Modern Day Abolition

Modern Abolition

Slavery has been outlawed globally since 1981, when Mauritania became the last country to legally abolish the practice.

Although chattel slavery — where one person is the property of another — is now technically illegal, it's estimated that 20.9 million men, women and children are enslaved throughout the world today.

Modern slavery is less visible and can take many forms: exploited seamstresses in sweatshops; kidnapped fishermen; child soldiers; laborers so deeply in debt that their obligation can never be repaid; people coerced into the commercial sex industry... the list goes on.

Human trafficking, a more widely used term, most often refers to the business of trading people as commodities – similar to the transatlantic and internal slave trade in the United States before 1865. Trafficking, or the trade of people, does not require victims to be transported across a national border. In fact, trading often occurs within countries and local communities. An illegal and largely invisible market in trafficked humans exists around the world, fueled by poverty, greed and corruption, ignorance, porous national borders, ineffective law enforcement and a demand for paid sex.

“Modern slavery,” “trafficking in persons,” and “human trafficking” are often used synonymously as umbrella terms and often refer to the same idea: Men, women, or children enslaved to a master.

Note: The Freedom Center uses data collected by the International Labor Organization unless otherwise noted.

The Economics of Slavery

At its heart, slavery is an inhuman perversion of a simple economic principle: The best way to maximize profits is by minimizing the cost of labor. Of the 20.9 million slaves in the world today, 90% are enslaved by the private economy – individuals and businesses using enslaved labor to generate a profit. Carpet factories, textile mills, fishing boats, brick kilns and charcoal camps – amongst many other industries – often use slaves to reduce labor costs.

In today’s global economy, the demand for cheap goods and services has created a labor system of slaves. Consumers unknowingly support this practice by preferring less-expensive goods, made so through enslaved labor. In other parts of the world, labor traffickers round up impoverished, desperate laborers, helping them enter other countries, like the United States, where they are entrapped in a bonded labor arrangement.

In addition to an inexpensive labor force, the sale of human beings is a lucrative industry with a vast supply of men, women and children, who are easily replenished and readily available. According to the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the human trafficking market is worth more than $32 billion, just behind drug trafficking and tied with the illegal arms industry. Slave traders realize trafficking is a profitable criminal enterprise, often with very little risk. Traffickers, often with police complicity, prey on desperate men, women and children to build an underground supply of human beings for sale.

Ohio Human Trafficking

Slavery occurs in each of the fifty states, including Kentucky and Ohio. For more information on human trafficking in Ohio, check out the 2012 Report on Domestic Sex Trafficking in Ohio.

The Five Forms of Slavery Today

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 lawful and supported by the United States and European powers from the 16th – 18th centuries. Thankfully, slavery is no longer legally protected anywhere in the world. Yet, the control and exploitation of one human being by another still remains.

Today, most observers agree there are five major forms of slavery occurring in the world, where the enslaved face deception and the threat of physical, mental or emotional abuse. Each form is tied to a basic truth about enslavement: Victims are either forced to work against their will or are prevented from leaving the situation.

  1. 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. If someone's labor is exploited, any previous consent to work for the enslaver becomes irrelevant, as they are now being held against their will.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.