Western academia will have us believe that the “peculiar institution” is both ancient and extinct, like the dinosaurs. With careful consideration we will find that this is not so.
UC Merced's weekly Human Rights Films Series brought us Mimi Chakarova's, The Price of Sex, on February 24. Forgoing the trite adjectives that normally accompany descriptions of these types of documentaries, the content of the film is simply horrifying.
The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe has brought mass unemployment to the Balkan nations of Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Croatia, which has led to a rise of crime, a dramatic increase in poverty, and a revival in that “peculiar institution” which continues to haunt our nation with a vile legacy.
That “peculiar institution” is none other than slavery. Make no mistake --though it takes on many forms and affects a multitude of people across the earth differently-- slavery is alive and well.
The Price of Sex, without dramatizing or sensationalizing the issue, reveals yet another terrible form of slavery experienced by persons of flesh and blood. Desperate young Eastern European women are offered jobs abroad, receive a passport and a plane ticket, board, arrive in a foreign land, and exit the plane into the arms of slavers, who then force the women into prostitution-- the slavers then profit from the carnal harvest of their bodies.
The crass and vulgar are quick to remind us that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and perhaps a woman who chooses to live her life as a prostitute has that right, but these women are tricked, and then forced into such a life against their will. The torture and brutality can't be conveyed through words. Imagine being raped 80 times a day, every day, for months on end – with your body continually subjected to the vile will of others; what would become of you?
Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are known for hosting this kind of slavery; their officials turn a blind eye to the human trafficking. Some women who actually manage to escape go to the police in these countries, only to be returned to their captors.
In most cases, after a couple dozen months of service the women are allowed to return home to Eastern Europe, penniless, and defiled in the worst imaginable way. Some will live lives of obscurity, trying to cope with the grievous torture and punishment inflicted on them, while others will perpetuate the horror and recruit young women into the chains of sex slavery they were once shackled to.
Director and heroine of the film, Mimi Chakarova, was gracious enough to visit the UCM campus to speak and answer questions after the presentation of the movie. Chakarova, when asked how we should tackle the problem, said we must begin with acknowledgment that there is this problem - that consciousness is key.
Further in the Q and A session, Chakarova admitted that under communism, this, along with crime, was rarely an issue. But she contends that communism, along with capitalism, is not the answer. “We must find a middle road, another way.”
It may not be easy to see that this slavery is taking place in faraway lands, out of our direct influence and control, but it is easy to see slavery that is in our direct control, whose product can be found in our pockets and backpacks.
Wage slavery is ubiquitous in Asia. The Apple Corporation, once headed by the venerated and late Steve Jobs, is a willing participant in this slavery.
The people that build the iPad, iPod, iMac, (and any other product that has “i” in front of it) are subjected to conditions that in an earnest society would be called outright slavery. In fact, according to the scholar Noam Chomsky, “wage slavery” is actually more efficient than traditional slavery - the only expenditure is the cost of labor, which in China is very cheap.
Apple contracts the manufacture of their products to a Taiwanese company colloquially known as Foxconn. Foxconn's workers sign a contract that forces them to live in production colonies, where they are shoved into dormitories to await their 12-hour a day, 6 days a week work schedule. Rent and food are deducted from their wages.
The working conditions and their general way of colony life are so deplorable that hundreds have been driven to suicide by jumping off the top floors of the dormitories. To counter this, Foxconn erected nets to catch the would-be escaped slaves from finding freedom through death.
Once more, the crass and vulgar are quick to point out that these people chose to work for Foxconn, and otherwise would not have a job. What's more, we benefit from their cheap labor.
In our globalized world, slavery, sadly, is alive and well.