Modern Abolition

Learn about Five Forms of Slavery

Chattel slavery is the most common form of slavery known to Americans. This system, which allowed people — considered legal property — to be bought, sold and owned forever, was supported by the US and European powers in the 16th – 18th centuries.

Today, most observers agree there are five major forms of slavery occurring in the world. Each form represents the basic truths of enslavement: The victims are forced to work involuntarily or are unable to leave once they have started.

The enslaved face the threat of physical, mental or emotional punishments and are deceived and abused daily. If a person’s labor is exploited by such means, any previous consent to work for the enslaver becomes irrelevant as they are now being held against their will.

Thankfully, slavery is no longer legally protected anywhere in the world. Yet, the control and exploitation of one human being by another still remains.

  • Forced Labor — Describes all types of coerced work that an individual must provide against his or her will. Contemporary forced laborers are treated as property to be exploited commercially, much in the same way African Americans were regarded during the antebellum period in American history.
  • Bonded Labor or Debt Labor — Describes slavery in which an individual is compelled to work in order to repay a debt. It differs from other forms in that, oftentimes the laborer and the employer initially enter into a mutual agreement. However, contract conditions may be illegal and/or vastly more beneficial to the employer than the laborer. These workers become slaves when they continue working, but cannot pay off their initial debt because of exploitative contract terms and, thus, cannot leave.
  • Sex Slavery — Describes women, men or children that are exploited in the commercial sex industry, which may include: pornography, prostitution, erotic entertainment, strip clubs, online escort services, residential brothels, hostess clubs, fake massage parlors or any exchange of a sex act for something of value. Money may or may not be exchanged; other things that may be traded for sex acts are drugs, shelter, food or clothes. A person’s initial consent to participate is irrelevant if that person is held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force.
  • Child Slavery — Describes all child labor obtained from individuals under the age of 18 through the means of force, deception or coercion. Children can be enslaved in debt bondage, forced labor, prostitution, armies, domestic work and other forms of hazardous work. Today, forced child labor exists in nearly every industry around the globe.
  • Domestic Servitude — Describes slaves that are forced to work in extremely hidden workplaces: private homes. Domestic workers become slaves when their employer uses force, fraud or coercion to control or convince an employee that they have no choice but to continue working. Isolating environments, unfamiliar languages, confiscated travel documents and restricted mobility are often connected to this form of slavery.