Upholding Lincoln’s Legacy: How Can Governments and Citizens Build a World Without Slavery?

In recognition of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, we observe his greatest, most lasting accomplishment: the abolition of slavery. Through this lens, we look at the historic and modern day slave trade to ask the question: how can governments and citizens build a world without slavery?

The U.S. State Department, in their 2016 Trafficking in Persons report, estimated that there are currently more than twenty million people worldwide trapped in human trafficking, a $150 billion industry. How does this happen? And what role does trafficking play in capitalism? We’ve compiled a selection of recommended titles that explore the ways in which slavery and human trafficking, historically and currently, are tightly interwoven into global economies.

Margins of the Market: Trafficking and Capitalism across the Arabian Sea by Johan Mathew

What is the relationship between trafficking and free trade? Is trafficking the perfection or the perversion of free trade? Trafficking occurs thousands of times each day at borders throughout the world, yet we have come to perceive it as something quite extraordinary.  In Margins of the Market, Johan Mathew traces the hidden networks that operated across the Arabian Sea in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Following the entangled history of trafficking and capitalism, he explores how the Arabian Sea reveals the gaps that haunt political borders and undermine economic models. Ultimately, he shows how capitalism was forged at the margins of the free market, where governments intervened, and traffickers turned a profit.


Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Updated with a New Preface by Kevin Bales

Kevin Bales’s disturbing story of slavery today reaches from brick kilns in Pakistan and brothels in Thailand to the offices of multinational corporations. His investigation of conditions in Mauritania, Brazil, Thailand, Pakistan, and India reveals the tragic emergence of a “new slavery,” one intricately linked to the global economy. The new slaves are not a long-term investment as was true with older forms of slavery, explains Bales. Instead, they are cheap, require little care, and are disposable. Through vivid case studies, Bales observes the complex economic relationships of modern slavery and offers suggestions for combating the practice, including “naming and shaming” corporations linked to slavery.


Pirates, Merchants, Settlers, and Slaves: Colonial America and the Indo-Atlantic World by Kevin P. McDonald 

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, more than a thousand pirates poured from the Atlantic into the Indian Ocean. There, according to Kevin P. McDonald, they helped launch an informal trade network that spanned the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds, connecting the North American colonies with the rich markets of the East Indies. Rather than conducting their commerce through chartered companies based in London or Lisbon, colonial merchants in New York entered into an alliance with Euro-American pirates based in Madagascar. Pirates, Merchants, Settlers, and Slaves explores the resulting global trade network located on the peripheries of world empires and shows the illicit ways American colonists met the consumer demand for slaves and East India goods.


Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World edited by Emma Christopher, Cassandra Pybus, and Marcus Rediker 

This groundbreaking book presents a global perspective on the history of forced migration over three centuries and illuminates the centrality of these vast movements of people in the making of the modern world. Highly original essays from renowned international scholars trace the history of slaves, indentured servants, transported convicts, bonded soldiers, trafficked women, and coolie and Kanaka labor across the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. Together, the essays provide a truly global context for understanding the experience of men, women, and children forced into the violent and alienating experience of bonded labor in a strange new world.


Ending Slavery Author Kevin Bales Wins Grawemeyer Award

Bales Author PhotoUC Press author and activist Kevin Bales was recently honored with the 2011 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. Bales, president of Free the Slaves, a human rights organization based in Washington, D.C., won the $100,000 annual prize for ideas set forth in his 2007 UC Press book, Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves.

In the book, Bales outlines steps to end the enslavement of some 27 million people worldwide. Slavery and human trafficking are tightly interwoven into the modern global economy, so new political and economic policies must be enacted to suppress them, he says.

Slavery, illegal in every country but still widely practiced, can be stopped within 30 years at a cost of less than $20 billion, a much cheaper price tag than most other social problems, he argues. Several high-profile organizations already have adopted elements of Bales’ plan.

Ending Slavery cover“Bales lays out an urgent human challenge, offers ways to make a difference and challenges the reader to become part of the solution,” award jurors said. Five Grawemeyer Awards are presented each year for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion. UC Press last won the Grawemeyer Award for Mark Juergensmeyer’s book Terror in the Mind of God.

Kevin Bales is founder and president of Free the Slaves, the U.S. sister organization of Anti-Slavery International. Since 2001, his group has liberated thousands of slaves in India, Nepal, Haiti, Ghana, Brazil, Ivory Coast and Bangladesh. He is the author of numerous UC Press books, including Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Understanding Global Slavery: A Reader, and The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today.

Kevin Bales: We Can Free Every Slave

There are 27 million slaves in the world today, with Iceland and Greenland the only two countries with no known cases of slavery, says Kevin Bales in this inspiring TED Conference talk about modern-day slavery and how we can stop it.

Bales, the president of Free the Slaves, author of Ending Slavery and Disposable People, and coauthor (with Ron Soodalter) of The Slave Next Door, explores slavery’s connection to environmental destruction, political corruption, and industry, and how everyone has the power, and the responsibility, to help end slavery.

Breaking the Chain: How Businesses Can End Slavery



Years ago, historian Ron Soodalter came across an account of
slavery in modern-day America. Digging further, he learned the
disturbing truth: slavery is thriving all over the world, including the United States. Soodalter, who has written extensively about slavery, recently joined Kevin Bales, leading expert on modern slavery and president of the organization Free the Slaves, to write The Slave Next Door and help put an end to human trafficking. As Bales explains above, companies, governments, and individuals all play important roles in the business of slavery, and must work together to eliminate it.

Citing a U.S. State Department study, Bales and Soodalter estimate that
between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the US and enslaved every year. Some are tricked, promised a job or education abroad; others are stolen from the streets and forced to work in squalid and dangerous conditions for the rest of their lives. There are slaves working in almost every industry: in agriculture, construction, factories, restaurants, and brothels, and in people’s homes. A few manage to escape, but most do not. In a two-part post on the Human Trafficking Project blog, Soodalter places slavery as “the second or third most lucrative criminal enterprise of our time, after drugs, and maybe guns.” (read more here and here).

With an estimated 27 million victims worldwide, slavery is a silent scourge—few perpetrators are ever caught, and few victims have the opportunity to tell their stories.

In the above video, also posted on the Human Trafficking Project blog, Bales explains how businesses and consumers fit into the pattern of slavery: “If you’re buying and selling [a product that uses slavery]… you’re involved.” He describes how companies can form effective antislavery networks: “It’s all about teamwork. The consumer works with the company. The company works with the government. The government works with the antislavery organizations…We all get together and we can solve this problem.” In The Slave Next Door, Bales and Soodalter give a powerful voice to modern-day slavery, and show how to achieve a slavery-free future.

Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today

Slave Next Door
Ron Soodalter is a historian, folklorist, and lecturer. He is also the author of Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader, and has written articles on the historic and modern slave trade, the Civil
War, and the American West. A respected Lincolnian scholar, he serves
on the Board of the Abraham Lincoln Institute. Most recently, he teamed up with Kevin Bales in authoring The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, which will be published by UC Press in May 2009. Below, he talks about his research and the inspirations for his book on slavery.

By: Ron Soodalter

As a student of history, I’d always assumed – as do most Americans – that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. It was only after writing most of a book on the ante-bellum slave trade that I stumbled on an account of slavery – in present-day America! My first response, a common one, as it turns out, was denial: “No way. Slavery hasn’t existed here since Lincoln’s time.”

Only after extensive research did I discover that slavery has always existed on this continent, from the days of its European discovery right up to the present day. Slaves can be found – or more accurately, not found – in all 50 states, working on construction crews, as fruit pickers and domestics, factory, restaurant, and sweatshop laborers, and victims of sexual exploitation. They are hidden in plain sight, lured here by traffickers, who promise them opportunity – an education, a better job, a chance to support or send for their families back home. Some are smuggled across the border by a single “coyote,” while many more enter through our airports daily, with papers provided by crime families or syndicates, and sometimes our own government. Once inside the country, their dreams disappear, and a life of slavery begins.

Nor are U.S. citizens exempt from this affliction. The number of children and young people at risk of being taken from their own cities, towns and neighborhoods, according to the feds, is in the hundreds of thousands. It really is that insidious. 

This is the kind of knowledge you can’t “unlearn”; the only question is, what do you do with it once you have it? My friend Kevin Bales and I determined that the most effective path was to write a book, to make available to the reader information that took us considerable time and experience to acquire. Focusing specifically on our own country proved to be a daunting task for us both, but one which eventually gave us a complete picture of all aspects of slavery in today’s America. There is a world of difference between being aware of slavery on an intellectual level and actually meeting and speaking with people whose lives have been forever changed by it. It was humbling, and it brought a visceral awareness to the project. And it gave a whole new dimension to my view of America’s historic slavery; while I had studied and written about it for years, the impact had always been buffered by the distance of time. Since coming to know survivors, and those who work daily to help them, I will never be able to look at slavery in the same way again.

The book that came out of our experience, The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, is part tell-all, part how-to-fix-it, and part stories of actual slavery. And it lays out a plan for Americans – for you and me – to take an active part in the fight against slavery. It’s not as daunting a task as you might think. Heck, just by reading these few paragraphs, you now know more about slavery in our country today than most Americans!

We tend to think of ourselves as the country where slavery has no place; it will take a lot of work and dedication to make it so. The first step is to learn as much about it as possible, so that you’ll recognize it, and know what to do about it.

UC Press Podcast Featuring Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter

The Slave Next DoorWe are pleased to announce that Episode 16 of the UC Press podcast series is now available. In this episode, Chris Gondek of Heron and Crane Productions interviews Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter as they talk about modern day slavery, in their newest book, The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today.

You may subscribe to the monthly podcast feed that contains the individual episodes using your RSS aggregator or directly via the iTunes store.  You can listen to individual author interviews from the episodes at our podcast page.

Listen to the podcast: