Kevin Bales is an expert on modern slavery and President of Free the Slaves. Free the Slaves is the US sister organization of Anti-Slavery International, the world’s oldest human rights organization. He is currently based in Washington, D.C.
Bales graduated from Ponca City High School in Ponca City, Oklahoma in 1970. Bales gained his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics in 1994. He also holds a BA in Anthropology from the University of Oklahoma, an MA in Sociology from the University of Mississippi, and an MSc in Economic History from the London School of Economics.
In 1990, Bales teamed with Simon Pell, then head of Arts for Labour in the UK, to form the fund-raising and research consultancy, Pell & Bales Ltd. The firm has since grown to be the largest company of its kind in Britain, and has raised more than $1 billion for medical charities, human rights groups, environmental campaigns, overseas development, and the Labour Party.
He has since worked as a Trustee of Anti-Slavery International and as a consultant to the United Nations Global Program on Trafficking of Human Beings. He has advised the US, British, Irish, Norwegian and Nepali governments and the Economic Community of West African States on matters relating to the formulation of policy on slavery and human trafficking. Bales edited an Anti-Human Trafficking Toolkit for the United Nations, and published a report on forced labor in the US with the Human Rights Center at Berkeley.
From 2001 to 2005 Bales was a visiting professor of International Studies at the Croft Institute at the University of Mississippi.
Presently, in addition to his role as President of Free The Slaves, Bales holds the position of Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Roehampton University in London as well as being a visiting professor at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the International Cocoa Initiative.
Dr. Bales has written extensively on modern slavery. Perhaps his best-known book is Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (1999; revised edition, 2004), a firsthand analysis of the operations of five slave-based businesses: prostitution in Thailand, selling of water in Mauritania, production of charcoal in Brazil, general agriculture in India, and brickmaking in Pakistan. Archbishop Desmond Tutu called the book "a well researched, scholarly and deeply disturbing expose of modern slavery". It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and has been published in ten different languages. The book formed the basis for a film, "Slavery: A Global Investigation", made by TrueVision in 2000, which won a Peabody Award in 2000 and two Emmy Awards in 2002.
Bales currently is writing one book on the relationship between slavery and environmental destruction and another, in collaboration with Jody Sarich, on the subject of forced marriage.
Martin Albrow's globalization theory and Darren O'Byrne's theories on human rights have influenced Bales' research, as has the empirical training he received from Jack Gibbs and Larry DeBord. Some commentators believe his views on modern slavery were anticipated by contributors to the 1970s mode of production debate, and that his work on debt bondage in India and Pakistan was anticipated by the Marxist Tom Brass.