Last week the world was shocked when it learned about the enslavement of three women by a couple in London. Unfortunately this case is far from unique, but the London Slave Women case is a good example to study the phenomenon of modern slavery. In this post we’ll use this case to analyse how slavery can (re-)emerge in space settlements.
We should start with a short description of this bizarre case. A married couple, Mr. A. Balakrishnan (73) and Mrs. C. Balakrishnan (67), are accused of having hold three women in captivity for three decades. The women are identified as a 69-year-old Malaysian woman, a 57-year-old Irishwoman and a 30-year-old Briton. The youngest is probably the daughter of the Irishwoman and Mr. Balakrishnan. Though other sources suggest that the youngest woman is the daughter of another victim, who died in 1997.
As far as we have understood the Malaysian and the Irishwoman met the Balakrishnans some 35 years ago. The two women and the Balakrishnans shared a common political ideology, back in the 1970s. This ideology has now been revealed as an extreme splinter group of Maoism, extreme even for far left standards. The group led by Mr. Balakrishnan (AB), was in fact more like a religious cult. They worshipped Mao as their god, and AB was something like their pope. This British Mao worshipping group, had even their own version of the rapture: they really believed that the Chinese Red Army would liberate England.
At a certain moment the Malaysian woman and the Irishwoman started to live with the Balakrishnans, forming a collective. Collectives were a common arrangement for leftist people in those days. But whereas most leftist collectives broke up, this one has gradually evolved into a state of domestic servitude. The enslaved women were physically and mentally abused, but apparently not sexually. And the youngest woman is said to have been in servitude.
What does this case tells us? As we have said above this case is hardly unique. In Western Europe tens of thousands of people are believed to be held as slaves. And around the world, at least 28 million are kept in slavery. The irony is that while nowadays slavery is outlawed in every country, there are now more slaves than ever before. Partially this due to the fact that there are also more people than ever in history these days.
The London slave case clearly shows how people can get enslaved, even in Western societies and that such cases can last for decades. Another common method of becoming enslaved is in case of migrant workers. People from poor countries are often lured with great job opportunities abroad, they are usually promised high salaries (compared to the standards of the home country). But once these migrant workers arrive in the country of destination, their papers are confiscated by those who have lured them. And subsequently the migrants are forced to work for their con men, or they might even sold to third parties.
Given these facts, it becomes quite easy to understand how slavery might emerge in space settlements. Like in the London case people might join a space collective for ideological reasons, only to find out they are enslaved in the end. It might also happen that wealthy space settlers will offer good-paying jobs to poor terrestrials, but in fact they are enslaved once they arrive in the space settlement. The London case also shows, that once people get enslaved such condition easily becomes hereditary.
But slavery in space settlements has another complicating factor. Given the huge distances in space, small groups can easily isolate themselves in the periphery of our Solar System. A small asteroid might provide enough mineral resources for such a group for a few generations. And with the absence of the Leviathan in large parts of our Solar System, such groups can easily get away with slavery. Further slaves in such communities can’t escape, since this would be equivalent to suicide.
What can space settlements do to fight slavery in space? Since terrestrial immigrants are the most likely victims of slavery, space authorities should check every person leaving Earth. In any suspicious case police should question the immigrants involve in order to verify whether they are possible victims of slavers. Further space governments should create a Space Patrol Force which will monitor all space ships travelling between Earth and the periphery. And suspicious transports should be intercepted by the SPF for further investigations.
An interesting question is whether advancements in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence would make the whole issue of human slavery is space settlements obsolete? Automation would probably a more efficient way of getting cheap labour. But robots might be an expensive investment, hence it might be more attractive to purchase human slaves instead. Hence it’s hard to tell whether advanced robotics might eliminate incentives for enslaving humans.