Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsHello, I'm Professor Kevin Bales, and I'm very happy to welcome you to our new course on ending slavery. I want to start with just a few ideas, a few facts about modern slavery. The first thing I think we should know is that there are about 45, 46 million people in the world today in slavery. That's a recent, reliable, social scientifically sound measurement, one of the first that we have, but about 46 million people in the world in slavery. And then we need to think about how do we actually define slavery. We'll be talking about definitions later in the course, but for the moment, let's think about slavery as being the situation in which one person completely controls another person.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsThey use violence to maintain that control and as well as coercion, and then they use that control to exploit them. They could be exploiting them sexually, economically, or both, and that's that total control and exploitation, violence being at its base. That's what slavery is about, and in fact, that's what slavery has always been about, because if we looked back in time and we say, what would the core attributes-- what were the core criteria by which we judged if a person was in slavery in ancient Rome or were in Alabama in 1850-- it was still that fundamental notion of complete control, the idea that you could use a human being as if they were an item of property like livestock.

Skip to 1 minute and 31 secondsNow, there is one thing, though, that's very new about slavery, and that's about the fact that, because in part of the population explosion, because of a very great increase in the global population, the number of vulnerable people, the people who are vulnerable to enslavement, has increased over time. When you flood a market with a particular commodity-- in this case, vulnerable people-- you can only imagine that the law of supply and demand would tell you that that commodity would become cheaper. And that, in fact, is exactly what's happened. The overall cost of enslaving a human being has dropped dramatically. For most of human history, slaves have been expensive.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 secondsOn average, in the past, something like the equivalent of 40,000 pounds to buy an average person in slavery. Today that has dropped to something like 100 pounds. Of course, there's a variation around that. Slaves-- if you tried to acquire one in Great Britain or other parts of the rich north, you would be paying probably a few thousand pounds to get someone that you could use as an enslaved person, but I've met people in the poorest parts of the world who have been enslaved against a debt or even just purchased for as little as 10 pounds.

Skip to 2 minutes and 48 secondsSo we're talking about a situation in which human life has become very cheap, so cheap, in fact, that we can think of people not being like major capital purchases like a car or a tractor, but instead think of them as being disposable like a Styrofoam cup, a tool that you could use, crumple up, and throw away when you were finished. Sadly, that's the fact behind a lot of what goes on in slavery today. What drives this slavery? Well, we know there are several things that do in a general sort of way.

Skip to 3 minutes and 23 secondsThe population explosion has been one-- the idea that there are so many more people who have been pushed into vulnerability by other factors, as well, such as conflict, corruption, poverty, environmental, and climactic change and disaster. All of these will push people into situations of vulnerability in which those people who live where the rule of law does not protect them can then be taken, usually at the point of a gun through some sort of violence or trickery, into slavery.

Skip to 3 minutes and 54 secondsSo it's important to understand that in the world there are a number of things that drive slavery, but almost all of them have to do with the diminution of the rule of law and the exercise of violence to establish the total control over a person so that exploitation can take place.

Slavery Today

Most people think of slavery as a phenomenon of the past. But there are nearly 46 million people enslaved around the world today.

In this film, lead educator Kevin Bales, the world’s preeminent expert on contemporary slavery, offers a Slavery 101. He lays out the reliable facts and figures around contemporary slavery, explains why it emerged in the late 20th century, and what characterises today’s forms of slavery.

After watching the film, tell us in the comments section what kinds of slavery you have heard about or read about - perhaps in the media, in films, in your own cities, or in your own work if you are - for example - a front-line worker, lawyer, or NGO staff member. Does Kevin’s introduction match those kinds of situations?

Please feel free to engage with other learners right from the start of the course. Anyone enrolled on the course can comment and discuss. To see all the comments on a particular step, click the pink speech bubble icon. The number next to this icon tells you how many comments there are for this step. You can ‘Like’ comments that you find useful or interesting, and ‘Follow’ the lead educators and other learners.

You can also start preparing your responses and questions for Kevin’s live session as our “expert in the hotseat” later this week.

Finally, we’d like to take this opportunity in the course’s first step to introduce ourselves. Your educators are:

Kevin Bales

Zoe Trodd

Katie Donington

Hannah-Rose Murray

Rosemary Pearce

We’re very excited to be teaching this course, and look forward to hearing all your thoughts and ideas!

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition

The University of Nottingham