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Forced Labor: The World Debate

05/14/2005 11:00 AM Kresge
Zeinab Badawi, Presenter, The World, BBC Four; Jean-Robert Cadet, Author, Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American ; Steven Law, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor ; Kevin Bales, Director, Free the Slaves, Inc.; Professor of Sociology, University of Surrey Roehampton, in London ; Jagdish Bhagwati, PhD '67, University Professor of Economics and Political Science, Columbia University ; Roger Plant, Head of the Special Action Program to Combat Forced Labor, International Labor Organization

Description: Jean-Robert C_det lost his childhood, when at the age of four, he became a slave to a rich Port-au-Prince family. After years of washing floors, fetching water, and sleeping under the kitchen table, he found freedom when his owners moved to the U.S., and kicked him out. C_det, who says the "biggest part was the emotional detachment," wonders today why the U.S., Haiti's biggest foreign donor, doesn't "link foreign aid to the elimination of slavery."

Kevin Bales describes hereditary forms of slavery in the developing world where generations of a family "are put up as collateral against a loan" that they're never able to pay back. But, he points out, the U.S. has its own problems: "We have found young women from Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, who are called by the people who control them 'the creature, the animal,' and used for years, and sexually abused, as domestic servants in Washington, D.C. suburbs. 'We found in 90 U.S. cities people caught up in forced slavery."

Stephen Law describes how U.S. Labor Department investigators looking into simple violations of wage laws find "intimidation, coercion and secrecy" surrounding child labor and other illegal exploitation. What's worse, he says, "cultural reinforcement locks people into this lifestyle," a kind of brainwashing that inhibits people from escaping their enslavement.

Roger Plant says that of the 12 million forced laborers globally, most are women and children. He corrects the assumption that "forced labor is something imposed by states. Today four-fifths of all forced labor is imposed by private agents '.People exploiting bonded labor make significant profits."

Jagdish Bhagwati offers some hope: "Social institutions themselves can change as a result of economic and other incentives. ' (Forced laborers) have to be able to walk away and get freedom, find new jobs, which is where economic prosperity abetted by globalization matters."

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Center for International Studies

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MIT World — special events and lectures

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