Economic Development and Modern Day Slavery

My friend Jimmy Quach works for Good Paper, a greeting card company that started in Rwanda. Their newest line of cards, Sanctuary Spring, is made by survivors of sex trafficking. The International Justice Mission phoned Jimmy last summer saying that they had just rescued 40 women who needed jobs right away, lest they be re-trafficked. Soon afterwards, Jimmy flew to Manila to meet with the IJM Manila office to get them set up as a production facility for Sanctuary Spring cards.

This is just one example of how economic development helps people escape from modern day slavery. It’s probably the best preventative measure we can take. In fact, I recently learned that what British missionary David Livingstone meant when he said, “Africa needs the gospel and capitalism” was in the context of trying to rescue Africans from slavery from Muslim slave traders. Although it sounds imperialistic, what he meant was, “Africa needs the gospel and economic development.” He wanted to make sustainable agriculture profitable enough so that people would not sell other people into slavery by force, trickery, etc. The term “economic development” wasn’t available to Livingstone at the time; so although he sounds wrong today, in fact, he was right.

In the first few centuries, Christians actually emancipated slaves by the dozens, hundreds, and thousands. Augustine and the Apostolic Constitutions tell us matter-of-factly that Christians regularly collected money during their services, not to just pay their clergy, but to purchase and free slaves. Eventually, from the 600’s to the 1300’s, Christians abolished slavery in France, Hungary, England, Iceland, the Netherlands, and the Scandanavian countries. Slavery existed everywhere else in the world; freedom was “the peculiar institution.” And although European Christians got mixed up in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, they eventually abolished it once more. British Christians proceeded to use the British navy to shut down the slave trade in other countries, especially Muslim ones. I’m willing to argue that only Christian faith gives a clear moral and intellectual foundation for antislavery. I’ve done a lot of biblical research to substantiate that claim. Please ask me about it.

So let’s keep thinking creatively and effectively at combating modern day slavery. Some ways I know of are: Economic development, legal reform (when good laws don’t exist yet), legal advocacy (when good laws already exist), aftercare, and Christian evangelistic mission and community development. My thanks to Jimmy Quach and Sanctuary Spring for being more recent inspirations to me.

4 thoughts on “Economic Development and Modern Day Slavery

  1. Thanks for bringing up issues of modern-day slavery, Mako!

    For those interested in a smart but also easy-to-read overview on this topic, I highly recommend Kevin Bales’ “Disposable People“, which pairs individual stories with a macroscopic look at the various forms of modern-day slavery by region. It’s Kristofian in tone and structure and, accordingly, one of my favorite books.

    Bales is arguably the global expert on modern-day slavery, a former UN consultant on human trafficking and the founder of Free the Slaves, a secular organization which does much of the same work that IJM does.

    More recently, Bales also wrote “Ending Slavery: How to Free Today’s Slaves,” which I’ve never finished but which is available at many library catalogs and on Amazon . It is a little more dense than its counterpart.

    Finally, wouldn’t it be awesome to have Jimmy write a guest post about Sanctuary Spring’s work? I know I would love to read it!

  2. Thanks Ada! I was reading reviews of Siddarth Kara’s book exploring the business dimensions of sex slavery; the reviews are mixed. I’ve been looking for good books so I’ll check out Kevin Bales.

  3. Thanks for this post, Mako. I don’t know much about the history of slavery, so I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on how buying people out of slavery (your example from Augustine’s time) might lead to a short-term benefit but a long-term perverse incentive for slavers to capture more people?

    • hi Ed,
      Yes, increased capture, along with recapture and re-enslavement are big problems. The options seem to be:

      1. Legal protections and a decently strong, not corrupt state to crack down on slave traders. It’s notable that Emperor Constantine passed a law in 315 AD, two years after his ostensible conversion to Christianity, that anyone kidnapping a child to sell or enslave the child would be subject to the death penalty. It took a strong measure to start a process going. I suppose this is like UN peace-keeping forces going to Uganda to protect children from being abducted into the LRA.

      2. Economic development along with some military protection. It needs to be less and less profitable to sell one’s children or enslave other people compared with other legitimate options. If rehabilitation and aftercare are provided in some way that adequately protects people, this can cut down on the re-enslavement problem. IJM has told a few stories about this.

      3. Christian mission, evangelism, and community development. This is a longer term battle, but one that does seem important. It does not seem like just throwing money at problems makes the problems go away. People are needed. Community is needed. Matthew Paris, a writer for the UK Times, wrote a fascinating article called “As An Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God” in Dec.27, 2008, In the article, Paris says that issues like worldview, having a value on human beings, and the cultural foundation of political life are all important.

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