Background information: slavery today

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[Distinguish from chattel slavery of Transatlantic Slave trade?]

Although illegal today under international law, slavery still exists throughout the world today.

Today a slave has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • forced to work, through mental or physical threat

  • controlled by an ‘employer’, under the threat of some form of punishment

  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’

  • physically constrained or has restrictions placed on their freedom of movement

What types of slavery exist today?

  • Forced labour – any work or service which people are made to do against their will under the threat of some form of punishment

  • Trafficking – the movement of people from one place to another using violence, coercion or deception for the purpose of forced labour or sexual exploitation

  • Bonded labour – labour demanded as the means of repayment for a loan or an advance. Once in debt, all control is lost over conditions of work and what, if anything, is paid. The debt is then inflated (eg through charges for food, transport, interest on the loans), often making it impossible to repay or escape from a cycle of debt.

  • Descent-based slavery – some people are compelled to work for others or treated as if they were owned by another person simply because of their caste or ethnic group

  • Worst forms of child labour – 180 million children are estimated to work in the worst forms of child labour, with over eight million living in conditions which constitute slavery. These are called the unconditional worst forms of child labour and include situations where children are sold, bonded, trafficked, subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, recruited into armed conflicts and forced to work as domestic workers or in a variety of other industries.

From the Abominable Traffic:

What is modern slavery?

Many people think of slavery as long ago and far away rather than here and now.

2007 does not mark ‘the abolition of slavery’ because slavery continues TODAY.

At this moment millions of men, women and children around the world are forced to live as slaves. Although their exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay, are often shackled and are at the mercy of their ‘employers’. Their time and labour are not their own; they are not free to decide who they work for and where they live.

Even though slavery is illegal internationally, in practice it still exists. Modern day slaves can be found labouring as servants or concubines in Sudan, as child carpet slaves in India and as cane cutters in Haiti and Pakistan. Women from Eastern Europe and Thailand are bonded into prostitution, children are trafficked between West African countries and men are forced to work as slaves on Brazilian agricultural estates and Cote d’Ivoirean cocoa plantations. UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children from West Africa are sold into slavery each year.

Refugees, driven by poverty to undertake hazardous journeys to distant countries, drown in crowded, unsafe boats or suffocate to death crammed in the backs of lorries (e.g. recent prosecution of Turks).

Contemporary slavery takes various forms and affects people of all ages, sex and race.

However some governments are taking action against slavery. For example, in May

2004 slavery became illegal in Niger which resulted in a slave owner freeing 7000 slaves (see The Guardian, 5/3/05).

What types of slavery exist today?

The most comprehensive website for contemporary slavery issues is from which the following have been taken:

  • There are at least 20 million bonded labourers around the world. People take, or are tricked into taking, a loan (which can be for as little as the cost of medicine for their sick child) but repayment involves working long hours, up to 365 days a year, often in hazardous conditions. They receive basic food and shelter but may never pay off the debt, which can be passed down for generations so children suffer the debt bondage of their parents and grandparents.

  • Forced marriage affects women and girls who are married without choice and live as slaves, often accompanied by physical violence.

  • Forced labour affects people who are illegally recruited by individuals, governments or political parties and forced to work - usually under threat of violence (e.g. in China and Burma).

  • Slavery by descent is where people are either born into a slave class or are from a ‘group’ that society views as suited to being used as slave labour.

  • Trafficking involves the transport and/or trade of children, women, and men from one area to another with the purpose of forcing them into slavery, which often includes forced prostitution.

  • The worst forms of child labour can be described as slavery, and affect an estimated 179 - 246 million children. This includes children who are bonded, trafficked or forced to work as soldiers, domestics, carpet makers, mine workers, on plantations, in factories, restaurants or in commercial sex work.

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