Who are the slaves serving us?

Apr 9, 2018 by

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Since by definition slaves have virtually no control over their living conditions or their compensation, is slavery a thing of the past?

Unfortunately, there are still an untold number of sex slaves and multitudes of other men, women and children in the world who are forced to live and work under conditions that virtually make them chattel.

In the first century, wealthy Romans might own 400-500 such slaves, depending on how well-to-do they were. Ironically, however, even the wealthiest of these slave owners would no doubt gladly trade their lifestyle for the kind of convenience and luxury many of us enjoy every day.

Not only do we have access to amazing medical and dental care by which we avoid the pain, discomfort and early excruciating deaths that were the lot of even the richest of these slave owners, but we have a far easier and more comfortable life by almost every measure. Of course we tell ourselves this is due to modern technology and engineering that raises our living standards without our needing actual servants at our every beck and call.

But is that really true, or have modern inventions simply removed those human beings from our sight?

Think of all the slave hands that would be needed to wake us up every morning, prepare the warm water needed for our baths, light and feed the fires needed for preparing our food, and keep our closets stocked with the clean and ready-to-wear garments we take for granted. Or the number of people it would take to tend the stables, feed the draft animals and manufacture and maintain the harnesses and carriages needed for the miles we now travel every day. And how many would it take to run our errands and carry the messages we send constantly? Or to grow, prepare, package and preserve the abundance of food that seems to magically appear on our tables?

So even though we think of ourselves as just flipping switches, turning buttons, dialing cellphones, inserting keys into ignitions and otherwise going about our pursuit of all the benefits we have access to, we are nevertheless incredibly dependent on the actual physical labor of hordes of half-slaves in the process. We just no longer see them.

All over the world, agricultural workers, many in extreme poverty, are involved in harvesting the crops we rely on, and tirelessly do the loading and unloading of ships, planes and 18-wheelers involved in the average 1,400-mile trek from field to table. Tens of thousands of sweat-shop-wage workers in places like Bangladesh, Taiwan, Vietnam and Pakistan sew our clothes and ship them to our store shelves, where we pick them up and haul them to our bulging walk-in closets. And countless children and other workers are involved in extracting the rare metals needed for the batteries in our cellphones and other devices, and many coal miners are still risking their lives and their health every day to help power our electrical grids.

So might we each have hundreds of the world’s desperately poor ‘slaving’ for us every day — all conveniently out of sight and out of mind?

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this post first appeared.


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