Book Review: The Slave Next Door

In The Slave Next Door, written by Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter, attention is brought to contemporary forms of slavery. The book gives historical context to the practice of enslavement, before mostly examining how modern day slavery is perpetrated in different corners of the world. It also gives in-depth analysis to several types of modern day bondage. From child trafficked for sex to adults forced to labor under the threat of violence, the book gives insight into many acts that fall under what some consider slavery – depending on one’s interpretation of the label.

The two authors, Bales and Soodalter, have contributed to almost a dozen books – all on the topic of slavery. They used their bevy of resources to create a book that explicitly presents, in detail, how slavery persists in the world today. It uses fact-based data to show how slavery has found a niche in our society that allows for most people to ignore its existence despite its obvious prevalence throughout the world. It pulls back the curtain to show readers the ugly truth about how the fight to end slavery, or lack thereof, is going and what could be done to improve it, with direct examples that leave little to be interpreted.

The Slave Next Door is harsh, but palatable for all readers because it includes details that touch several continents, governing bodies, and economic markets, which leaves no party free from blame. This allows all readers, regardless of the origin of their perspective, to see how slavery remains a cog in the world today. It also presents how people, economies, and even governments contribute to the continuation of slavery, but does not persecute people for their ignorance.

The Slave Next Door shows how house slaves can be completely apparent, but totally unidentifiable to those without an understanding of how bondage can destroy the psyche of a person, so much so that they fear attempting to flee the horrid conditions they live in. It displays how slavery is now about exploitation, regardless of race or religion. It shares anecdotes about how slavery is not a dominating force in the global economy, but has a large enough stake that it can be very lucrative for those trying to increase their bottom line. It even shows people and businesses benefit from slave labor by continuing to purchase products tainted by the use of coerced workers. This allows for slavery to hide in the corners of society without having to relegate itself to only undeveloped and ungoverned areas.

The Slave Next Door is excellent at highlighting individual examples of businesses and governments either unknowingly contribute to slavery’s position in the world or intentionally ignoring it. It does not, however, give practical answers for individuals can go about combatting slavery in meaningful ways. It enlightens readers on the harmful effects that can be caused by boycotting items or buying people out of slavery, but leaves the burden of fixing the issue mostly up to corporations and governments to investigate on their own. This approach is logical, but seems faulty because if these powerful organizations are content with their current standing and are not actively taking part in the enslavement of others, then it would be easy for them continue on the path of least resistance, and pretend that slavery does not exist or does not factor in to their operations.

The most exceptional part of The Slave Next Door, is its success in identifying not only forms of exploitative labor slavery, but also domestic entrapment and sex trafficking, which often get treated as singular issues. In reality, anyone forced to perform acts for others through violence, without compensation, is being enslaved. Whether someone is violently forced to clean in the United States; having sex in Asia; or mining minerals in Africa, the book clearly groups the offenses together as an act against humanity. It treats all persons enslaved, regardless of status, as the victim of slavery. It does not limit the application of the term ‘slave’ to only actions that look similar to that of a master commanding workers keep the house in order and the farmland profitable, but allows it to be re-imagined in more appropriate, modern forms that make more sense given the state of the world today.

In an era where women are more independent than the colonial age, the book highlights how countries struggle to recognize and combat when women and children are being trafficked – often to become the sex slave of a man. That is just one example of slavery can be prevalent in a developed nation, but difficult to identify to the untrained eye. The book also brings attention to the fact that, due to the complexity of slavery and the intricacies of our judicial system, it is extremely difficult to prosecute those who are not caught in the act of enslavement or trafficking. It helps readers understand that because of the precise wording and varying interpretations of what acts qualify as enslavement, it is more common to see slavery pleaded down to kidnapping, and there are instances where trafficking victims are treated as fugitive immigrants. The book is excellent at giving readers a more wholesome understanding of slavery around the world, without coming off as a persuasive essay meant to change the views of the reader, but rather open their eyes. The only issue with that being that if a reader does not associate historical slavery with sex trafficking, or other contemporary forms of slavery not utilized historically, then the book falls apart at its foundation.

The Slave Next Door is an informative read for those who already have a grasp on contemporary slavery, but may come off as tough to handle for a novice to the issue. Its biggest shortcoming is probably that it does not accommodate readers who may have a different view on what constitute slavery, so some of its arguments may come as a stretch. However, the book does give enough anecdotes and statistics that it is informative without being persuasive, so readers can change stances based solely on their enlightenment.

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