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Monday, August 16, 2010

Slavery Today, written by Kevin Bales and Becky Cornell. Groundwood, 2008. $11.00 ages 13 and up

"All of us support and profit from slavery in some way, even if we don’t mean to or don’t realize it. The phenomenon of globalization means that the goods we buy are increasingly assembled in different parts of the world, using components from all over the world … Some of the steel in your car may have been made using pig iron or charcoal that was produced by slaves in Brazil. Similarly, a handful of the sugar in the jar at home may have come from sugar cane harvested by slaves in the Dominican Republic. Slavery infiltrates our lives through increasingly global markets.

Slavery surrounds us. It is a twenty-first century problem."

We can't hide our heads in the sand and pretend our lives are not affected by slavery somewhere in the world. This book makes it very clear in easily read (while not easily digested) text that slavery exists for field hands, garment workers, prostitutes, domestics through all corners of the world. We are not immune to it.

Slavery is hard to find because it is illegal, and so is forced to the underbelly of society. It is more prevalent where governments are ineffective, due to war, corruption and poverty. It is not the same kind of slavery of past centuries, when people were bought and sold under a nation's laws to work farms and plantations for the benefit of their owners. There is no nation in the world today that allows slavery...that is the law. But, there is slavery everywhere. While historically, slavery had to do with racism...whites owning blacks, today slaves are cheaper than they have ever been and they are likely to be owned by people of their own culture in their own nations.

It is disheartening to know that no matter how we feel about it, there is little we can do. If we decide not to buy certain products from around the world, it has little effect on enslaved people. Their numbers are relatively small. However, it can cause untold hardship for the farmers who are just doing their job and trying to do it to the best of their ability. When we stop buying their products, their livelihood is gone and now they are unable to support themselves and their families. If those who have slaves cannot make a profit one way, they will find another.

We can lobby governments and do our small part to help organizations that work toward freedom for all slaves. More importantly, we can share books such as this one with our teenagers, giving them the opportunity to listen and to talk about what these authors have to share with us. The more we know, the better able we are to have opinions and to think about solutions that might be workable from our own perspective. Slavery is a huge global issue; as with so many other atrocities, we can start small, in our little corner of the world by informing ourselves and working to find solutions one step at a time.

I think this would be a great book to share in middle and high school classrooms to bring awareness and a sense of outrage, while also encouraging people to work together for the the greater good. The writing is conversational and there are personal stories that will resonate with readers and listeners. As hard as it is to learn so much about slavery in the world today, I think we are better for it.

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