Labor Force or Forced Labor?

You’ve arrived from India to take a factory job in Kuwait, but your boss has taken your passport, you’re not allowed to leave the factory grounds, and your wages are being held back in order to pay for your plane ticket and your recruiter. Are you a slave?

Whatever label you want to give it, forced labor is a widespread problem around the globe. Now, a non-profit group with State Department funding is unveiling a website, www.slaveryfootprint.org, that will allow consumers to track what sort of things in their possession are likely to have been tied to slave labor.

Creators of the site, the New York Times reported this week, “hope to get consumers engaged enough in the issue to do something about it, primarily hoping people demand that companies carefully audit supply chains to ensure, as best as they can determine, that no ‘slave labor’ was used to manufacture its products.”

[EXPAND More]Peter Drucker wrote about slavery in a variety of contexts, and he pointed out that it isn’t just a concern for the enslaved. In every society that allowed slavery, all parties were debased. “Slavery affected the master just as much as it did the slave,” Drucker wrote in People and Performance. “It is the nature of a human relationship that it changes both parties—whether they are man and wife, father and child, or manager and people managed.”

Indeed, there is little doubt that Drucker would have compared what’s happening in at least some of today’s most oppressive factories with labor conditions of the 19thcentury. “In its eastward march through Europe, industrialization broke not only the bodies but the spirits of entire generations,” Drucker wrote in The New Society.

And yet Drucker also noted that, for the poor, especially for the peasant, a factory job can be an improvement, however slight. This was also the case for many workers during the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. “They were badly off, no doubt, and harshly treated,” Drucker asserted. “But they flocked to the factory precisely because they were still better off there than they were at the bottom of a static, tyrannical, and starving rural society. They still experienced a much better ‘quality of life.’”

When does work become slavery—and what’s a plausible way to combat it today?[/EXPAND]