Slavery was officially abolished worldwide at the 1927 Slavery Convention. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.
Slavery is illegal everywhere and yet it still exists everywhere. Experts estimate that today there are 27 million people enslaved around the world (source). Outright “plantation slavery” doesn’t exist anymore. Slavery today is hidden and has taken on many different and subtler forms like sex trafficking, bonded labor or debt bondage, forced domestic labor, forced agricultural labor etc. It takes place outside of the public’s view, in brothels, homes, fields, restaurants… There is still a strong racist element in modern slavery, but it’s not exclusively racist. Sex slavery for example is not. Domestic slavery also is not necessarily racist.
Types of modern slavery
1. Bonded labor or debt bondage
Poverty … forces many parents to offer themselves or their own children as collateral against a loan. Though they are promised they will work only until their debt is paid off, the reality is much grimmer. Thanks to inflated interest rates and fresh debts incurred while being fed and housed, the debt becomes impossible to pay off. As a result, it is often inherited by the bonded laborer’s children, perpetuating a vicious cycle that can claim several generations. (source)
2. Sex slavery
Women and girls are promised jobs and income abroad but on arrival their passports are taken away and they are forced to work in the sex industry in order to pay off the debt they owe the “transporters”. Outright kidnapping also occurs. Not all human trafficking is linked to or ends up in slavery, but some does.
Sex slavery is not necessarily an international problem or a problem linked to migration. Fathers, husbands or brothers can also force the women in the family to prostitute themselves locally, sometimes as a means to service debt. Girls are often even sold by their families.
More on women’s rights.
3. Forced labor
This is also linked to human trafficking. People pay “transporters” to take them to another country where they hope to find a job and a better life. Instead, they are forced to work in order to pay their debt. Needless to say that they often work in harsh and hazardous conditions. Organized crime plays an important role in this an in other types of modern slavery.
Another type of forced labor are the labor camps for “criminals” that exist in some countries, such as China (where they are called Loagai).
4. Child labor
Here’s a separate post on child labor. Child labor is forced labor and hence slavery because children do not choose to work but are forced to because of the poverty of their parents.
5. Domestic slavery
This often occurs in rich countries, and especially in the upper classes of rich countries. Diplomats also sometimes harbor unpaid domestic workers because they find it relatively easy to by-pass immigration checks.
“Slave redemption” is an effort to buy the freedom of slaves. But it’s controversial.
When you have people running around buying up slaves, you help create a market demand for more slaves… It’s like paying the burglar for the television set he just stole. … The slave traders end up with more money, buying more guns and hiring more thugs to go out and take more slaves. (source).
Moreover, you end up with people picking up other people who are not slaves and presenting them as slaves in order to receive some money for their “freedom”.