January 23, 2015

Slavery: Then and Now

giveaways to raise awareness of modern slavery


"I want to be very clear:  I'm talking about real slavery.  This is not about lousy marriages, this is not about jobs that suck, this is about people who can not walk away, people who are forced to work without pay, people who are operating 24/7 under a threat of violence, and have no pay.  It's real slavery in exactly the same way that slavery would be recognized throughout all of human history."
           - Kevin Bales (from his TED Talk in 2010.)

I think sometimes when people first hear about millions of people in modern slavery today they wonder, "Is it REAL slavery that we're talking about?  Or is this just some metaphor for being trapped in bad circumstances?"  But the more I learn about slavery today, the more clear it is that this is LITERAL slavery.  I have read stories of people beaten if they would not work, people's lives being threatened if they tried to leave, and even some branded with tattoos so that they could be found again if they escaped.  Slavery today, looks a lot like slavery a few hundred years ago (though there are some differences).  Read on...

Past and Present Slavery
A Side by Side Comparison 

Then Today
For most of history, in most places, slavery was legal. (1b, 1c) Today, slavery is officially illegal around the world, though laws against slavery are not always enforced, and some countries lack laws covering some forms of slavery.  Still, slavery as a criminal activity exists worldwide. (1c, 2)
The average cost for a old-world slave was around $12,000 to $40,000 (adjusted to today's currency), and were treated as a long term investment (1d, 2)The average cost of obtaining a slave, worldwide, today is somewhere between $90 - $400.  In North America, the cost is around $3,000 to $8,000--still a fraction of what it cost when slavery was legal here.  The result of this is that today's slaves are often treated like disposable resources. (2)
Slaves were subject to beatings and other forms of violence and abuse. (1d) Beatings and other forms of  violence are still tools traffickers use to keep people enslaved today. (2)
Women slaves were often raped by their masters and subjected to other sexual exploitation. (1d) Women in slavery today are still subject to rape, even when they are trafficked primarily for labor, not sex. (2)
Tattoos were used to mark people as slaves in ancient China, Greece and Rome, and branding was common during the trans-atlantic slave trade. In both ancient Rome and in the U.S. south, metal collars were sometimes put on slaves who tried to run away. (1d, 1e, 1f, 1g, 4)Today, sex traffickers sometimes tattoo their victims so that they can mark prostitutes as "theirs" and track them down if they try to leave.  These tattoos may be names or designs like logos, and often  incorporate bar codes that can be scanned by smart phones.  In Niger, Wahaya slaves are sometimes made to wear heavy brass ankle bracelets to signify their slave status.  (5,6, 7a, 7b)
In the past, slavery was an important part of world economies, and a large percentage of many nations were slaves.  Here is a sampling of nations who's historical slave prevalence we know (numbers are rounded).

Percentage of 
Population Enslaved
(by Year Recorded)

150 BC - Rome - 30-40%
1086 - England - 10%
1930 - Ethiopia - 12% to 25%
1910 - Korea - 30% to 50%
1860 - United States - 13%


The percentage of the world population enslaved today is lower than at any time in modern history, and the money generated by slavery today is the "tiniest proportion of the global economy to ever be represented by slave labor." (2)   The exact percentage of slaves in the world today is impossible to  determine as slavery today is  mostly a criminal, underground activity, and no longer publicly recorded as it often was under legal slavery.  But the largest  slave population in the world today is most likely Mauritania, where an estimated 4% of the population is still enslaved. (2, 8, 9)   

Access printable version of this chart for classroom use
 with additional alternative chart for elementary age children.

"The past, the present, and the future are really one:  They are today"
~Harriet Beecher Stowe, 18th Century Abolitionist

Sources listed at the bottom of this page.


One winner will receive the items pictured above...

Set of 3 "Voices of Freedom" Bookmarks by 8th Wonder Creations

This giveaway is open to residents over 18 of the United States, Canada (except Quebec), and the United Kingdom. Enter on the Rafflecopter below.  Read complete rules here.

(NOTE:  I'm so sorry I can't offer these giveaways in more places right now.  If where you live isn't on this list, please help me bring next year's Heart's Should Be Free giveaways to your country by helping me researching giveaway laws there.  e-mail me at ecarian@yahoo.com for more info).

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1.  Wikipedia: 
1b. Slavery
1c. Abolition of Slavery Timeline
1d. Treatment_of_slaves_in_the_United_States
1e. Human Branding
1f. History of Tattooing
1g. Slavery in Ancient Rome
1e. 1860 US Census

2.  How to Combat Modern Slavery, 2010 TED Talk by Kevin Bales (Transcript)

3. Sexual Violence in Labor Trafficking

4.  Object Record:  Slave Collar

5.  Tattood Trafficking Survivors Reclaiming Their Past - The Guardian

6. The Ink 180 Story

7.  Anti Slavery.org
7a. Descent Based Slavery
7b. Wahaya:  Young Girls Sold Into Slavery

8.  Global Slavery Index - 2014 Report

9.  "The Global Markets in Modern Day Slavery" by Gary Craig Criminal Justice Matters, Volume 97, Issue 1, 2014

10 "Twenty First Century Slaves:  Combating Global Sex Trafficking" by Siddharth Kara


  1. I learn alot from your site. I follow and shared. I also entered a few of your giveaways. I look at your blog everyday. I learned a lot this morning. I appreciate all the time it takes to get people to open their eyes to a problem that didn't go away when slavery was abolished. Thanks!

  2. Wow I did not know anything about modern slavery. Sad that there are countries like Mauritania with huge slave populations. Thank you for opening my eyes!

  3. I am just sick to my stomach thinking about the modern day slavery that still goes on. I can not believe some of the things I saw and read about the past and the present. I will never forget it and will try to open others to what is going on here and in other parts of the world. We don't realize how lucky we are and that we all take our freedom for granted. If anyone of those slaves lived the life we live they would be the most grateful person in the world. We should all be more grateful and give more to those who can't give to themselves.

  4. I had no idea of the tattoos, especially the bar coding, oh my! It is difficult sometimes to fathom the injustice mankind serves upon one another. Thank you for being a voice of the victims of modern day slavery.

    1. Yeah...before I started this I had seen pictures of women with bar code tattoos on anti slavery material, and I always thought it was just symbolic. It wasn't until my second year doing this that I stumbled onto a non-profit that helped to remove these tattoes, and a whole collage full of REAL pictures of trafficked girls with bar code tattoos. I had read a lot of horrible things about human trafficking by then, but that still blew my mind.

  5. This is heartbreaking. One of the many things I learned is that worldwide the cost of buying a slave can be anywhere from $90-$400. That's next to nothing really. :(

  6. I knew a lot of the information already. The pricing / cost information was new to me and very sad. People should not have price tags of any sort.

  7. Slavery still exists worldwide.Just sickening

  8. I did learn a lot. This is a topic that has me concerned because of the increase in human trafficking even across the US. It is a really sad situation for these kids and adults.

  9. I found out that The United Arab Emirates abolishes slavery around my birthdate.

  10. Wow! I had no idea that slavery still existed to this extent.