As most listeners and readers know, this year marks the two-hundredth anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade—the culmination of a decades-long campaign led by William Wilberforce and other British Christians.
Yet, two centuries later, slavery still rears its ugly head around the world. Sometimes, it is in places where no person of conscience would dream of going, such as a brothel. Other times, it is as close as your kitchen or your gas tank.
Brazil is the world's leading producer of both sugar and coffee. It is the world's largest exporter of beef. Brazilian sugar that is not eaten by Western consumers is increasingly turned into ethanol to power Brazil's automobiles. Thanks to sugar cane, Brazil is a net exporter of energy and is seeking to increase its exports of ethanol to the United States.
But, there's a fly in the molasses: Much of these commodities, especially sugar cane, are produced by slave labor.
Anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000 Brazilians are what are known as "debt slaves." Their employers keep them in perpetual bondage by charging them "exorbitant rates for the food, water, clothes and the tools they work with." Because their wages are so low, the workers can never pay off the "debt" and, thus, can never leave.
They work "from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week." They are housed in "straw shacks." They are given one meal a day, which they are often forced to eat standing up. They receive no medical attention and have no "access to toilets or good hygiene." Many of them die from malaria.
If they decide they have had enough of the exploitation, the slave masters, known as gatos, threaten them with death. They are not bluffing. The gatos employ militias to intimidate and even kill human-rights workers—imagine what they would do to runaway slaves.
As in the rest of the world, Brazilian slavery is made possible because people live in such poverty. Like the victims of sexual trafficking, desperate people are lured by false promises only to be trapped.
Brazilian President Lulu da Silva has acknowledged the problem, calling it a "shame" that Brazil "still has slavery"—a shame, indeed. But that's about as far as Brazil's response goes. The combination of entrenched economic interests, corruption, and the physical isolation of the slaves makes a more vigorous Brazilian response unlikely.
This means that, just as in Wilberforce's time, Christians have to take the lead in ending modern slavery.
The first thing you can do is to become informed. Visit our "BreakPoint" website, where you will find links to articles and other resources that will help inform you.
Then, you need to get involved. Find out about the International Justice Mission (IJM) and its head, Gary Haugen, the 2007 Wilberforce Award winner. He is the closest thing we have to a modern-day Wilberforce and at the vanguard of fighting slavery and pressuring foreign governments. And speak to your pastors. Many evangelical denominations are experiencing explosive growth in Brazil. We can get our brothers down there to join the fight.
Because two hundred years after Wilberforce, there should be no room for slavery in our kitchens or gas tanks—or anywhere else.
From BreakPoint®, April 27, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries