September 15th, 2011
09:28 AM ET

Slavery in Europe: How big a problem is it?

British authorities recently rescued 24 men that they said were kept as slaves – some for as long as 15 years. The men, from England and parts of Eastern Europe, are "all believed to be victims of slavery," police said.

So, how big a problem is slavery in Europe? CNN's Max Foster talks to Anti-Slavery International's Aidan McQuade about the fight against modern-day slavery there and around the world.

FOSTER: We keep hearing how shocked people are that it's happening in their country, and it's often in the Western hemisphere that we hear that shock. But should we be shocked that it's going on?

MCQUADE: Yes. It is human beings doing this to other human beings and ... there's something like at least 12 million people enslaved in the world today. It's just an appalling, appalling carnage upon people's lives and hopes.

FOSTER: And in terms of the prevalence, are we right to say it's more or less prevalent in Western Europe, for example, than parts of Asia, where we've had lots of really horrific reporting?

MCQUADE: I think unquestionably in terms of absolute numbers, we're talking about South Asia being the largest numbers of people in the world.

But if you look at the International Labor Organization analysis of the problem, slavery in Europe and in North America - while it's smaller numbers, it's the high-value slavery. It's the thing that was making millions of dollars for people who are trafficking other human beings.

FOSTER: Because it's all about money, at the end of the day, isn't it? And all of the money's in Western Europe and the U.S., for example? The rich economies.

MCQUADE: Yes. And there's a basic rule in all business which is, if you can reduce costs, you will increase profits. And so there is a compulsion upon people-running - particular in the black and gray economies in this part of the world, to reduce their costs as much as they can by using slavery, for example.

FOSTER: Well, we did ask Britain's home office to join us on the issue. They declined, but they sent out this statement signed by the UK's immigration minister Damon Green.

It reads, "The government is tackling human trafficking and building on our strong record in supporting victims, fighting traffickers, and stopping this horrible trade from happening.

"We have recently published a national human trafficking strategy. We will be adopting the EU directive on trafficking, and we are creating the National Crime Agency to further improve our response to this brutal crime."

The statement goes on to say, "These measures, along with improved victim care arrangements will ensure that all victims, adults and children, receive care tailored to their specific needs." It implies that they haven't had that support in the past.

MCQUADE: I think Britain's record in terms of tackling slavery in the world is OK. It's not the greatest, but it's OK. But I think this current government has demonstrated both that they're ill-informed about the problem and broadly disinterested in relation to resolving it.

There's a number of measures which they are currently discussing. For example, removing the right for domestic workers to change employers. This is something which, if the government introduces this, will de facto legalize slavery again for domestic workers in this country. And again, they're not engaging with civil society, the big society about these issues.

The forced labor amendment, which was brought in in 2010, was brought in by Lord Bach, who was the minister of justice at the time. He was not initially persuaded to bring this in, but he listened to civil society's views on this.

FOSTER: Yes. And the politics in each nation does come into this. Often, a lot of it, when we talk about the Freedom Project, back to my initial point, people are often shocked that it's happening in their country.

But do you sometimes find the cases are worse in very developed societies because it's been hidden and people aren't assuming it's going to happen down the road, so it doesn't get noticed as easily?

MCQUADE: I think that's a strong point, yes. Because we believe this comforting myth that slavery's a thing of the past -

FOSTER: It wouldn't happen in our society.

MCQUADE: - so it shocks us more when it does happen. But if you look at the level of violence which is associated with slavery in Afghanistan or in Cote d'Ivoire, it's comparable to the sort of instances that we see here.

FOSTER: And we've got the Olympics, of course, coming up in the UK next year, and people are talking a lot about concerns about human trafficking in relation to that. Is that a genuine concern?

MCQUADE: Absolutely. I mean, there's two aspects to this. For one, we know that most people trafficked to the UK enter the country illegally, so with a lot more visitors coming to London, there's a lot more opportunities for that to happen.

But the second thing as well: you're talking about a lot of manufacture of Olympic goods stretching right across the globe. How sure are we that those supply chains are themselves free from forced labor?

And this is a question which I think is very reasonable to ask the companies which have got Olympic contracts to make public.

Topics: In The News

soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. truthywood

    If it was the article about slavery in Sudan than there will be millions of white racists and Zionazis here on CNN demonizing Islam.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Reply
    • OneUP

      So true!

      September 16, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Reply
    • dljr60

      your comment does nothing to address the problem. In fact your comment adds to the aggression and shows how foolish and cynical so many people have become.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:01 am | Reply
    • Anakaraya

      so true.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Reply
    • EMax


      September 22, 2011 at 1:41 am | Reply
    • Fareed

      Of course, in Arab countries there are millions Asian people 'employed' as slaves while arabs people are totally unemployable as workers and remain unemployed (doing barely a thing at all). Asian, Arabs will not stand up for these slaves. Only whites can be relied on to defend the rights of people across ethnic borders. As always. Arabs and Asian give very little about their own fellow man and certainly nothing about others.

      September 22, 2011 at 3:09 am | Reply
  2. Chris

    Yeah. Because slavery in the West is extremely rare while in the Middle East it is much more common.
    I'm not white, a racist, nor a zionist, but I'm still be there to lambaste at the Middle East over slavery.

    Also, shame on you. The fact that you associate zionists and nazis shows exactly who you are.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  3. Christianna

    Summary: Slavery happens everywhere when a human believes he has complete control over another. All bullies, even kids, are slave drivers. Europe no longer has a Christian sanity but only amorality and apathy. Moral deterioration will worsen. Muslims' inclination to Sharia Law should save Europeans this century by making those naive, sleepy-headed Europeans recall agenda-free history lessons.

    September 16, 2011 at 6:14 am | Reply
    • aron

      I don't know what your talking about, but certainly there is alot of modern day slavery and trafficking in the USA too.

      September 21, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Reply
    • Fareed

      Amoral behaviour is mostly a US/African/Arab thing. The happiest people of the world live en-masse in European countries and want to stay clear of nuts with Bible or Quran who want to enslave the people in their religion.

      September 22, 2011 at 3:18 am | Reply
    • stillkicking

      Christiana – so justify to me the Christian American slave owners and the well known Christian Adolph Hitler plus the millions of people who bought into these movements .... most of whom were Christians.

      September 26, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  4. Lubaba


    September 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  5. Kowboy

    Is this possible? I thought only Blacks in America were ever slaves?!?

    Irish, Indians, Italians, Czechs, Russians, Hispanics...have all been held as slaves throughout history. It's sad that it continues into the modern day!!

    September 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  6. anzawi

    to Chris,

    Shame on you for spewing hatred against muslims. Slavery is not common in the middle east due to the fact that the Khalifa Omar declared that all are equal 1400 years ago. You just showing your ignorance.

    September 16, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Reply
    • Christianna

      Anzawi, don't lie. Most women and children have been slaves there. And infidels, minorities and invalids never had any rights. A lot of nations have equality written in their con-sti-tutions thanks to USA but never carry it out.

      September 17, 2011 at 7:52 am | Reply
      • David

        Slave is happining here in North America right now, go and check all the big company, like XL Food Lakeside ...........

        September 18, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • aron

      I never saw him mentioning 'muslims' only Middle East. He is not spewing hatred, but neither does he present any proof.

      And please, just because some guy named Khalifa Omar said all were equal 1400 years ago DOES NOT mean people follow this. Don't be so naive.

      September 21, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Reply
    • Fareed

      Millions from Asia are treated like slaves. The words of the Kalif are only words and all Arabs with some money just don't give a sheit about these words.

      September 22, 2011 at 3:13 am | Reply
  7. OldCactus

    Slavery is a much smaller problem in Europe than the imminent financial collapse of the European union.

    September 18, 2011 at 12:35 am | Reply
    • dljr60

      the human condition trumps everything. The financial problem in Europe and around the world makes us all slaves to money and foolish governments.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:04 am | Reply
  8. tim stallings

    Here in Georgia, USA we had Africans arrested for enslaving other Africans , who thought they were going to get an education, from a different tribe. Now those kids are going to obtain the wealth of their "massers" by law. Again a similar situation happened in New York with the same results only this time Indians (east) enslaved Philippine girls. PLEASE take note in the UNITED STATES the citizens will not tolerate slavery!! We've already been there.

    September 18, 2011 at 9:48 am | Reply
    • KNJ

      Sadly, it is tolerated in the United States. There are many people who are trafficked from, to, and through the U.S. today.

      September 20, 2011 at 8:01 am | Reply
  9. MooChen YEAN

    It is appalling to see humans doing this to humans. I just do not understand why people have this drive to control over others..

    September 19, 2011 at 12:15 am | Reply
    • Christianna

      @Moochen, it's easy. Don't fear God and don't regard them as the same humans and get used to one's own exercising of cruelty. That's all. Evil spirits work as well in extreme cases. Humans are totally depraved and need God's interventions.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:27 am | Reply
      • aron

        No because people need money! I am sure you can find lots of so called christians trafficking.

        We need to keep our eyes open and find those who are enslaved in our own countries!

        God won't do much about it, will he?

        September 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
      • Marion

        @Aron- note what you said "so called Christians." Everyone who says they are Christian are not necessarily Christians. There are people out here who really are Christians and who love and respect others. If a person does not love and claims to be a Christian he is a liar. God will separate the wheat from the chaff.

        September 27, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  10. OMG

    Can not image we have slavery in such a civilized country. It shocked me.

    September 20, 2011 at 3:02 am | Reply
    • Anakaraya

      "civilized" is a silly word. There are no "civilized" countries out there. You have to admit that people always consider cultures and countries that are not theirs "uncivilized" so until EVERYBODY on earth agrees that a certain country or culture is "civilized" no country IS TRULY civilized. Just had to mention that. ^_^

      September 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Reply
  11. adilson

    so sad. many men have been slavered in brazil. main in para state.

    September 20, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  12. Nunya Bitness

    The first neckties were worn by slaves, so they could lead them around.Read the book, ""PIRATE COAST"", about the first US Navy ship to be captured, and the sailors enslaved in what is now know as LIBYA. They made all of the Christians slaves. The Jews were the money lenders. History, folks ! It never changes!

    September 20, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Reply
  13. solomon otu-anakwa

    i think the cocoa and chocolate industries should send joanna scott to the vilages in ghana and africa to understand the farmers problem so as to formulate solution.she was off base with her comments today.leader should lead and make the world a better place.i

    September 20, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  14. Iliev

    This is more a women trafficking, recruitment of cheap labor.
    The strong influence of migration from Arab countries.
    Retsesiiyata and shortage of qualified engineers, raise questions about the information services of Bulgaria, as an external border of the European Union.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:52 am | Reply
  15. L

    Does anyone know where to qualify the claim in this article that there are "12 million people enslaved in the world today"?? How could they possibly determine that number with any accuracy? I would presume many captures hide their slaves and how they're being used...

    September 21, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  16. sam kohen

    Thing about slavery is they are never unemployed.

    September 23, 2011 at 9:06 am | Reply
  17. dale

    well we all know that slavery is now the biggest business in the world at present time!its not just europe!

    September 24, 2011 at 6:23 am | Reply

    I'm so tired of hearing the word "slavery" played out making me not care anymore.

    September 24, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  19. KRM1007

    We are finding the same bondages of slavery prevalent in India also where medieval culture and society still exists.

    September 24, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Reply
  20. Israeliforfreedom

    The slavery is one of the most complicated problems at the moment.
    Many people from africa have been brought to europe in presence of slaves and inevitably adjusted into the european tradition.
    I have a doubt over the policy of using hopeless people as workers and after getting all of them back to their countries.
    Europe wonders how it spreads increasingly to more place but forgets about its arrival way.
    It is europe's time to take an action about this horror using as few brutality as possible.
    France is in process of sending a lot of immigrants home in attempts to purify the country and make it have only humans who pertain to the state.Nevertheless,France addresses the trouble very vulgarly and certainly is not a model for another countries.I do agree with an action in which the immigrants are transported back to their countries with a bit of money given by the european countries.Overall,they are guilty of what happened to them at the occupation time all across africa.They must be awarded a symbolic money amount at least because they are people exactly like us.

    September 25, 2011 at 12:39 am | Reply
  21. Israeliforfreedom

    I want to add a word that might change the whole intention in my post.
    "Overall,they aren't guilty". I truly apologize for the critical mistake.

    September 25, 2011 at 12:42 am | Reply
  22. Mortran

    America has certainly no moral qualification to criticize Europe over the issue of slavery.
    European history is not soiled with slavery like American history. And I'm talking about real slavery here, not about some fabricated CNN fake slavery.
    And the US didn't abolish racial segregation until the 60ies.
    If you have such a record, you'd better shut up about this topic.

    September 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  23. wmudsoap

    September 28, 2011 at 11:46 am | Reply

    You all are lacking knowledge. All people of this earth came from Africa. ALL OF YOU ARE AFRICAN. Put your hatred aside and unite people before they people in power incite a race war that will kill off everybody. They never intended on having a population on earth this size except for disposable soldiers and slaves. WAKE UP EVERYBODY.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  25. MK

    The interviewer asked the most stupid and redundant questions. Of course we should be shocked, of course it is about money. It does not matter to the victims whether it happens a lot or just a few times.

    November 19, 2011 at 7:39 am | Reply
  26. ICAT

    Slavery is currently happening in your hood:

    I tried to talk casually to the Russian slaves here at a warehouse of a St Paul Jewish bakery, and was attacked by owners not to talk to them.
    I wish I knew Russian, or at least recorded what we did.

    I was hired to assemble the ovens large enough to drive a car into.
    They showed up on semi's in large piles of steel, and too stupid to figure out the puzzle.

    These Russian slaves were brought here to do the most underling hours of grunge work of cleaning the ugliest of duty in a bakery.

    Drive chains for the ovens, rusty, covered in who knows what, now in buckets, scrubbing individual links with tooth picks.
    No one in their right mind would even conceive such an insane process.
    They are not worth their weight smelted.
    It was like some secular punishment.

    I refused to use those drive chains processed with insane hate and made them disappear.
    These Russian Slaves soon trusted me, even though we hardly could speak a word.
    I cared a lot of these guys, and hope someday to meet again.
    It's perhaps the only time you saw them smile, when they saw me arrive.

    This chain from any industrial supply is less than $12.
    Yet these two guys are forced to work at it all day.
    I tried to intervene with proven process, but was told to stay away.
    Now whats the real agenda?

    To make equipment Kosher is another process that ruins everything of moving parts, by getting it red hot by the biggest torch made.
    The ovens assembled are flamed till the side panels are so distorted, I have to pound it back in shape to fit the frames.

    Subcontractors I got involved with this group were clued in advance to make dam sure they get payed in cash up front before letting these guys even get close to their parts.
    These bakery owners get so mad when they didn't get away w/o paying.
    The short version in real time.

    Hidden from public view,
    These owners set up off site extensions of their bakery where they carry out this cruel tactic.
    Usually in warehouse districts nearby where it's easy to hide.

    Real Slavery right under your nose, in your neighborhood as you break that loaf of bread made by them.
    Merry Fkg Christmas, Address to bakery upon request.

    Now, to all lame posters out there who simply speculate every second of the day,
    lets see some real time slavery to which you were a part of.

    So called slaves 200 years ago didn't have it half this bad.
    Simply pick cotton, what can go wrong, in return,
    get food & shelter, thats getting paid, not slavery.

    December 11, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Reply
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