Do you need to rant to save the world? Kevin Bales, acclaimed professor and anti-slavery activist, doesn’t think so.
I’m sitting in a lecture hall at prestigious Notre Dame School of Law, impressed with Bale’s tone as he addresses the topic “The Secret to Saving the World,” also the subtitle of his new book, Blood and Earth. While the subject seems over-reaching, his lecture is not.
Bales is a veteran of 30 years of research and advocacy for modern-day slaves, resulting in his seminal book, Disposable People. Archbishop Desmond Tutu called the book “a well researched, scholarly and deeply disturbing expose of modern slavery“.
I am struck by Bales engaging and reasoned approach to such an overwhelming topic. He effectively avoids the ditches of aloof intellectualism and emotional subjectivity as he explores the connection between slavery and environmental destruction. (I will write more on that in my next blog.)
Bales defines slavery as one person totally controlling another to exploit the person sexually or for labor. He cites that there are 35.8 million such slaves worldwide.
For all the tragic stories behind the massive numbers, Bales does not resort to hand-wringing angst, fist-shaking anger, or shame-driven harangue. In fact, he even injects appropriate humor into his talk (“Sorry to you cat lovers – who are a bit sensitive about their pets – to inform you that your cat food was made from fish caught and processed by slaves.”)
Bales has good reason to be rational and optimistic in the face of such a grave issue. Today’s number of slaves represents the lowest percentage of world population in history. And slavery constitutes the smallest part of the global economy at a “mere” $150 billion per year. He concludes that slavery is being pushed to the edge of extinction, with just one more major shove needed to eradicate it.
While recognizing that major corporations benefit from slavery in the supply chain, Bales cautions us not to draw a direct connection between corporations and slaves on the ground. Slave owners are criminals who hide their activities well. Rather than rail on large companies, Bales points out that everyone has the responsibility to advocate for slaves, from corporations to consumers to local and national governments.
Major social issues remain unaffected when proponents rant and repeat clichés rather than offer well-reasoned explanations and viable solutions. Heightened emotion in itself offers little toward long-term solutions. People are empowered and motivated when given logical information and avenues of transformation.
I am leaving this lecture hall with a renewed sense of empowerment and hope for human trafficking victims. With researchers like Kevin Bales advocating for them, an informed public can appeal to governments and businesses, become wise consumers, and participate in organizations focused on freeing slaves, such as Bales’ Free the Slaves.
We could even discover the secret to saving the world.