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The Buxton Memorial Fountain, celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834, London.
The Buxton Memorial Fountain, celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834, London.

Slavery is a condition of control over a person, known as a slave, that can be enforced by violence or other forms of coercion against his or her will. Slavery almost always occurs for the purpose of securing the labour of the slave. A specific form, known as chattel slavery, is defined by the absolute legal ownership of a person or persons, including the legal right to buy and sell them.



Look up Slavery on Wiktionary, the free dictionary

The 1926 Slavery Convention described slavery as "...the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised..." Therefore, a slave is someone who cannot leave an owner or employer without explicit permission, and who will be returned if they escape. Therefore a system of slavery — as opposed to the isolated instances found in any society — requires official, legal recognition of ownership, or widespread tacit arrangements with local authorities, by masters who have some influence because of their social and/or economic status.

In the strictest sense of the word, "slaves" are people who are not only owned, but are also not paid, and who have no rights. The word comes from Latin term sclavus, which is thought was originally referring to slavs, peoples from Eastern Europe, including parts of the Byzantine empire. However, the current usage of the word serfdom is not usually synonymous with slavery, because serfs are considered to have had some rights.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines slavery as a form of forced labour. It defines "forced labour" to be "all work or service which is extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily", albeit with certain exceptions: military service, convicts, emergencies and minor community services. [1]. The ILO asserts that child labour amounts to forced labour in which the child's work is exacted from the family as a whole.

In some historical contexts, compulsory labour to repay debts by adults has been regarded as slavery, depending upon the rights held by such individuals.

Mandatory military service in liberal democracies is a controversial subject: one view is that conscripts are not "slaves", as they have substantial legal rights, and any government which took it upon itself to implement conscription, outside a time of extreme national emergency, would eventually face a backlash at an election. Another view interprets acceptance of conscription as a sign of chauvinist, ultra-nationalist and/or fascist ideologies, justified by philosophies such as the Hegelian notion of nations having rights which supersede those of individuals.

In United States legal usage, the term involuntary servitude means a condition of labouring for another without one's willful consent. It does not necessarily mean the complete lack of freedom found in chattel slavery.

Many left wing thinkers have discussed the idea of "wage slavery", although it is generally accepted that payment of a wage signifies "free labour", with the quite different disadvantages experienced by such workers.

Ordinary citizens in totalitarian states are not generally considered slaves, as the only real point of comparison is restrictions on movement.

Unfree labour

For further information, see the article unfree labour.

Most people subject to the above conditions are covered by the generic term unfree labour, which includes all forms of slavery and similar labour systems. Unfree labour is now the preferred term of many scholars, because of the wide variety of ambiguities that may be attached to words like "slavery". One reason is that references to disparate, heterogenous types of labour have been translated into the English as "slavery".

The British historian Sir Moses Finley, one of the most distinguished scholars of ancient slavery, suggested that "slavery" was imprecise and that chattel slavery, in which the slave has no legal rights and could be bought and sold, was sufficiently different from other forms of unfree labour, and a greater violation of human rights, to be labeled distinctively.

Contemporary status of slavery

Slavery is in almost all countries today considered illegal, a criminal activity outlawed by UN conventions. In some states, such as Niger, Myanmar and Sudan, the institution of slavery outside of marriage does still exist, as do child prostitution and sweatshop labour rings in many East Asian, African and Eastern European regions. The Borgen Project has challenged U.S. leaders for doing business with countries that allow slavery.

In sweatshop labour cases, unfree labourers are often told that they are working off a debt, but have no access to an accounting for that debt, and no right to take any higher-paying or less supervised employment. These people may be considered slaves if they are under the impression that challenging these conditions, or leaving in protest of them, would lead to serious bodily harm. Since the mid 1990s, with the opening up of the former Soviet Union, the end of the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the opening up of East and Southeast Asia, there has been an increase in the trafficking in human beings, the movement of people into forced labour. A significant part of that includes sexual exploitation and forced prostitution, with, according to US State Department figures, at least 500,000 women and children forced into prostitution globally and "an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders annually." [2]

Some labour conditions for imported "domestic" workers approach conditions of slavery in developed countries by means of legal loopholes, such as Canada's “Live-in Caregiver Program. [3]. Numerous abuses are reported to the authorities which frequently turn a blind eye. In all countries, people in many occupations are contracted for a period of years, but they are usually paid on a regular basis, are rarely contracted based on a debt, and are rarely sold into that status by their parents or others. In any case, an attempt by an employer to enforce such a contract through violence or threats thereof would be dealt with by the police.

In the early 1990s evidence of illegal "forced labour and debt bondage" amounting to slavery was unearthed in the Amazon region. The Brazilian government has since taken measures against such activities, although concerns continue to be expressed that more stringent steps may be required. In 1995, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced a new series of measures to force compliance with the anti-slavery statutes. In September of 2002, a report to the Ministério de Trabalho (Ministry of Labour), stated that between 1995 and 2001 approximately 3,500 slave labourers had been freed, and that it was estimated that 2,500 people remained in such conditions at that time (O Globo, 2002).

In the late 1990s evidence emerged of large scale child slavery in West Africa to work cocoa plantations , see Chocolate and slavery.

Annual Trafficking in Persons report

Main article: trafficking in human beings

The United States fifth annual Trafficking in Persons report says the 14 nations that are not doing enough to stop international human trafficking are (new to the list) Bolivia, Cambodia, Jamaica, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Togo, United Arab Emirates and (continuing to be on the list) Myanmar, Cuba, Ecuador, North Korea, Sudan and Venezuela.

How can I become a slave?

Its simple: hard work.

Historically, slaves were often those humans of a different ethnicity, nationality, religion, sex or race than the dominant or aspirationally dominant group; typically taken prisoner as a result of warfare, capture meant death or slavery if no one paid ransom. Societies characterized by poverty, population pressures, and cultural and technological lag are frequently exporters of slaves to more developed nations. Today most slaves are rural people forced to move to cities, or those purchased in rural areas and sold into slavery in cities. These moves take place due to loss of subsistence agriculture, thefts of land, and population increases.

Some researchers have recently suggested that ancient Greco-Roman slavery may have been related to the practice of infanticide. Unwanted infants were exposed to nature to die; these were then often rescued by slavetraders, who raised them as slaves.

In many cultures, persons convicted of serious crimes could be sold into slavery. The proceeds from this sale were often used to compensate the victims.


Europe and the Mediterranean

The ancient Mediterranean civilisations

See also: Slavery in the ancient Mediterranean; Slavery in Abrahamic religions.

Slavery in the ancient Mediterranean cultures and the Islamic Caliphate was a mixture of debt-slavery, marriage, slavery as a punishment for crime, and the enslavement of prisoners of war.

Medieval Europe

Main article: Slavery in medieval Europe

During the medieval period, slaves were traded openly in many cities, including Marseille, Dublin and Prague, and many were sold to buyers in the Middle East

Early Modern Europe

In the 17th century, slavery was used as punishment by conquering English Parliament armies against native Catholics in Ireland. Between the years 1649 and 1653, during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland by the New Model Army under the command of Oliver Cromwell, thousands of Irish Catholics were forced into slavery. Cromwell had a deep religious dislike of the Catholic religion, and many Irish Catholics who had participated in Confederate Ireland had all their land confiscated and were transported to the West Indies as slaves.

Modern Europe

Main articles: Holocaust; Nazi concentration camps.

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime created many Arbeitslager (labour camps) in Germany and Eastern Europe. Prisoners in Nazi labour camps were worked to death on short rations and in bad conditions, or killed if they became unable to work. Hundreds of thousands of people, possibly millions, died as a direct result of forced labour under the Nazis.

Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East

For Muslim views on slavery see Religion and slavery.

The Arab world traded in slaves like many other cultures of the time. The Moors starting in the 8th century raided mediterranean coastal areas and would carry away sometimes whole villages to the Moorish slave markets on the Barbary Coast. The slave trade from East Africa to Arabia was dominated by Arab and African traders in the coastal cities of Zanzibar, Dar Es Salaam and Mombasa.

Many Slavic males from the Balkans, and Turkic and Circassian males from the Caucasus Mountains and the eastern Black Sea regions were taken away from their homes and families and enlisted into special soldier classes of the army of the Ottoman Empire. These soldier classes were named Janissaries in the Balkans and Asia Minor, and Mamelukes in Egypt. The Janissaries eventually became a decisive factor in the intrigues of the Constantinople court of the Ottoman sultans, while the Mamelukes were mainly responsible for the expulsion of the Crusaders from Palestine.

Slavery in Africa

Slavery in North Africa

Slaves were imported from Europe to North Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Slave-taking persisted into the 19th century when Barbary pirates would capture ships and enslave the crew. In all, about 1.5 million Europeans were transported to the Barbary Coast. It was a period when Europe was preoccupied by sectarian wars and European navies were depleted. The trade was run by the Moors and the expeditions were often captained by Europeans with North African crews. In the early 19th century, European powers started to take action to free Christian slaves. The first major action was the bombardment of Algiers in 1816.

Slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa

See also the articles Atlantic slave trade and triangular trade.

Slavery was common and widespread in Africa long before the 19th century, perpetrated on Africans by Arabs or other Africans, usually but not always of a competing tribe. "Slavery was endemic in Africa, part of the structure of everyday life," Fernand Braudel has noted. "Slavery came in different guises in different societies: there were court slaves, slaves incorporated into princely armies, domestic and household slaves, slaves working on the land, in industry, as couriers and intermediaries, even as traders" (Braudel 1984 p 435). Two aggressive slave-trading civilizations intensified it out of all recognition, and during the 16th century Europe began to outpace Islam in the export traffic. The Dutch imported slaves from Asia into their colony in South Africa. The United Kingdom, which held vast colonial territories on the continent (including South Africa), made the practice of slavery illegal in these regions. Ironically, the end of the slave trade and the decline of slavery was imposed upon Africa by its European conquerors. This action is what today may be called an instance of cultural imperialism.

The nature of the slave societies differed greatly across the continent. There were large plantations worked by slaves in Egypt, the Sudan, and Zanzibar, but this was not a typical use of slaves in Africa as a whole. In some slave societies, slaves were protected and incorporated into the slave-owning family. In others, slaves were brutally abused, and even used for human sacrifices. Despite the vast numbers of slaves exported from Africa, it is thought that the majority of African slaves remained in Africa, continuing as slaves in the regions where they were first captured.

Prior to the 16th century, the bulk of slaves exported from Africa were shipped from East Africa to the Arabian peninsula. Zanzibar became a leading port on this trade. Arab slave traders differed from European traders in that they would often capture slaves themselves, sometimes penetrating deep into the continent. They also differed in that their market greatly preferred the purchase of female slaves over male slaves.

The Middle Passage, the crossing of the Atlantic to the Americas, endured by slaves laid out in rows in the holds of ships, was only one element of the well-known triangular trade engaged in by Portuguese, Dutch, French and British. Ships having landed slaves in Caribbean ports would take on sugar, indigo, raw cotton, and later coffee, and make for Liverpool, Nantes, Lisbon or Amsterdam. Ships leaving European ports for West Africa would carry printed cotton textiles, some originally from India, copper utensils and bangles, pewter plates and pots, iron bars more valued than gold, hats, trinkets, gunpowder and firearms and alcohol. Tropical shipworms were eliminated in the cold Atlantic waters, and at each unloading, a profit was made.

The transatlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves were captured for bounty by their own people in West Africa and shipped by European traders to the colonies of the New World. As a result of the Spanish War of Succession, the United Kingdom obtained the monopoly (asiento de negros) of transporting captive Africans to Spanish America. It is estimated that over the centuries, twelve to twenty million people were shipped as slaves from Africa by European traders, of whom some 15 percent died during the terrible voyage, many during the arduous journey through the Middle Passage. The great majority were shipped to the Americas, but also went to Europe and the south of Africa.

Some historians conclude that the total loss in persons removed, those who died on the arduous march to coastal slave marts and those killed in slave raids, far exceeded the 65-75 million inhabitants remaining in Sub-Saharan Africa at the trade's end. Others believe that slavers had a vested interest in capturing rather than killing, and in keeping their captives alive; and that this coupled with the disproportionate removal of males and the introduction of new crops from the Americas (cassava, maize) would have limited general population decline to particular regions of western Africa around 1760-1810, and in Mozambique and neighbouring areas half a century later. There has also been speculation that within Africa, females were most often captured as brides, with their male protectors being a "bycatch" who would have been killed if there had not been an export market for them.

Modern Africa

Slavery persists in Africa more than in all other continents. Slavery in Mauritania was legally abolished by laws passed in 1905,1961,and 1981, but several human rights organizations are reporting that the practice continues there. The trading of children has been reported in modern Nigeria and Benin. In parts of Ghana, a family may be punished for an offense by having to turn over a virgin female to serve as a sex slave within the offended family. In this instance, the woman does not gain the title of "wife". In the Sudan slavery continues as part of an ongoing civil war. Evidence emerged in the late 1990s of systematic slavery in cacao plantations in west Africa, see the chocolate and slavery article.

Slavery in America

Slavery among indigenous people of America

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica the most common forms of slavery were those of prisoners-of-war and debtors. People unable to pay back a debt could be sentenced to work as a slave to the person owed until the debt was worked off. Slavery was not usually hereditary; children of slaves were born free. In Tahuantinsuyu, or the Inca Empire, workers were subject to a mita in lieu of taxes which they paid by working for the government. Each ayllu, or extended family, would decide which family member to send to do the work.

Slavery in Brazil

During the colonial epoch, slavery was a mainstay of the Brazilian economy, especially in mining and sugar cane production. The Clapham Sect, a group of Victorian Evangelical politicians, campaigned during most of the 19th century for the United Kingdom to use its influence and power to stop the traffic of slaves to Brazil. Besides moral qualms, the low cost of slave-produced Brazilian sugar meant that British colonies in the West Indies were unable to match the market prices of Brazilian sugar, and each Briton was consuming 16 pounds (7 kg) of sugar a year by the 19th century. This combination led to intensive pressure from the British government for Brazil to end this practice, which it did by steps over several decades. Slavery was legally ended May 13 by the Lei Áurea ("Golden Law") of 1888.

Brazil obtained 37% of all African slaves traded, and more than 3 million slaves were sent to this one country. The Portuguese were the first to initiate the slave trade, and the last to end the slave trade. Starting around 1550, the Portuguese began to trade African slaves to work the sugar plantations once the native Tupi deteriorated.

The African slaves were useful for the sugar plantations in many ways. First, African slaves had immunities to European diseases. The white workers were less able to fend off deadly diseases of the Caribbean, such as malaria. Second, the benefits of the slaves far exceeded the costs. After 2-3 years, slaves worked off their worth, and plantation owners began to make profits from them. Plantation owners made lucrative profits even though there was approximately a 10% death rate per year, mainly due to harsh working conditions.

The very harsh manual labour of the sugar cane fields saw slaves use hoes to dig large trenches. The slaves planted sugar cane in the trenches and then used their bare hands to spread manure. The average life span of a slave was eight years. In the mid to late 19th century, many Amerindians were enslaved to work on rubber plantations. See Içá for more information.

Slavery in the British and French Caribbean

Main article: Slavery in the British and French Caribbean

Slavery was commonly used in the parts of the Caribbean controlled by France or the British Empire. The Lesser Antilles islands of Barbados, Antigua, Martinique and Guadeloupe, which were the first important slave societies of the Caribbean, began the widespread use of African slaves by the end of the 17th century, as their economies converted from tobacco to sugar production.

By the middle of the 18th century, British Jamaica and French Saint-Domingue had become the largest slave societies of the region, rivaling Brazil as a destination for enslaved Africans. Due to overwork, the death rates for Caribbean slaves were higher than birth rates. The conditions led to increasing numbers of slave revolts, campaigns against slavery in Europe, and the abolition of slavery in the European empires.

Status of African slaves compared to Caribbean slaves

African slaves and Caribbean slaves both received little respect from their masters, who looked at them as objects for work and trade. Slavery and slave trading was widespread in both the Caribbean islands and in Africa. Many of the slaves were unable to reproduce because the stress of the work caused still births in women and sterility in men.

Caribbean slavery granted the masters complete freedom over the control of their slaves. Caribbean sugar plantations resembled factories in a modern capitalist society. In contrast, African slavery was less harsh than slavery on Caribbean sugar estates. African kinship groups sought to assimilate new slaves into their circle. Many slave villages worked under their own management and paid tribute for their services. The family lifestyle of slavery in many parts of Africa had a closer bond as smaller groups usually had face-to-face relationships.

Slavery in North America

Main article: Slavery in Canada, History of slavery in the United States, Atlantic slave trade

The first imported Africans were brought as indentured servants, not slaves. They were required, as white indentured servants were, to serve seven years. Many were brought to the British North American colonies, specifically Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. However, the slave trade did not immediately expand in North America.

Slavery under European rule began with importation of European indentured labourers, was followed by the enslavement of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean, and eventually was primarily replaced with Africans imported through a large slave trade.

The shift from indentured servants to African slaves was prompted by a growing lower class of former servants who had worked through the terms of their indentures and thus became competitors of their former masters. These newly freed servants were rarely able to support themselves comfortably, and the tobacco industry was increasingly dominated by large planters. This caused domestic unrest culminating in Bacon's Rebellion.

It is unclear whether the first Africans in North America were chattel slaves or other kinds of unfree labourers, such as indentured servants. In any case, chattel slavery gradually became the norm.

Example of slave treatment: Back deeply scarred from whipping
Example of slave treatment: Back deeply scarred from whipping

Several slave rebellions took place during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (also known as the Freedom Ordinance) under the Continental Congress, slavery was prohibited in the Midwest. In the East, though, slavery was not abolished until later. The importation of slaves into the United States was banned on January 1, 1808; but not the internal slave trade, or involvement in the international slave trade externally.

Aggregation of northern free states gave rise to one contiguous geographic area, north of the Ohio River and the old Mason-Dixon line. This separation of a free North and an enslaved South launched a massive political, cultural and economic struggle.

Refugees from slavery fled the South across the Ohio River to the North via the Underground Railroad, and their presence agitated Northerners. Midwestern state governments asserted States Rights arguments to refuse Federal jurisidiction over fugitives.

The Dred Scott decision of 1857 asserted that slavery's presence in the Midwest was nominally lawful (when owners crossed into free states) and this turned Northern public opinion even further against slavery. After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, armed conflict broke out in Kansas Territory, where the question of whether it would be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state had been left to the inhabitants. The radical abolitionist John Brown was active in the mayhem and killing in "Bleeding Kansas." Anti-slavery legislators took office under the banner of the Republican Party.

In the election of 1860, the Republicans swept Abraham Lincoln into the Presidency. Lincoln however, did not appear on the ballots in most southern states and his election split the nation along sectional lines. After decades of controlling the Federal Government, the Southern states seceded from the U.S. (the Union) to form the Confederate States of America.

Northern leaders like Lincoln viewed the prospect of a new slave nation, with control over the Mississippi River and the West, as unacceptable. This led to the outbreak of the Civil War.

The Civil War spelled the end for chattel slavery in America. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a symbolic gesture that proclaimed freedom for slaves within the Confederacy, although not those in strategically important border states which had remained in the Union. Specifically exempted were slave states Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, as well as parts of Virginia and Louisiana then under Federal occupation. However, the proclamation made the abolition of slavery an official war goal and it was implemented as the Union captured territory from the Confederacy. Slaves in many parts of the south were freed by Union armies or when they simply left their former owners. Many joined the Union Army as workers or troops, and many more fled to Northern cities.

Legally, slaves within the United States remained enslaved until the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865 (with final recognition of the amendment on December 18), eight months after the cessation of hostilities. Slavery remained legal in Delaware and Kentucky until that time (Missouri and Maryland had officially abolished slavery during the war years). Only in Kentucky did a significant slave population remain by that time.

Slavery in Asia


Unfree labour has existed in India for millenia, in different forms. The most common forms have been kinds of bonded labour. During the epoch of the Islamic empires in India and the Mughals, debt bondage reached its peak, and it was common for money lenders to make slaves of peasants and others who failed to repay debts. Under these practices, more than one generation could be forced into unfree labour; for example, a son could be sold into bonded labour for life to pay off the debt, along with interest.

Much of India was ruled by the so-called Slave Dynasty from 1206-1290: Qutb-ud-din Aybak, a slave of Muhammad Ghori rose to power following his master's death. For almost a century his descendants ruled presiding over the introduction of Tankas and building of Qutub Minar.


Main article: Slavery in Japan

Slavery in Japan was, for most of its history, endogenous, since the export and import of slaves was restricted by the fact of Japan being a group of islands. The export of a slave from Japan is recorded in 3rd century Chinese history, although the system involved is unclear. These slaves were called Seikō (生口) (lit. "living mouth").

In the 8th century, a slave was called Nuhi (奴婢) and series of laws on slavery was issued. In an area of present-day Ibaraki prefecture, out of a population of 190,000, around 2,000 were slaves; the proportion is believed to have been even higher in western Japan.

By the time of the Sengoku period (1467-1615), the attitude that slavery was anachronistic had become widespread. In a meeting with Catholic priests, Oda Nobunaga was presented with a black slave, the first recorded encounter between a Japanese and an African. In 1588, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered all slave trading to be abolished. This was continued by his successors.

As the Empire of Japan annexed Asian countries, from the late 19th century onwards, archaic institutions including slavery were abolished in those countries. However, during the Pacific War of 1937-45, the Japanese military used hundreds of thousands of civilians and prisoners of war as forced labour, on projects such as the Burma Railway. (For further details, see Japanese war crimes.)


Endogenous slaves existed in Korea. It is widely known that the last names "Chun", "Bang", "Ji", and "Chuk" are recognizable as last names having once been given to slaves.

Abolitionist movements

Main article: Abolitionism

Slavery's origins are prehistoric. So, too, are movements to free large or distinct groups of them. Moses led Israelite slaves from ancient Egypt in the Biblical Book of Exodus - possibly the first detailed account of a movement to free slaves. However, abolitionism should be distinguished from efforts to help a particular group of slaves, or to restrict one practice, such as the slave trade.

In 1772, a legal case concerning James Somerset made it illegal to remove a slave from England against his will. A similar case, that of Joseph Knight, took place in Scotland five years later and ruled slavery to be contrary to the law of Scotland.

Following the work of campaigners in the United Kingdom, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed by Parliament on March 25, 1807. The act imposed a fine of £100 for every slave found aboard a British ship. The intention was to entirely outlaw the slave trade within the whole British Empire.

The Slavery Abolition Act, passed on August 23, 1833, outlawed slavery itself in the British colonies. On August 1, 1834 all slaves in the British Empire were emancipated, but still indentured to their former owners in an apprenticeship system which was finally abolished in 1838.

Proclammation of the abolition of slavery by Victor Hughes in the Guadeloupe, the 1st November 1794
Proclammation of the abolition of slavery by Victor Hughes in the Guadeloupe, the 1st November 1794

France never authorized slavery on its mainland, but authorized it in some of its overseas possessions. On February 4, 1794, Abbé Grégoire and the Convention abolished slavery. Slaves in Haiti revolted when their masters didn't accept the new rules from the metropolis. It was re-established in 1802 by Napoleon, but failed to take hold because of the Haitian Slave Revolt in 1803 which gained them their independence. Haiti became the first Black republic in 1803.

Sierra Leone was established as a country for former slaves of the British Empire back in Africa. Liberia served an analogous purpose for American slaves. The goal of the abolitionists was repatriation of the slaves to Africa. Some trade unions as well didn't want the cheap labour of former slaves around. Nevertheless, most of them stayed in America.

Slaves in the United States who escaped ownership would often make their way north to Canada via the "Underground Railroad". Famously active abolitionists of the U.S. include Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass and John Brown.

The 1926 Slavery Convention, an initiative of the League of Nations, was a turning point in banning global slavery. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the UN General Assembly, explicity banned slavery. The United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery was convened to outlaw and ban slavery worldwide, including child slavery. In December 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which was developed from the Universal Declaraction of Human Rights. Article 8 of this international treaty bans slavery. The treaty came into force in March 1976 after it had been ratified by 35 nations. As of November 2003, 104 nations had ratified the treaty.


In June 1997, Tony Hall, a Democratic representative for Dayton, Ohio proposed a national apology by the U.S. government for slavery. This was at a time when the Catholic Church in France apologised for its silence and begged "forgiveness for Catholic inaction as regime sent Jews to their deaths in '40s".

At the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, at Durban, South Africa, the US representatives walked out, on the instructions of Colin Powell. A South African Government spokesperson claimed that "the general perception among all delegates is that the US does not want to confront the real issues of slavery and all its manifestations." However, the US delegates argued that they left over a resolution that equated Zionism with racism.

At the same time the British, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese delegations blocked an EU apology for slavery.

The issue of an apology is linked to reparations for slavery and is still being pursued across the world. E.g. The Jamaican Reparations Movement approved its declaration and action Plan.


Main article: Reparations for slavery

As noted above, there have been movements to achieve reparations for those held in involuntary servitude, or sometimes their descendants. There is a growing modern movement to donate funds achieved in reparations efforts not to the descendants of those held as slaves in prior generations, but instead to donate them to those freed from slavery in this generation, in other countries and circumstances.

In general, reparation for being held in slavery is handled as a civil law matter in almost every country. This is often decried as a serious problem, since slaves are exactly those people who have no access to the legal process. Systems of fines and reparations paid from fines collected by authorities, rather than in civil courts, have been proposed to alleviate this in some nations.

In the United States, the reparations movement often cites the 40 acres and a mule decree. Recent effort have also targeted businesses that profited from the slave trade and issuing insurance on slaves.

In Africa, the 2nd World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission was convened in Ghana in 2000. Its deliberations concluded with a Petition being served in the International Court at the Hague for US$777 trillion against the United States, Canada, and European Union members for "unlawful removal and destruction of Petitioners' mineral and human resources from the African continent" between 1503 up to the end of the colonialism era in the late 1950s and 1960s. This was the first time a price had been put on African Reparations. [4]

Economics of slavery

According to the British Anti-Slavery Society, "Although there is no longer any state which recognizes any claim by a person to a right of property over another, there are an estimated 2.7 million people throughout the world, mainly children, in conditions of slavery." They further note that slavery, particularly child slavery, was on the rise in 2003. According to a broader definition used by Free the Slaves, another advocacy group, there are 27 million people in slavery today, spread all over the world. This is, also according to that group:

  • The largest number of people that has ever been in slavery at any point in world history.
  • The smallest percentage of the total human population that has ever been enslaved at once.
  • Reducing the price of slaves to as low as US$40 in Mali for young adult male labourers, to a high of US$1000 or so in Thailand for HIV-free young females suitable for use in brothels (where they invariably contract HIV). This represents the price paid to the person, or parents.
  • This represents the lowest price that there has ever been for a slave in raw labour terms—while the price of a comparable male slave in 1850 America would have been about US$1000 in the currency of the time, that represents US$38,000 in today's dollars, thus slaves, at least of that category, now cost only one one-thousandth (0.1%) of their price 150 years ago.

As a result, the economics of slavery is stark: the yield of profit per year for those buying and controlling a slave is over 800% on average, as opposed to the 5% per year that would have been the expected payback for buying a slave in colonial times. This combines with the high potential to lose a slave (have them stolen, escape, or freed by unfriendly authorities) to yield what are called disposable people—those who can be exploited intensely for a short time and then discarded, such as the prostitutes thrown out on city streets to die once they contract HIV, or those forced to work in mines.

Potential for total abolition

Those 2.7 million people produce a gross economic product of US $1.4 billion. This is also a smaller percentage of the world economy than slavery has produced at any prior point in human history. That, plus the universal criminal status of slavery, the lack of moral arguments for it in modern discourse, and the many conventions and agreements to abolish it worldwide, make it likely that it can be eliminated in this generation, according to Free The Slaves. There are no nations whose economies would be substantially affected by the true abolition of slavery.

A first step towards this objective is the Cocoa Protocol, by which the entire cocoa industry worldwide has accepted full moral and legal responsibility for the entire comprehensive outcome of their production processes. Negotiations for this protocol were initiated for cotton, sugar and other commodity items in the 19th century—taking about 140 years to complete. Thus it seems that this is also a turning point in history, where all commodity markets can slowly lever licensing and other requirements to ensure that slavery is eliminated from production, one industry at a time, as a sectoral simultaneous policy that does not cause disadvantages for any one market player.

Generally, consumer moral purchasing efforts are ineffective against slavery since slave labour to get the charcoal to produce rolled steel in Brazil, or on coffee or sugar plantations, is so far down the production chain that the final producers of such products do not know about everything involved.

Famous slaves and former slaves

From the list of famous slaves:


  • Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, vol. III: The Perspective of the World (1984, originally published in French, 1979.)

See also

External links - The contemporary status of slavery

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