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Modern Slavery

Updated on September 26, 2015
Slave Auction Poster
Slave Auction Poster

Although Chattel Slavery is illegal today (there may be a few countries where it is legal) there are still millions of slaves in the world, mostly in Pakistan and even the UK, which has been trying to institute Benefit Slavery since the Conservative-Liberal Coalition came into power in 2010, and in the USA there is a trend to deny or minimise the degrading and brutalising effects of slavery on slaves and their owners.

For the avoidance of doubt, nothing said here is intended to be a defence of any form of slavery.

Modern Slavery

Slavery comes in many forms. The Walk Free Foundation ( who produce the annual Global Slavery Index) say:

Slavery is the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion.

Their definition includes human trafficking, and defines 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.

Includes slavery-like practices: debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children (including in armed conflict) and descent-based slavery.
(The Slavery Convention (1926) and Supplementary Slavery Convention (1956))

and Forced labour, as

All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.
(ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29))

Under that definition there are nearly 30 million slaves in the world. This is 0.4% of the worlds population, roughly one person in 250 world wide, most of whom are invisible to the West because they do not have white skins. In terms of numbers the top three are India, China and Pakistan, but in terms of percentage of population the top three are Mauretania, Haiti and Pakistan. The United Kingdom, Ireland and Iceland are the bottom three.

The Global Slavery index could be construed as including the current UK government's efforts to force unemployed people to work for supermarkets for nothing under threat of having their benefits cut (Some jobseekers have had benefits cut for attending a job interview rather than their shelf stacking task in a local supermarket) but these people are probably not included in the 4,400 slaves estimated to be in the United Kingdom.

Slaves Exposed For Sale
Slaves Exposed For Sale

The Wrap

Slavery is still around and there are far too many slaves around for anyone to feel comfortable, even though the slavery that remains is very different from the Chattel Slavery of the 17th to 19th centuries, which was largely created by economic necessity and the brutal nature of the times.

Some, however, apparently seek to minimise its darkest aspects while overemphasising the few benefits it may have conferred for some and the fact that from the earliest days of slavery black slaves, slaves for life, and therefore permanent assets to their owners, were treated better than white indentured servants and convicts who were temporary slaves (eric Williams noted this in 1944 in his Book Capitalism and Slavery). The source I used for this statement appears reliable but is not unbiased (see below)

Slavery denial such as this resembles and is rooted in the same ground as Holocaust Denial and the denial, essential for the sanity of today's capitalists, that poor people really ARE poor and that the jobless have difficulty finding work.

Further reading

Slavery Today

Global Slavery Index 2013: findings

Columnist Hasn’t Seen ’12 Years A Slave,’ But He’s Sure It’s Too Hard On Slavery

This is in, which is not unbiased and no reference to the original source is given


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    • AlexK2009 profile image

      AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Thanks for the Correction Ron. I normally spot satire but must have been tired that day. I have corrected the article and added caveats.

      It make me wonder how much accepted history started as satire.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I was outraged at reading that the Texas Board of Education has issued guidelines that say slaves were “unpaid interns.” But I wondered why I hadn’t heard of it – it should have been all over the news. So I googled it. I found plenty of sites where the story was repeated, but I noticed that it was not mentioned by any reputable news outlets. I found what appears to be the original story on When I saw that it included statements like, “they made lifelong connections and built some strong resumes in the process. Not to mention the acclaimed music they were encouraged to write,” it indicated to me that this was satire, not reportage.

      Certainly we’ve seen the impulse to deny history by some right wingers. But this particular story does not appear to be true.