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Though the fastest growing form of slavery is trafficking (recruited or forced transport of people into various types of oppression), the most common form of slavery is debt bondage, which ensnares tens of millions of people in loans they can never pay off.

Debt laborers

The slope to debt bondage (also known as “bonded labor”) begins by the simple slip of one assuming some form of debt as a term for employment. Once employed, the terms change and become more restrictive, the debt grows, and the employer takes coercive advantage over the employee. As time progresses, so do unfair work conditions and labor hours, and the balance due, accruing with insurmountable interest rates, hardly ever (if not never) reduces.

Though the problem is global, an example is given in South Asia via a U.S. government report:


In South Asia, this phenomenon is seen in huge numbers as traditional bonded labor, in which millions of people are enslaved from generation to generation. They seldom know the amount or terms of their debt, for this is the form of force and coercion used by employers – slave masters – to ensure their continued servitude. Cultural practices, illiteracy and unequal power relationships make this traditional form of slavery for low-skilled work particularly difficult to eliminate.

Does this form of debt bondage seem vaguely familiar? Like a financial d?j? vu?

‘To keep a person in subjugation’

The U.S. Department of State reports that debt bondage has one primary goal: “to keep a person in subjugation.”

Maintaining people’s suppression is the unfortunate goal of too many creditors, even those domestically, but one in particular has mastered the pathetic art: your credit card companies. I was shocked recently to read the extent to which they are going to trap their cardholders. Like never before they are working overtime to ensure your service … I mean, servitude!


Last year, the credit card industry “reaped a staggering $17.1 billion in controversial penalty fees alone – a ten-fold rise in such fees in the last decade.” And the latest generation of consumers has used credit cards “to charge up $1.8 trillion a year, up from a $69 billion a year in 1980.”

Consumer Affairs, citing Travis Plunkett, director of the Consumer Federation of America, conveys:


CardTrak estimates that each household receives nearly 50 credit card solicitations in the mail each year. Issuers have increased the number of mailed credit card offerings by six-fold since 1990, from just over 1.1 billion to a record 6.06 billion in 2005. The number of solicitations mailed by issuers in 2006 likely exceeded this amount.

With more than 640 million working cards in circulation (that’s two for every American), credit card companies are using new tactics, manipulations and hidden charges in order to secure the cardholders for as long as they can.

Consumer Affairs adds, “Witnesses cited a number of instances in which the credit card industry makes its profit through penalizing its customers. Chief among them was the practice of levying fees for just about every transaction – even charging interest on balances already paid.”

Their deceitful ways include some or all of the following:

  • Bigger incentives to order their cards

  • Progressive interest rates, starting with no-cost introductory balance transfers
  • Disappearing grace periods
  • Interest rates as high as 29 percent
  • Lowering principal payments from 5 percent to 2 percent
  • Higher late payment fees
  • Over-limit spending fees
  • Double-cycling billing
  • Hidden phone charges to talk to their representatives
  • Hidden charges for making payments over the phone
  • Even hidden billing charges to pay off or close your account!

If you don’t understand what some of these fees are, that’s the point! Unlike a house that can be foreclosed or a car that can be repossessed, credit card companies are hoping to make it impossible for you to renege on your relationship with them. Their goal is to stick closer to you than a friend for life, and it’s working with most people.

Is credit card debt a new form of slavery?

Am I inferring that credit card companies are a part of the modern-day slave trade? No, but I am saying their model too closely reverberates that repression, and in a way that our government and too many people easily tolerate.

The difficulty of identifying slavery today is that its appearance has altered over a couple centuries from the traditional characterization of a man in chains. Nevertheless, the definition remains, as outlined in 1926 at the Slavery Convention of the League of Nations, “Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.”

To quell the practice, in the wake of our own Civil War, America enacted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, stating, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The servitude to credit card companies might be voluntary, but when they monopolize our debts and their advertisements proliferate even our college-aged children’s mail boxes with enticing offers for Easter break, etc., they borderline on human subjugation.

Free at last!

Let’s face the facts:

  1. Credit card companies don’t care about you in any respect. They only want your money and indebtedness.

  2. You might be easy prey for their subtle system of servitude, incapable of resisting impulse purchases or overcoming “emergency” excuses for flashing the “platinum membership.” (Can you admit it?)

If that’s you, it’s time to face the music. You’re likely in debt bondage. Or as radio talk-show and WND financial columnist Dave Ramsey simply puts it, you’re “slaves to the credit card companies.” If so, Dave has some insightful debt advice waiting for you right now online at his website to help you experience financial freedom.

Most of all, let us each work and pray for the release of every victim of debt bondage, about which even the Good Book has something to say, whether in regard to modern-day slavery or the consumer debt trade.


All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.

Owe no debt to anyone, except the continuing debt to love.



Note: Throughout the month of March, Chuck will be addressing different aspects of the modern slave trade in his weekly column, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. Visit WND next week for the final column of the series.



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