this week. Of all the ills in the world today, one you probably haven't thought much about is human slavery. But our guest Kevin Bales says estimates are that more than thirty million people in the world are enslaved - not typically bought and sold in markets as in the pre- Civil War American South, but working in mines, quarries or shrimp farms for no money and without hope of escape. Bales is the co-founder and former president of the organization Free the Slaves. And his new book is based on seven years of research and travel to places where slavery flourishes. He interviewed people in bondage in several areas, mostly in the developing world. Bales also finds that slave labor is closely associated with environmental degradation as criminal slave masters exploit natural resources in places where the rule of law has collapsed. Kevin Bales is a professor of Contemporary Slavery at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation in England. His book is called "Blood And Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, And The Secret To Saving The World." Well, Kevin Bales, welcome to FRESH AIR. You went to the eastern Congo where people are enslaved in mining operations. And I want you to describe this mine, the BCA mine. First of all, what's the mineral that they are extracting there?
KEVIN BALES: At BCA there's two minerals, but the key one is cassiterite and which is fundamentally tin ore. And the second is coltan, which is a compound mineral made of columbite and tantalum, both of which are used in electronics.
DAVIES: And just describe what you see when you go there. What does the mine look like?
BALES: Well, you know, I actually title that chapter "The City Of Rags" because you wouldn't know that there are almost 20,000 people living in that space around what is a denuded and completely destroyed mountaintop in the Congolese forests because it's all been completely stripped bare. And it's completely also covered with enormous holes, as if bombs have been dropped where they've been digging, as well as tunnels that they've tunneled into this small mountain that's full of ore. There are, as you often see in many parts of the world, plastic bags just have flown everywhere because they've been used to carry things in and out of the mine. They are caught on barbed wire. They are caught on sticks. They are flapping in the wind. And most of the people who are working and living there don't live above ground. They'll go into the tunnels to sleep at night. So you actually have about 20,000 people living there, but when you confront it, what you see is a ruined landscape, like a World War I battlefield, and just trash - trash everywhere.
DAVIES: And 20,000 people enslaved living on this mountain.
BALES: That's right - on the mountain, in the mountain, around the mountain. Some are down by an incredibly polluted river which flows between these two mountains that are small, but both are filled with minerals. They do the washing and preparing of the minerals. A lot of them are, as I say, are living and sleeping in tunnels, which they have been digging through the mountains and so forth. And then there are a few structures, but those structures are controlled by the armed gangs that control the mines and enslave all the people in the mines.
DAVIES: And the people that you see, what kind of clothes are they wearing? And what's the actual work that they do extracting the minerals?
BALES: Their clothes are ragged. Their clothes are dirty. Their clothes, in the heat of the Congo, are very often just barely a bit of boxer shorts or some shorts, a T-shirt, which is torn up and ragged. Women will have on a slight shift or a - something, a skirt and a T-shirt, as well. But, I mean, it's very minimum. Often they'll have sandals, but often they'll be barefoot. And certainly you see around them, on their bodies, scars and bruises and burns and lots and lots of dirt. The jobs that they are doing are divided up in two or three categories. One is simply the digging - digging into the side of the mountain or digging down from the top, and you're just hammering away with hammers and chisels and shovels to pull these minerals out. Another job will be hauling those minerals on your back out of the tunnels and out of the holes to take them down to the river where they'll be handed over to more women workers who will then wash the minerals to get a lot of the clay and other dirt off them. They just put them in giant tin cans with lots of holes poked in the can to shake around in the water and clean them up a little bit. Then there will be people who put those into bags, and then those people who carry those bags and stack them up and store them because then it's now become a valuable commodity. Near the structure is controlled by the armed gangs. And then ultimately, there will be people who are enslaved whose job it will be to put those bags on their back and walk for 20, 30, 40, 50 miles to get them out of there and into the supply chain that brings them to our cell phones.
DAVIES: And what are some of the hazards and illnesses that they face in the mines?
BALES: Oh, goodness. I mean, you can imagine that if you have people with no medical care and no opportunity to even bathe, what happens when you begin to have those people sleeping together in big piles in tunnels? So there's all the types of injuries that you can get in mining - so broken bones and being smashed with hammers and shovels and picks and pikes and, you know, holes put in you. There is - what happens when the tunnels collapse, which happens often because this isn't, you know, industrial mining with careful supports and or anything like that, so people are crushed to death or desperately injured or a big rock falls on your head. There are scabies and infectious diseases that sweep through the camp. Occasionally something like cholera will breakout, and it means that there will be a very intense spike of deaths from that cholera. And then there are the sexually-transmitted diseases because the women on the camp are - really have no control of their bodies whatsoever. Once they have come there, perhaps even hoping to find real work or honest work, they discover that they've been caught into a web of slavery as well, and really any member of the armed gang that controls that mine can take any woman and do anything he likes. They are very much outnumbered by the number of men, so any sexually-transmitted disease that comes from one will spread across virtually all the women there as well as into the male population.
DAVIES: You make the point that women in slavery pay an especially cruel price - that they are raped frequently and randomly. Now, if you picture the American South - I mean, certainly there was a sexual abuse of slaves, you know, by masters. But slaves married. There were families. They had kids. Do you find that in this mine?
BALES: No, you don't find that in this mine except in the sense - which is a parody of marriage, which is in fact a cruel parody of marriage - that occasionally a woman will be selected by one of the officers of these armed groups and held just to him exclusively. And he'll refer to this woman as his wife, but she is simply an enslaved captive used for sex, and he is just using his position of power to use her exclusively. I mean, it's interesting that that particular situation of the enslavement of women is slightly paradoxical. Because, you know, if slavery is the complete control of one person by another, it turns out when you look closely that the level of control exercised over women exceeds that that is exercised over men in slavery. And it's primarily because with men, you tend to enslave their exterior and their capacity that they have for work. But with women, you enslave their exterior and their capacity for work as well as their interior. So it's not just sexual use. You can impregnate a slave. You can do something and whatever you like with the offspring of that slave. And very often around the world, women who are in slavery are also subjected to pretty horrific things like female genital mutilation or other types of mutilation or even the removal and trafficking of their organs.
DAVIES: Now, you've said that this mine is run by armed groups, and this is a part of the world that's been torn by civil war in recent years. How do the people who are enslaved at this mine fall into that condition? How did they become slaves?
BALES: Well, there are two or three different ways, interestingly. If they happen to live in that local area, they could just have been rounded up at gunpoint by the armed group. That's pretty common. Though I have to say, the original inhabitants of that area are long gone. They pretty much disappeared in the previous Congo war, the first Congo war. There's another way, which is that - that very interestingly parallels what happened in the American South after the Civil War when the system of peonage was brought in. And the legal system was used in a very corrupt way to trick people and to take control of African-Americans. So simply, in the Congo, as in Alabama in the 1880s, a person could be walking down the street, someone will put a hand on their shoulder and say, you're under arrest, you're carrying a knife, you said something nasty - whatever - we think you're a terrorist. It doesn't really matter what they say. They take them before a judge. The judge says you're guilty, you have to pay this fine. Suddenly there's someone sitting next to them that says, oh, well he doesn't have enough money but I'll pay his fine, and he'll have to come work it off at my mine. And that's when they basically are sold a slave through an illegal and false legal system. It worked in Alabama in the 1880s, and I have to say it works pretty darn well in Congo in the 21st century.
DAVIES: Now, slavery is illegal in the Congo. To ask the naive question, why isn't the government or the police, a protector, a solution?
BALES: Well, I think there are two key reasons for that because you're right. You know, slavery is illegal in every single country in the world, and there's international law about slavery as opposed to almost any other crime, which means that international law is supposed to transcend local law. But in the eastern part of Congo, we've got two key problems. The first is that it's a war zone. And, you know, one of the first casualties of war is always the rule of law. So, you know, to say, what is the rule of law doing about this when the rule of law is in fact absent or disintegrated answers its own question pretty well. But the second part of that is, of course, that the Congolese government, the Congolese army has had its own problems with corruption and lawlessness. And so it's very difficult at times to get any sort of enforcement. Now, it is true that after the United States passed the Dodd Frank Act a few years back and put embargoes on conflict minerals from eastern Congo, the government had to step in and had to start working at the local level to stop local government officials and local Congolese army officials from taking bribes and enslaving people themselves. So there's been a diminution of the problem over the time. But that's a work in progress, I have to say.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Kevin Bales. His new book is "Blood And Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, And The Secret To Saving The World." We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, we're speaking with Kevin Bales. He is the cofounder and former president of the organization Free the Slaves, about modern slavery. His new book is called "Blood And Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, And The Secret To Saving The World." You visited some mines in a different part of Africa. This is southern Ghana where the mineral being mined is gold, and it's not torn by civil war. And yet, there are some very primitive mines run by slaves. Do you want to describe the condition at these mines - what do they look like, what's the work like?
BALES: Well, there are, again, two types of mines in Ghana. And one of the things that you can say right off the bat about both types is that if you had transported someone from ancient Rome into the present and put them down, they would recognize these mining techniques perfectly. These are primitive, pre- medieval mining techniques. Part of it is just strip mining, but using individuals to do all the digging with shovels and rakes and so forth and just taking, usually, river sides and entire river bottoms and tearing them all to pieces and ripping all the sand and soil out to sift to get little flecks of gold out of it, using mercury to separate the gold from the sand which then saturates the river, saturates the surrounding forest with mercury poisoning. The other are shaft mines because there in Ghana, the deep mines are where they chisel their way into quartzite. And quartzite is a very hard mineral, and it really is just about big hammers and small chisels and men who have nothing except a hammer and a chisel and usually a flashlight attached to the side of their heads with a rubber band going down deeper and deeper and deeper, and chipping and chipping away and following the vein of quartzite that carries the gold flecks underground. These are mines, of course, with virtually no supports, and they also have that terrible problem of collapsing and crushing people.
DAVIES: The cover photo for the book shows some men who are these miners. They have a - as you say, a rubber band strapping a flashlight to their head - no helmets, no shirts. They go hundreds of feet into the earth and pick the quartzite away from the walls of the mine. It's carried in bags up to the surface, and then what happens to it there? This is interesting.
BALES: Well, what happens to it there is that it's then taken to a location where other people who are in slavery are given the job of turning those big, hard quartzite jagged rocks into a very, very fine powder - almost as fine as talcum powder. And they do that by placing these stones in steel canisters, which are shaped - sort of a parabolic shape at the bottom of the canister - and then pounding them with a mortar and pestle until they're this superfine powder. Now, that makes sense in terms of if you want to bring the gold out of the quartzite, and it makes it, in a fine powder, possible to do so. But the part that's particularly horrific about this is that the nature of quartzite is such that it has a silicon base, and there's a terrible disease that you can contract called silicosis - the very worst industrial accident in the United States, which took place during the depression, was a mass silicosis, as it were, almost attack on a very large number of workers who were trying to do drill a tunnel through a mountain in West Virginia. More than 150 people died of silicosis. This silicosis, however, is worse in Ghana because by creating this cloud of superfine dust that they're inhaling over and over, they contract what the doctors call acute and chronic silicosis, which means they're usually dead within 18 months, and often within a year. It's quite a shock when people see this because normally when people in the United States contract silicosis through their employment, it's something that kills them 30 years later, not 30 months later. And these workers will fundamentally drown in their own blood in their own lungs, even while they look like astounding weightlifters or some kind of body-beautiful people because they're young men and their musculature is fantastic, but their lungs are completely destroyed, and they drown and die in front of you.
: And then the next step for getting the gold out of this mineral dust is to apply Mercury. And it's just appalling to hear how they handle the mercury directly. It drips all over. It leaks into the water that they use.
BALES: That's precisely it. And they wash it and wash it with the mercury until they finally get a lump of this sort of waxy substance, which is more mercury and gold. And then you burn off that mercury to leave just the gold behind. But mercury, when you burn it, is in fact at its most dangerous state because one breath of mercury fumes can kill you - one breath. I have to say, also, when I've been around those places where they were washing the gold dust with mercury, I did - and doing so on the side of a stream, I followed one of those streams as it went downhill because I wanted to see, where is all this mercury going? And within a quarter-mile, I found myself in a pretty little village in the Ghanaian African forests - a school, a church, houses, vegetable gardens by the side of the stream which were being watered, the water being used for washing and for drinking and for cooking and even for baptizing in that church.
DAVIES: How did you get access to this mine?
BALES: There are anti-slavery groups in Ghana that I've worked with in the past, and they were able to, you know, slip me in sideways occasionally and occasionally bring people out to meet with me. It's the way that I've done work in other countries as well. There's a large network of anti-slavery groups around the world. They're very quiet. They don't want to get a lot of publicity because, you know, like Harriet Tubman, they also often also have a price on their head from the criminals who do the enslaving. But that's what was the best of it. And I - you know, I wouldn't have been able to do any of the work in this book if it hadn't been for those unsung and unrecognized heroes of liberation.
DAVIES: You write about mines where gold is extracted and minerals that are used in, you know, electronic items bought and assembled in other parts of the world and consumed by a lot of us in the West. You know, this happens only because there is a market for it. Are there ways for consumers to distinguish between materials that come from minerals legitimately extracted and those that are done by slave labor?
BALES: There are ways, but the very tricky thing about what you're asking is that at the moment, we're not able to confidently identify sufficient quantities of those clean minerals to fulfill all of our consumer demand. And I have to say, the same applies to things like foodstuffs and cotton and so forth. If - at the moment, if we were only able to use just the minerals or just the foodstuffs or materials that we know are absolutely clean, we would all be sort of short on cell phones and clothes and food because a lot of it is still rather murky. I spend some time in the book walking through the supply chain that leads to our cell phones and our laptops and trying to point to who are the criminals, and who are the accomplices, and then who are the people who are deeply and certainly responsible and at what level that responsibility lies. And of course, the ultimate responsibility on the ultimate end of the supply chain rests with us. And we're responsible for what we buy and what we use. But we're not as responsible as the people who sell it to us, and we're certainly not as responsible as the people who make the phones because this is their business. They should be clean about what they do. This is just one small part of our lives - well, maybe with our cell phones it's a big part of our lives. But it's just part of it. And trying to find that way to appropriately both apportion of the responsibility, guilt and culpability on one hand, but also to build the bridges so that we're not shouting at the Apple Store because we feel like our phone should be clean - but actually to build that bridge where we'd say to Apple, will you work with me, and can we both together work with your suppliers, and can your suppliers work with the people who have mines to find a way that we can make this clean for everybody? That's the tricky part.
DAVIES: Kevin Bales' book is called "Blood And Earth." After a break, Bales will talk about kids enslaved in Bangladesh who face the threat of being attacked by tigers, and he'll explain how the organization he cofounded has worked with local activists to free slaves in some areas. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross who's off this week. We're speaking with Kevin Bales, whose new book is about the plight of as many as 30 million people in the world today who live in slavery. Bales describes the suffering of slaves he interviewed, and he says slave labor is closely associated with environmental damage that accelerates climate change. His book is called "Blood And Earth." You write a lot about the threat that climate change poses and the connection between modern slavery and environmental damage. You want to talk about that a bit?
BALES: Sure. When I had worked on slavery in the past in lots of countries around the world, I was focusing very intensely on the people that I was meeting in slavery because I was very interested in what was going on with their lives and also thinking, you know, how do we get these people out of slavery? But I was also beginning to realize over time that every place I was finding slaves, I was finding them lodged, held, controlled in situations in which the local environment had just been destroyed - destroyed and poisoned, very often. And I began to wonder, you know, is this a pattern? Is there something going on here that I'm missing? Is there some kind of deeper relationship between climate change and destruction and slavery? My first investigations - my first research on this, I thought, well, you know, if it doesn't turn out, that's fine. At least I'll know the answer to the question. As I got deeper into it, I have to say, I was astounded by some of the things I was finding. And in particular, I was amazed to discover the role that slavery plays in CO2 emissions and in the simple and basic fact of how global warming takes place.
DAVIES: Illustrate this for us. Give us an example of where the damage is clear and apparent. What happens?
BALES: Well, I can point to the forests - the gigantic mangrove forests at the bottom of Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Burma. That's called the Sundarbans forest, and it's the largest carbon sink in Asia. In other words, a place where carbon is taken out of the air and sequestered by the trees into the - both into the sea and into the trees themselves. Where - so this is a very important forest for removing atmospheric carbon. This is also a place where slaveholders are using slaves to clear-cut these mangrove forests to put in shrimp farms, to put in rice paddies, to burn the wood, to do a lot of different things with it. But it's almost all slave-based deforestation. I think the key thing here, to jump up to a sightly different level to illustrate this, is to understand that in the world today, about 3 billion tons of CO2 are emitted from oil-based products and fuels that we use globally. So 3 billion tons per year are coming from oil. But about 2 billion tons per year are coming from deforestation because when you cut down a tree, it falls over. It's actually a whole lot of stored carbon, but as it rots and/or burns, it releases that carbon into the air. When we began to control, globally, how much deforestation was going on legally - and we did that through environmental regulation - one of the things that that well-meaning regulation did was create a vacuum, and criminals stepped immediately into that vacuum and began to use slave labor to accomplish forest - you know, deforestation, timbering, mining, destruction. They were doing so, and not in the places which had been necessarily cut before, but going for those really sweet places - the national parks, the game refuges, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the places where the trees were bigger, the patrols were smaller, and they were - in spite of the fact - supposedly protected by global agreements - all the more vulnerable for it. The result of all of this is that when we calculated up very conservatively how much CO2 is coming from slavery, it worked out like this - that if slavery were a country, it would have the population of Canada, but it would be the third-largest emitter of CO2 after China and the United States.
DAVIES: You visited a community in coastal Bangladesh, and a poor kid named Shumir told you his story of becoming enslaved. He wasn't captured by armed men. He was recruited. What happened?
BALES: Well, you know, a recruiter came to his family. He made a lot of great promises about - you know, Shumir could come and work on a fish processing camp down at the very bottom of Bangladesh on one of the protected islands there and promised food and clothing and, you know, some money and so forth and even gave his parents a little bit of money as an advance on his salary, which was a good way, you know, to trick them into letting him go. You know, this is a very poor family in Bangladesh. They have other kids to feed. They just lept at the chance. They were slightly worried, but they were really making a devil's choice because they knew that if Shumir went to work and it did work out, it would mean more food for the other children and maybe a better life. But again, the reality was that Shumir was taken to this island of Dublar Char in the bottom of Bangladesh. He was immediately put to work in slave conditions, brutalized, forced to work 24, 36 hours a day, working in the cold. They were wet. They were slicing up fish, processing them at a high speed. Any false move, any mistakes would lead to a beating. And...
DAVIES: Yeah, he was there with a bunch of other kids who were similarly lured in.
BALES: That's right.
DAVIES: Just describe the work.
BALES: The key part is this. You've got a - what you could think of as a beach, but it's not. It's just a place where they've cleared the mangrove forest away from this island, and fishing boats are pulling up, and they're unloading their catches. So these are not huge fishing boats. These are smaller fishing boats, but they're unloading their catch on to the side of the inlet, and these kids have to hump these up into big piles, put them out on straw mats and then begin the process of cutting them up with knives to either - depending on what kind of fish it is - to splay them, or split them, or stretch them out. But basically - and then to hang them on drying racks. These drying racks are stacked up and up and up so that they're also climbing up and down these racks 15 feet or more off the ground to get them up there, but they're basically sitting there in the dark with a tiny bit of light, slashing fish open for sometimes 24 hours straight because as long as the fish come in, the kids have to work. They're sitting huddled up together and processing these guts and fish, and they've got fish guts all over them, and they're sitting in mud. And it's pretty awful stuff. That's the most of the work right there - is this constant processing and drying of this fish. The dried fish goes into more of a local market, but part of it also goes into sales to export, which ends up often in cat food that comes in - that we have in the United States. But they're also then sent to do other types of work like going into the forest to get more timber, firewood, sometimes big palm fronds that they use for covering up their little shelters and so forth. And they're also, I have to say, horrifically being not just physically and brutally treated by the slaveholders and the drivers there, but often sexually assaulted as well.
DAVIES: Right. They're beaten, hit with paddles if they fall asleep cutting fish, which happens because they're - they work whatever hours the boats come in.
BALES: Yeah, exactly right. And I think the thing that - I don't say this lightly. It rather blew my mind when I was having long conversations with Shumir and two or three other boys who had managed to escape from Dubla Char. Was - I was asking them, but, you know, what are the major health risks that you face? You know, what were the main problems you had? And the first thing they said was, well, diarrhea. You know, we all got diarrhea - and while - and they all said, and while we were on the island, two or three people we know died of diarrhea. Now, I don't know if this was dysentery, if it was possibly cholera or poisoning - food poisoning or what. But they were dying of diarrhea. So I said, OK, and what was the next most serious problem? And every boy that I spoke to said, after diarrhea, they had each either seen themselves or knew someone - another boy who had been taken and eaten by a tiger. Now, that, in some ways, is the most horrifying but almost perfect example of how this slavery and environmental destruction meets into this pernicious situation because this is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the last breeding ground of the Bengal tigers. This is their protected area. And when the criminals clear the forest, these tigers lose part of their territory. And when they introduce little boys into the situation, they replace the deer that had been driven out by the deforestation. You know, the Tigers are very territorial, and slaveholders there just tend to treat loss of children to tigers as part of the cost of doing business.
DAVIES: Shumir worked a season, right? Several months, and then they let him go. They took him back to his family.
BALES: Well, they let him go. They didn't take him back. I mean, he was able to just get on to a fishing boat. There comes an end to the season, and they pretty much want to get rid of the kids. They don't want to feed them because they don't have any work for them. So they'll just put them back on the boats - injured, sick, whatever. They'll let them go.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Kevin Bales. His book is "Blood And Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, And The Secret To Saving The World." We'll continue our conversation in a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us we're speaking with Kevin Bales. He is the co-founder and former president of the organization Free the Slaves. His new book about modern slavery in the world is called "Blood And Earth." Estimates are as many as - what? - 35 million people worldwide may be enslaved
BALES: That's right.
DAVIES: How many are in the U.S. and Europe, do we think?
BALES: Well, in Europe we think - altogether across all of Europe we think there may be about 1.2 million. The number in the United States is a harder one to calculate. People would say it could be at minimum 50,000 people in slavery in the United States. But other people would argue it's much higher than that.
DAVIES: Give us an example of a circumstance where people are enslaved in the United States.
BALES: Oh, gosh. There's so many that I could choose from. I'm thinking immediately of, say, an economic migrant that I had a long conversation with not long ago who had come up from Peru. It took her a long time to reach the United States. She was able to get into the U.S., but then fell into the hands of someone who wanted to use her and took her up to Long Island and took - and on the Long Island, put her in to work in a garden center and slept in the back, worked all day long, worked in the dirt, worked with the plants - not a terrible thing, but also was, you know, threatened and occasionally suffered sexual abuse. You know, you will find people in slavery in lots of places where you don't expect it in the United States. Sexual exploitation is probably the highest, but the second is domestic servants that we find particularly in the richer cities. After that, lots of people enslaved in agriculture. Often, these are migrants, whether legal or undocumented. But you can find people enslaved in hair braiding studios and massage parlors. And it sort of goes on and on.
DAVIES: You founded the organization Free the Slaves. How does it fight slavery?
BALES: Well, the key way that it works is that it works with other organizations in the - primarily in the developing world to carry out actions that are - will intervene and liberate people from slavery. So the first thing to be clear about that is, you know, it's not about parachuting Americans into Bangladesh or northern India or Brazil and then sometimes somehow finding a way to help people out of slavery. It's about working with those people who have often been enslaved themselves and want to work to bring freedom to others and then about providing them with resources, with training, with connections and with the protection that comes with a first-world organization making it clear to local governments we're watching out for these people as well. We're also very interested in their success, as you should be. So it's all about empowering the people on the ground who know best how to find people in slavery and how to get them out.
DAVIES: So can you share an example of where that's worked - where locals with the support of the organization have liberated slaves?
BALES: Oh, sure. I mean, I've got lots of those, in fact. But I think the one that I most find really rather thrilling myself is how in northern India, more than 10 years ago, we began to work with a local organization. Those young men who had came to freedom began to operate with our support to go into other villages where the entire village was enslaved in hereditary slavery and working in quarries. Because they were the same ethnicity, they would slip in in the evenings and they would meet with people while they were having their supper, and they would say, oh, so who do you work for around here? Oh, you all work for the same person. Oh, you're all working in the mines? So but where's the school? Oh, there is no school. Then they'd start this Socratic dialogue that would lead in time to an awakening of an understanding of an alternative. It's important to remember that when you're in hereditary slavery, you have no notion of freedom. But when the image and truth of freedom is awakened in your mind, people really do become unstoppable. And there would become a time when those young men would say, you know, I used to be in the same situation. I used to live in a village just like this one, but now we have a school, and we even have a clinic, and we have jobs and so forth. And then people would say, how do you get there? And then what we found there is that those villages, the woman would step forward. Even though it's a very male-dominated society, the women would step forward and say, we will lead this even if it leads to our deaths because, they would say - not to me but to our women colleagues - we don't want our daughters to be raped the way we were raped by the slaveholders, by the slave masters. And they would push that along.
DAVIES: What's the next step once awareness comes? I mean, there is somebody who's making a lot of money off of keeping these people enslaved. Do they march? Do they walk in and say, we're leaving? Demand wages? What happens?
BALES: Well, they do do that. They do come in. And if you're talking about a situation like that in the village, they, at one point, very carefully planned, they make that statement. They make that move to say to the slave holder, we're done with this. You will not enslave us anymore. At the moment that a slave holder knows that his slaves are going to try to break for it, that's when the violence will occur. So you have to plan very carefully to avoid the violence of that situation. Sometimes you have to have police there at the time if you can find honest police. You have to have other organizations to come and be there with you. You have to create a dynamic in which that violence can be subverted somehow or avoided.
DAVIES: You know, these stories are really compelling but, my heavens, all the human suffering that is recounted here. And as this is so much a part of your life and your own experience, I don't know, how do you keep from descending into despair?
BALES: Collapsing under the weight of it - that's a perfectly great question. And I have to say, when I first began to work in this field, I did pretty much collapse under the weight of it, particularly when I was doing work in Southeast Asia and I was with young women who had been caught up into prostitution and working-class brothels. And I would be able to talk to them, and I would be able to have them out of the brothels, but I would always have to take them back to the brothels where I knew they were going to be raped and brutalized and probably killed in that situation. It was the sense of hopelessness. It was that sense of not being able to do anything about it that was the most destructive to my own mind and to my own heart. I mean, it really did break me down a lot. But it was also one of the reasons why I began to work and found an organization like Free the Slaves with some friends and colleagues. Because, I have to tell you, that while these are very harsh stories and very hard to take sometimes, it's the other stories that I hear every day about liberation and about people coming to freedom that just buoys me up. I - it's kind of hard to describe how powerful job satisfaction can be when you know if you worked - put in a good week you've got some people who have come out of slavery. And that in a sense is the tonics, the balance. It's what allows me to keep going in those areas where I see the horror but I also see the triumph of freedom. And that's just worth it.
DAVIES: Kevin Bales, thanks so much for speaking with us.
BALES: It's been great. Thank You, Dave.
DAVIES: Kevin Bales is a professor of Contemporary Slavery at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation in Yorkshire, England. His book is called "Blood And Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, And The Secret To Saving The World." Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews singer-songwriter Benji Hughes's new album. This is FRESH AIR.
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