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The Economics of Modern Slavery: Insights from David Lohan’s “At Freedom’s Crossroads”

This exploration draws inspiration from David Lohan's compelling work, "At Freedom’s Crossroads: Making Sense of Modern Slavery" (2022) [1]. Lohan’s narrative delves into the roots and evolution of slavery, spanning centuries to unravel why this dark chapter persists in our contemporary world. The objective is to empower readers—whether legislators, corporate buyers, or end consumers—to recognise their pivotal role in putting an end to this scourge. This article seeks to spotlight some of the most impactful revelations within Lohan's thought-provoking book.

Cover of the book "At Freedom's Crossroads"


 Modern Slavery’s Pervasive Presence

The succinct answer to the question of where modern slavery lurks is dishearteningly simple: everywhere. Lohan gives some vivid modern slavery examples, notably within the fishing industry. The exploitation is rampant on fishing vessels, extending beyond those targeting high-value fish varieties. Even immature and inedible fish find commercial value as they're processed into fishmeal to feed farmed prawns. In Thailand, where a labour shortage (estimated at 50,000 by the Ministry of Labor [2])  strains to meet the global demand for prawns, force is often wielded to coerce workers onto these boats.

Other industries grappling with the spectre of slavery include cotton in Uzbekistan, rice in Angola, and brick manufacturing in India.



Child Labour's Tragic Narratives

Lohan's discourse on child labour unveils distressing realities across various sectors:

Races: The popular camel races in the United Arab Emirates are riddled with child labour. Children as young as six serve as jockeys, enduring severe head, spinal and genitals injuries. Thousands of children, from countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mauritania, and Sudan, are involved in this exploitative practice. An estimated 15,000 children “had been taken from the district [of Rahimyar Khan alone, in southern Punjab, Parkistan] to the UAE and Gulf States as camel jockeys” [3].

Cocoa: Northern Benin witnesses children toiling on farms in neighbouring countries, victims of the cocoa industry's insatiable demand.

Mica: Used in diverse industries, including cosmetics, this mineral is mined by tens of thousands of children in India, subjecting them to snake and scorpion bites, cuts, skin infections, and respiratory illnesses.



The Primacy of Volume Over Margin

Modern Slavery isn't just a moral issue; it's deeply rooted in economic dynamics. Lohan contends that its prevalence is intricately linked to industries operating on thin profit margins. Sectors like fast fashion and ultra-fast fashion exemplify this, where rock-bottom prices turn products into everyday commodities. This sparks a cycle of escalating demand, intensifying the need for strenuous labour, and ultimately fostering the demand for slave labour.

Demand in this case is key: consumers may feel powerless towards the scale of the challenge but they actually hold the power to make Modern Slavery obsolete by making conscientious consumption choices.



In his concluding chapter, Lohan accentuates the dichotomy between unrestrained consumerism and the altruism embodied by responsible citizenship. The power to reshape the narrative lies in the hands of consumers. As Lohan poignantly concludes, “At one end of this new route there is unrestrained consumerism and self-interest. At the other there is citizenry, restraint, and selflessness. […] History will record the destination reached, but only the world’s citizens can determine it. The true measure of freedom lies not in what can be secured for ourselves, but instead in what we must sometimes secure for others.”


[1] Lohan, D. (2022) At Freedom’s Crossroads: Making Sense of Modern Slavery. Cork, Ireland: Frederick Douglass Anti Slavery Press.

[2] Palmstrom, B. (2014) ‘Forced to fish: Slavery on Thailand’s trawlers’ BBC News (23 Jan) Available: [Accessed 28 November 2023].

[3] Asghar, S. M., Farhat, S., Niaz, S. & Save the Children Sweden-Pakistan. (2005) Camel jockeys of Rahimyar Khan: findings of a participatory research on the life and situation of child camel jockeys, Save the Children Sweden [Online], Available: [Accessed 28 November 2023].


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