March 7th, 2011
06:19 PM ET

Cost of slaves falls to historic low

(CNN) –– If you have $90 then you could own your slave.

Depending on the kind of person you are that sentence could be at once shocking, saddening or darkly comical. However you might feel though, it’s the plain truth, says Kevin Bales.

The modern-day slavery expert explained to CNN that the current $90 rate for a human slave is actually at an historic low. Two hundred years ago, a slave cost about $40,000 in today’s money. The reason for this price slide: a massive boom in the world’s population, especially in developing countries, has increased the supply of “slaveable” people.

And this has basically turned a human being into a cheap commodity – Bales says like a Styrofoam cup that’s cheaply replaceable if damaged, “If they get sick, what’s the point of paying for medicine – it’s cheaper to let them die and acquire a new one than it is to help the ones you’ve got.

<!–more–>At this very moment, between 12 million and 30 million slaves are working around the world. That’s according to low and high estimates from sociologists and the International Labor Organization.

Despite the spread, any way you cut that number, it’s still a figure that’s big beyond belief. And slaves are everywhere says the United Nations. Breaking down the numbers, more than half of all forced labor sadly occurs right here in Asia. The regions of Latin America and the Middle East both have about 10% of the world’s forced labor. Sub-Saharan Africa has just more than 5%.

And which industries are these slaves in? Well the ones you might expect of course –- prostitution and sweatshop manufacturing. But they also occur in industries you might not associate with slavery - coffee and tea trades, food processing and even health care. That takeaway you might be tucking into could also use forced labor.

And one question we might want to consider as we go about our daily lives: Have the hands of a slave touched what I’m touching now? If the numbers above are to be believed, then it’s not far-fetched to think the answer just might be yes.


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soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. regtignik

    what a generalistic blabla. the topic is sad enough and deserves a better article with a more in depth story or facts. the above is a disgrace to the 12-30 million people suffering in slavery

    March 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
    • Kate

      Maybe it's just a short blurb, but it's great to see mainstream media raising awareness for this issue that's begging for attention. It's a good first step and I'm all for more people knowing about modern day slavery, so they can help fight against it! There are so many great resources for people who want to dig deeper and get more information.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  2. RateThisWorld.com

    It is sad that we can still put a price on individual human slavery in 2011.

    March 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Reply
    • Silvius

      That's right. It should be free.

      April 1, 2011 at 7:46 am | Reply
  3. Ken

    Boy CNN is really on the sensationalism war path over this.

    Here are some real facts. In 2000, the activists said there were 50,000 poeple trafficked into the US each year. In Nov 2008, the Washington Post reported that the State Dept admitted difficulting finding victims. They had found 1100 in 8 years and most of them were consenting adults willfully engaged in prostitution for the money. Remember, the elements of force and restraint are not necessary to meet the definition of trafficking. By the 400,000 they should have found in 8 years, the estimates were less than 1% accurate. You cannot escape these facts and they are facts, but facts are often no important to sensationalists.

    I dont doubt that real cases of trafficking exist, but the problem is way overblown with lies and false estimates. Use your head and look around. There is no way this many people are slaves worldwide.

    March 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Reply
    • Petros

      Ken what makes you think the slave are visable for you to see. Most of these people probably work in mines in war torn Africa or in the sex trade in Asia.

      America no longer has the monopoly on slaves, that time has long gone...thankfully.

      March 7, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Reply
      • Dave

        Your Ignorance is appalling. You actually think America had any Monopoly on slavery?
        Long before America was known to Europeans Slavery was alive and well in all parts of the world including Europe.

        March 7, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Liz

      Where do you get the idea that this a problem within the United States? The article clearly states Asia, Middle East, Latin America, and Africa have the majority of the world's slaves. Have you even ever been to any of those places? There are currently 6.9 billion people in the world, 12-30 million represent 0.004% of that (using the high number). Is it really so hard to believe that 4/1000ths of the world's population lives in slavery?

      March 7, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Reply
      • James

        Let's see...according to the article, Asia accounts for "more than half," Latin America and the Middle East "both have around 10%," let's assume this means each region accounts for another 10%, and we round off with Africa at "just more than 5%." that comes to a total of about 75%...let's just way 80% since these are nominal figures anyway.

        Where the heck are the remaining 20%? Don't tell me it's in Antarctica, the Arctic, Greenland, Australia or Oceania. I would hope that we are not so self-righteous to think that none of this exists right under our own noses in the Western industrialized countries, including our very own United States.

        March 8, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • KyivJoy

      Boy Ken, do you live in a cave. do you think the trafficked people in our countries (I am English living in Ukraine) have slave written across their foreheads. CNN are doing a whole year on Freedom for these people and have only just started. You need to watch CNN for a lot of the day they are showing different aspects of slavery. It is much too big a subject to cover in one hour, or one day or one week. Living in Ukraine i know a few people who have been trafficked and managed to escape, only a very small proportion do. It's not only the sex trade, it's not only across borders, but also within borders. Youngsters in Kyiv living on the street are promised help in Crimea and end up in brothels, boys as well as girls and in many countries it is within the countries own border as well as being trafficked across border. You obviously live in a nice, safe caccooned world. Lucky you.

      March 8, 2011 at 8:10 am | Reply
    • KyivJoy

      Sorry Ken, but it isn't. As you say, they are only some of the ones who are found. There are thousand in every country who aren't found, or in some cases have the laws in place to stop it, but officials are often part of the problem, turning a blind eye for a back hander. Many in America come from Mexico and have family back there. They are afraid to admit they have been trafficked or the family could be killed by the Mexican side of the traffick gang. This is the same in many Eastern European, African, South American and Asian countries.,

      March 8, 2011 at 10:24 am | Reply
    • Jr.

      Ken...your ignorance doesn't warrant a response. You ethnocentric "Buffoon"; your biased arrogant response contribute to the reason why Americans are often disliked globally…

      March 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Reply
    • C. Slough

      You should probably travel more. The world is incredibly messed up, and slavery is THRIVING.

      May 15, 2013 at 4:34 am | Reply
  4. Ken

    And lately, despite the early estimate be so far off, I heard Nancy Grace, a CNN sensationalist claim that 200,000 people are now trafficked in the US each year. My God, we are all victims by CNN's definition.

    March 7, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Reply
    • KyivJoy

      Actrually Ken, if you listened properly instead of making up your mind before they start they say usually, according to UN figures or the UN say, so you'd better start castigating the UN instead of CNN for bringing it to ght forefront.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  5. Jon

    The articles that appears on CNN are getting worse by the day. I have avid listener to the BBC world service for news and current affairs. I am gladly now switching to the website http://www.bbc.co.uk for my news content !!!

    March 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Reply
  6. Bob Dobbs

    Could be worse – they could have a student loan, a car loan, a credit card and a mortgage

    March 8, 2011 at 12:53 am | Reply
  7. KyivJoy

    Is there any way we can get involved. I live in Ukraine working with disadvantaged children and trafficking and slavery are rife over here

    March 8, 2011 at 4:50 am | Reply
  8. Joe

    Is the Peep Show sign from Times Square really the right graphic to accompany this article. Is it to make the sex industry the culprit for it all modern day slavery or to just attract readers eyes?

    March 8, 2011 at 6:55 am | Reply
    • KyivJoy

      The graphic is appropriate. 43% of trafficked people are sold into this type of slavery. The few people i know who have escaped the slavery situations have been trafficked into the sex trade.

      March 8, 2011 at 9:44 am | Reply
  9. andreia

    Yes but we need to know what we can DO about this? How can the every day person try to help? What should or shouldn't I be buying or supporting? Advice needed!

    March 8, 2011 at 8:44 am | Reply
    • jsr

      Impossible to pinpoint violators today. An alternative approach, SPEND LESS, SAVE MORE AND DONATE MONEY TO SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS COMPANIES who bring people out of poverty, eg., micro-financing, International Women, etc.

      March 8, 2011 at 9:48 am | Reply
    • KyivJoy

      I feel the same as you Andreia. There is an email address you can write to on freedomproject@cnn.com. I only wrote this morning but haven't had a reply yet. I'm hoping that it's because they are so flooded with offers.

      March 8, 2011 at 10:29 am | Reply
  10. James

    References would of been nice. Also- You could of expanded on this topic. Its pretty dismal.

    March 8, 2011 at 9:22 am | Reply
  11. Alaka kelvin

    Modern slavary is global epidemic that every one my b care ful about.There b a war against slavary,start from asia

    March 8, 2011 at 11:11 am | Reply
    • dan stielow

      you are very incorrested. we need very much the slaves to building the world, making prosperous for the vast majority.
      the slavery is a very small persent of humans, if we did not have slavery the slaves wud be homeless..

      March 8, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Reply
      • KyivJoy

        You sound as if you're on the other side of the fence, in other words one of the traffickers, Some would be homeless, but a lot wouldn't, many have work but want something better, hence going to another country when they get offered better jobs with better pay and a better life for their family. They end up having nothing and sometimes with thier families in slavery as well.

        March 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  12. dan stielow

    We need slavery to keep the world going. Without slavery the world would sink into a great recession.
    it's thanks to slaves that there is so much fortune in the world. if you had to pay everyone huge saleries, the world would quickly go broke. i stand for slavery. it's a neccesary part of the human race.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • KyivJoy

      I wonder how you would feel if you had to work for years, plus you children, some as young as four or five had to work for nothing, at least six days a week, 10-11 hours a day, going on for years to pay off a debt of less than $100.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Reply
    • Bryce

      you sound like a traffiker yourself. Slavery is NOT necessary, and indeed is a crime against civilization. Your belief falls in the same category as Hitler's belief that it was necessary to wipe out the Jews and kill 11 million more people besides.

      March 8, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
      • KyivJoy

        Oh Bryce, it's so nice to see a few on here that understand the problem. I haven't seen trafficking first hand, but have seen the results of it. Cultural Insight, yes if they borrow money they should have to pay it back, but it should be done in such a way that they know when the debt will be paid. I think you and a lot of other people on here live in a very priviledged world where you are sheltered from the real world. A Russian friend went to Canada and had to pay the agent back the money paid out beforehand. He had a contract legally binding in Canada and Ukraine, was told how much he had to pay back and when the debt would be paid up. These slaves don't have contracts, work for years for a debt of less than $100 and their children have to work as well, mostly they will get a minimum of food and no pay. This is slavery. They go to what they think are jobs as housekeepers, childminders etc and end up being locked in, get no wages and are beaten if they complain that is slavery. Sometimes the women end up in a Brothel when they thought they were going as waitresses etc. I know of people who thought they were going to marry someone they met on line. They also end up in Brothels. I live in the real world and work in a very small way with these people who have escaped, I don't live in cloud cuckoo land as some of you on here do.

        March 9, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  13. dan stielow

    The world as we know it is built up thanks to slavery.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  14. Susan

    IJM (International Justice Mission) is an organisation that does amazing work for trafficked peoples; when we were in university, a group of friends raised money to help care for a rescued person, you can look under " get involved" for ways to help: http://www.ijm.org/

    March 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Reply
    • KyivJoy

      Thanks Susan, I'm just looking it up now. By the way, in the line of work Len (my husband) and I do I have left a few Social Newworks because when some men find out what we do I have been asked to find them a nice, young, Ukrainian girl and they would make it worth my while. Usually send the message to the moderator then block the sender.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  15. Cultural Insight

    CNN has very broadly defined "slavery" to include everything from willingly trafficked persons to people paying off legitimate debts through labor. Under CNN's definition, a Mexican who pays a smuggler for help getting across the US border is a "trafficked person" and also a "slave" because they will work for low wages once arriving in America. Liberal media is constantly using fear tactics and false information to advance their perverted agenda. Climate change was proven to be a fraud based entirely on fabricated information. Al Gore has disappeared from public view. Now "slavery" is a new issue the liberals hope to scare middle class people with. Andersen Cooper and his merry band of idiots need to report real news and stop fabricating nonsense.

    March 8, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Reply
  16. Ryan

    I'm confused. He cites the numbers of people in slavery as being between 10-30 million, but they starts talking about percentages based on a 2.5 million number?

    March 9, 2011 at 1:17 am | Reply
  17. Frank

    Slave time is comming back to the US, all of you blak motherfukkers prepare your blak ass to serve us again

    March 9, 2011 at 5:55 am | Reply
  18. KyivJoy

    Firstly Frank, as above USA didn't have the monopoly on slavery, secondly they are currently covering Asia more, they were never slaves in the old day as were the Africans, thirdly most of the people I know who have been trafficked are white Europeans (only because of the part of the world I live in. Before you say your glad you're American, the white American population came from Europe so some of the trefficked people could be distant relatives of people like you. By the way, leawrn to spell, black has a c in it.

    March 9, 2011 at 9:08 am | Reply
  19. Black Max & Co.

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    March 10, 2011 at 9:20 am | Reply
  20. Chris

    There is a lot of controversy over the numbers of adult woman who are forced sex slaves. The real factual answer is that no one knows. There is hard evidence that the sex slavery/sex trafficking issue continues to report false information and is greatly exaggerated by politicians, the media, and aid groups, feminist and religious organizations that receive funds from the government, The estimate of adult women who become new sex slaves ranges anywhere from 40 million a year to 5,000 per year all of which appear to be much too high. They have no evidence to back up these numbers, and no one questions them about it. Their sources have no sources, and are made up numbers. In fact if some of these numbers are to believed which have either not changed or have been increased each year for the past twenty years, all woman on earth would currently be sex slaves. Yet, very few real forced against their will sex slaves have been found.

    Sex trafficking is illegal and the pentities are very severe. It is very difficult to force someone to be a sex slave, they would have to have 24 hour guards posted and be watched 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Have the threat of violence if they refused, and have no one notice and complain to the authorities or police. They would need to hide from the general public yet still manage to see customers from the general public and not have the customers turn the traffickers in to the police. They would need to provide them with medical care, food, shelter, and have all their basic needs met. They would need to have the sex slaves put on a fake front that they enjoyed what they were doing, act flirtatious and do their job well. They would have to deal with the authorities looking for the missing women, and hide any money they may make, since it comes from illegal activity. They must do all of this while constantly trying to prevent the sex slaves from escaping and reporting them to the police. They would need to prevent the general public from reporting them into the police.

    This is extremely difficult to do, which makes this activity rare. These criminals would be breaking dozens of major laws not just one. Kidnapping itself is a serious crime. There are many laws against sex trafficking, sex slavery, kidnapping, sex abuse, rape, sexual harassment etc. If someone is behind it, they will be breaking many serious laws, be in big trouble, and will go to jail for many long years. And do you actually think that there is a long line of people who want to have a career as a sex slave kidnapping pimp?

    sextraffickingtruths.blogspot.com/

    March 10, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Reply
  21. Nick Naranja

    The current immigration policy in the United States leads to much of the slavery(bonded labor) that goes on here. It may cost a few thousand to get over here and then you have to work and while you are working your crew leader is charging you high prices for food and housing. It may take 5-7 years to pay off a 5000 debt, while the crew leader is making 5x that.

    March 10, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  22. KyivJoy

    I am talking world wide, not just USA, these women go to what they think is legal work or sometimes even marriage (I thank God that I helped one women not get into this last situation in England). They often don't speak the language of the country they have gone to, are used to the police being currupt and will not go to the police or the traffickers, once they are hooked, persuade these women (and to a lesser degree men) that the police are in their pockets so the slaves won't go to the authorities. They are often not allowed out when not working, and apart from their pimps the only people they have to talk to are their fellow slaves. You are right in that nobody knows the real numbers, but they do exist. As for the men who use these slaves, do you really think they care enough to report the brothels, especially as many of the users are paedeophils who know that are hardly likely to tell the police they have just had sex with a child.

    March 11, 2011 at 6:18 am | Reply
  23. Lolskater

    where do I get one...I thought thi article would be more helpful

    March 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  24. barbara

    Maybe we should have a foundation called "Buy a Slave/Free a Slave." In addition to money to end traffiiking.... how about buying a slave and setting her free? Good use of $90.

    April 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  25. Gravy_Hole

    do they take checks?

    April 4, 2011 at 12:07 am | Reply

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