Is Modern Slavery Acceptable?
A recent news story from CNN depicts the on-going “state of slavery” currently occurring in India. Laborers of various ages (including children as young as five years old) from villages across the continent are being taken to a remote location in India where they are responsible for working off their own debt or part of their family’s debt. The laborers are bonded to their supervisor who granted them the loans for food, medical treatment, or other means of survival. The news story describes these workers as “India’s modern slaves.” “I cannot leave here unless I pay my debt,” was a direct quote from one female laborer. These individuals, who certainly are not being treated as individuals, receive no wages for their strenuous work of daily brick-making. They don’t know how long they will be forced to work on the land, and there is no hope for escaping, as that will only result in abusive punishment. Their supervisor deems this practice legal and sees nothing wrong with his treatment of the workers as slaves since he believes he owns them.
After watching this news story, I immediately thought of Locke’s social contract and his views on individual freedom and basic human rights. I contemplated his rationale on the legality of this situation in India.
Locke believes in an individual’s right to natural liberty and the ideals of “life, liberty, and property.” According to Locke, it is impossible for one to enlist into slavery voluntarily since everyone has the right to freedom. However, a state of slavery is acceptable if it is an extension of war between a lawful conqueror and a captive. One could argue, therefore, that in this situation pertaining to India, the supervisor can be seen as the “conqueror” and the laborers the “captives.” Would that then make this form of indentured servitude acceptable? An informal agreement does exist between the supervisor and the laborers, who are responsible for paying off debts, so this practice of indentured servitude might seem legal to some.
I would assume the current treatment of the laborers is not what Locke had in mind for what constitutes acceptable terms of slavery. The situation in India is extreme. It is not an extension to a state of war. The workers are made no promise of ever receiving freedom and are even threatened with violent punishment. They are being denied a basic human right – ownership over their own bodies, which is something every individual is automatically entitled to in Lockean theory.
I also thought this news story can be related to the issue of “Dirty Hands.” Should the supervisor of these laborers be concerned that he may be “charged” with having “Dirty Hands?”
Link to CNN News Story, “Entire Indian Villages enslaved by debt” http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2011/03/08/cfp.sidner.india.slave.labor.cnn?iref=allsearch