Contemporary slavery

Child carrying bricks

Children carrying bricks, Bangladesh, 2009. Courtesy of Jasim Sarker

What is slavery?

Slavery is a situation in which a person is:

  • owned or controlled by an employer
  • forced to work
  • dehumanised
  • physically constrained

Slavery has been described by Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves as “exploitation, violence and injustice all rolled into one”. Slaves are not treated as human beings with needs, feelings and rights, but as commodities. Their freedom of movement is restricted, which means they cannot escape from their situation. Control by their owner is backed up by verbal and mental abuse and threats, actual physical violence, social isolation, and sometimes sexual abuse. Slaves are usually paid nothing or very little. In some cases, their masters change the legal and social identity of their slaves by forcing them to change their name and religion. They can also exercise control over any children born to their slaves.

Slavery past and present

Slavery has been a feature of many societies back to antiquity, such as ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, India and China. In more recent times, though, slavery has been particularly identified with the Transatlantic Slave Trade from the 16th to the 19th century. During that period, millions of Africans were forcibly transferred on slave ships to North and South America and the Caribbean to work on plantations and estates, in fields and down mines.

Slaves were captured violently, separated from their families and endured the humiliation of being publicly sold. At their destination their life was one of cruel and degrading treatment, extremely hard labour for no payment, followed by death far from the place where they had grown up. Their children were born into slavery and knew no other life.

The main shippers of slaves from Africa were the Brazilians, Portuguese, British, French, Spanish and Dutch. The largest number of slaves transported from one location to a single destination were those taken from Angola to Brazil.

The actual numbers will never be known but it is estimated that at least 12.5 million slaves were transported from western and eastern Africa. They were shackled and forced to endure completely inhumane conditions for the passage to the Americas. In one particularly infamous case in 1781 the British captain of the slave ship Zong, Luke Collingwood, ordered 122 slaves to be thrown overboard while they were still alive, in order to make an insurance claim. As many as 1.5 million people are believed to have died during the Atlantic crossing. The actual numbers of people enslaved over this whole period were higher than the numbers transported, because in their new locations, children of slaves were born into servitude. In 1820 the slave population of the United States was approximately 1.5 million; in 1860 it was nearly 4 million. This population growth was exceptional. In most other territories deaths outpaced births, so they continued to transport more slaves from Africa.

Profits from Transatlantic slavery

Penny Lane

Street in Liverpool, made famous in a Beatles' song, named after a prominent slave-trader. Courtesy of Ron Davies, on behalf of National Museums Liverpool

The products made by slave labour in the Americas - luxury goods at the time, such as cotton, sugar, coffee and rum - were shipped to Europe. Then Europeans sold these goods to African rulers in exchange for more enslaved people, in what was called the “triangular trade”.

The countries that dominated the slave trade were made richer by slavery. The huge profits they made contributed to the Industrial Revolution in countries such as Britain, and boosted the economic development of many British cities. Throughout the period of Transatlantic slavery, it was completely legal to use and profit from slave labour.

Many early industrialists who are honoured through statues and street names in Britain’s port cities made their fortunes through slavery. For example, in Liverpool, streets such as Earle Street, Tarleton Street and Cunliffe Street were named after slave traders. Foster Cunliffe, three times mayor of Liverpool in the 18th century, and his sons Robert and Ellis, were all prominent slave traders. Gildart Street on the east of the city centre is named after Richard Gildart, Liverpool’s MP from 1734-54 and owner of three ships involved in the slave trade. And Penny Lane, made famous in the Beatles’ song, was named after James Penny, a slave ship owner and staunch opponent of abolition, who argued that if the slave trade were abolished it would “greatly affect” the town of Liverpool, “whose fall, in that case, would be as rapid as its rise has been astonishing”.

Transatlantic slavers made substantial profits from the slave trade, and the planters who bought slaves made huge profits from their labour. In the United States, slaves were regarded as long-term investments, whose work would generate large amounts of money for their owners over decades. In other places such as Brazil and the Caribbean, they were - like most of today’s slaves - disposable.

When was slavery abolished?

Opposition to the slave trade system started to make itself felt towards the end of the 18th century, through a combination of slave resistance and sustained campaigns by anti-slavery activists. During the 19th century, Transatlantic slavery was eventually outlawed. The Transatlantic slave trade ended in the 1860s, and the last acts ending slavery itself came in Cuba in 1886 and Brazil in 1888. The law abolishing slavery in Brazil was called “The Golden Law”.

Slavery continued elsewhere though. In the 16th century, at the same time as the Transatlantic slave trade was developing, some 1.5 million people were enslaved by the Muscovy (early Russian) empire. Within many parts of Africa and the Arab world, slavery reached its peak during the 19th century, after the organised anti-slavery movement had emerged; in some regions enslaved people accounted for as much as half of the overall population.

In French West Africa in the 1900s as many as three million people may have been enslaved. In India of the 1840s, dominated by the British East India Company, it is estimated that there were between eight and nine million enslaved people, and in many British colonies slavery was not abolished until the 20th century. In Saudi Arabia slavery was not outlawed until 1962, and in Oman it lasted until 1970.

Indentured labour and forced labour

Even after the slave trade and slavery - the legal ownership of another person - were outlawed, other forms of highly exploitative or inhumane treatment of workers, which restricted their liberties and rights, continued to be practised through indentured labour and forced labour for the state. Millions of labourers, from Asia, Africa and the Pacific were transported all over the world for extended periods to work under highly restrictive contracts and for very low rates of pay. These contracts ensured that many workers were constricted in a similar way to enslaved people. This system was known as indentured servitude and is similar to contemporary contract slavery.

Many states, especially the colonial territories in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, used forced labour on state projects until the middle of the 20th century. On many of these projects, workers endured horrific treatment for little or no payment, and there were high mortality rates. The most notorious and extreme examples took place in the Congo Free State, under the authority of King Leopold II of Belgium. There, around 10 million people were worked to death to maximise profits from the country’s rubber industry, and communities were terrorised by state forces if they failed to meet quotas. Forced labour continued in some Portuguese colonial territories until the early 1970s.

In the totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China and North Korea, tens of millions of people were sent to forced labour camps over several decades and large numbers of them died. During the Second World War, 12 million people in countries occupied by the Nazis were subjected to forced labour. Their Japanese allies also regularly practised forced labour in many parts of East Asia. The Japanese government also compelled large numbers of Korean, Chinese and Filipino women and girls to work as prostitutes.

Who benefits from contemporary slavery?

Slavery no longer plays a key role in the national economy of most countries. However, it can enrich small gangs of criminal business people in many countries.

Today, slavery is illegal all over the world. Contemporary slaves are not legally owned. Rather than buying or selling human beings, contemporary slavery is about controlling people through violence and other means, in order to use them to make money. It is not usually permanent, but victims rarely know when their bondage will come to an end, so even fairly short periods of enslavement can have very traumatic consequences.

Slavery and racism

Record cover of black and white minstrel show

The Black and White Minstrel Show, which ran on TV until the late 1970s, was heavily criticised for racist stereotyping. © National Museums Liverpool

Transatlantic slavery in the period from the 16th -19th centuries was not originally motivated by racism but it became closely and powerfully connected with it. Ideas of “race” and “racial superiority” grew out of Transatlantic slavery as slave traders tried to justify their actions to their societies. And when Europeans continued to enslave Africans and to trade in African slaves, they strengthened racism.

Long after Transatlantic slavery ended, the legacy of racism remains. For centuries Black people were treated as less than equal. This created negative stereotypes, and encouraged discriminatory attitudes and practices to continue after slavery was abolished. In Britain’s 21st century multicultural society, Black people still strive against racist attitudes for real equality.

Contemporary slavery is based on defining individuals and groups of people as inferior, less than human, and less deserving of human rights, but it does not depend on racism. People of the same ethnicity have enslaved each other and continue to do so in many different countries. Which group, “race”, tribe, gender, religion or caste a person belongs to might make them more vulnerable to being enslaved, but the main factor is economic, not racial. Contemporary slaves are drawn overwhelmingly from extremely impoverished communities.

Today’s slavery

Although every country in the world now has laws against slavery, those laws are not always enforced. A number of practices continue today that 21st century campaigners recognise as being on a par with historical slave systems. The most common forms of contemporary slavery are:

Each form is examined below. Some forms overlap with each other. Children are disproportionately victimised by contemporary slavery, as are women and girls. The demand for child labour is very high. Those who use child labour try to justify it by claiming that children have nimble fingers that are better for certain kinds of work. Even if these claims were true, they would not justify the exploitation of children. In reality, the demand for child labourers stems from the fact that they are seen as being easier to control and discipline than adults. See case study 1 and case study 2

Slavery, trafficking and control

Trafficked 14-year-old girl in Athens, Greece

Trafficked 14-year-old girl in Athens, Greece, warns others to avoid danger from enslavers. Jim Goldberg/Magnum Photos

Many of these forms of contemporary slavery involve human trafficking. People are transported, sometimes forcibly but usually voluntarily, within their own country, or across borders and continents, for degrading work under very harsh conditions. When people have been trafficked across borders, they are often isolated, cannot speak the local language and are excluded from sources of social and legal support. The traffickers usually confiscate their victims’ identity documents. Without access to their documents, and far from their place of origin, escape is difficult and hazardous.

Some trafficked children have been physically abducted. More commonly, though, families have allowed their children to be trafficked in a desperate attempt to lift them and the rest of the family out of poverty. Traffickers often deceive families into believing that their children will have opportunities to better themselves. Deception thrives wherever there is poverty and desperation.

How many people are enslaved today?

When slavery was still legal and openly acknowledged, it was easier to know how many people were enslaved. Now that slavery has been outlawed and often operates clandestinely, it is harder to quantify. Researchers of slavery use different definitions, so they arrive at different figures. In 2002 Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, calculated slave numbers in more than 100 countries. He estimates that there are about 27 million slaves in the world today. In 2005, the International Labour Organization (ILO) published a similar global survey which suggested that at least 12.3 million people remained in bondage. The exact number of slaves may never be known, but there is little doubt that slavery continues to affect millions of people across the globe.

Slavery and exploitation

A far greater number than 27 million people worldwide are severely exploited. Many people work for excessive hours in very difficult conditions and feel they do not get a just reward for their efforts. Children and young people, especially in poorer countries, can feel that the tasks demanded of them on a daily basis by their families extend well beyond reasonable requests to play their part in assisting with family duties. The word “slavery” is often used casually as a commonplace term to describe such circumstances. But a crucial distinction between slaves and people who are not enslaved but are ill-treated and exploited badly, is revealed when they attempt to walk away from their situation to pursue other opportunities. It is usually possible for a worker to leave their employer to look for other work without facing a threat of violence. Contemporary slaves face severe punishment for even attempting to leave. And if they manage to escape they are often hunted down and returned to servitude.

Key features of contemporary slavery

child refugee in typre repair shop

Afghan child refugee used as cheap labour in a tyre repair shop in Pakistan. Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos

Many people around the world suffer abuses of their human rights and injustices in aspects of their daily working lives. What unites the range of practices that we identify in this resource as constituting “contemporary slavery” are the following:

  • the person suffering these circumstances cannot escape the situation
  • the person has no recourse to help or support to bring an end to the situation they endure
  • the situation is continuous rather than a one-off event or series of separate events
  • there is a constant and real threat of violence to ensure they comply with the demands of those that exercise power over them.

Types of slavery

Bonded labour/debt bondage

Children work at a brick-breaking yard

Children working at a brickbreaking yard outside Chittagong in Bangladesh. Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

In this situation a worker becomes the property of another person, to labour for them as collateral against a loan. In some cases children inherit their parents’ obligations and the status of bonded labourer passes to the next generation. These debts are usually enforced by the threat or use of physical violence. The lender may use false accounting methods and charge excessive interest, and often the length and nature of the service pledged is not defined, so the bonded labourer does not know when the debt will be considered to have been paid off. Many bonded labourers work every day of the year for very long hours. Bonded labour is now universally prohibited, but laws are not always enforced. SeeCase study 9 and Case study 10.

Bonded labour is especially common in India, Pakistan and Nepal, where bonded labourers have been widely used in agriculture for centuries. In recent decades, bonded labour in these countries has also increased in mining, brick-making and carpet-weaving industries. Bonded labourers regularly work for very long hours, six or seven days a week. In extreme cases, such as in rural Pakistan, they are kept chained and under armed guard. Most bonded labourers in the Indian subcontinent are of “low caste” status, which means that they suffer discrimination and deprivation due to their “inferior” social standing. Caste status cannot be changed, and people usually marry only within their own caste, so future generations tend to suffer the same problems as their parents.

Discrimination based on caste is also illegal, but barriers between different castes continue to be enforced by social custom. Migrant workers in places such as Brazil and Argentina are regularly trapped in debt-bondage. Many women who are trafficked into domestic servitude and forced prostitution in places such as Spain and Italy are also victims of debt bondage.

Classical (Chattel) slavery and descent-based discrimination

girl descended from slavery

A young girl descended from enslaved people, wears an ankle bracelet indicating herlower social status, Niger, West Africa, 2005. © Anti-Slavery International

In this form of slavery a person is born or sold into a life of permanent servitude. Both classical slavery and discrimination on the basis of slave descent continue today in a number of parts of Saharan Africa, where power is based on inherited status in a similar way to caste. In Mauritania the Abid or Haratan community are particularly affected by slavery and discriminatory treatment, and families are still owned by slave masters. Because of pressure from campaigners, Mauritania and Niger have both passed laws in recent years re-abolishing slavery. But in both these countries slavery continues and former slaves continue to be discriminated against because of their slave heritage. Slave descendants find it difficult to marry a free-born partner or hold positions of political or religious authority.

Contract slavery

Contract slavery is the most rapidly growing form of slavery, and probably the second largest form today after debt bondage. Contracts guarantee employment, perhaps in a workshop or factory. The worker pays a fee, often to a recruitment agency, to find work for them. If it is in another country, they pay a fee to cover transport costs. They are led to believe that they will earn enough money to pay these fees back over a relatively short time. But when the worker arrives, they find they are enslaved. Their documents are taken from them, and they pay exorbitant amounts for poor accommodation and food. A constant threat of violence, or actual violence, prevents them from leaving or looking for support.

In Britain in recent years, contract slavery has occurred in different industries and areas of work such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, food processing and packaging, care and nursing, hospitality and the restaurant trade. See case study 4 and case study 5.

Domestic servitude

Domestic workers in Kuwait

Runaway Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait, 2010, living in a makeshift shelter in the grounds of the Philippines embassy. Moises Saman/Magnum Photos

Many domestic workers live and work in their employer’s home. Behind the closed doors of private houses, some of them are treated very harshly and have no access to legal protection. This can lead to slave-like conditions, where they may face physical violence and sexual harassment and abuse, be on call 24 hours a day and work for very little money or none at all. Depending on the setting, their tasks could range from cooking, cleaning and looking after children and animals, to collecting firewood.

This form of slavery exists around the world - it is especially common in Singapore and Malaysia, the Middle East, Latin America, the Indian subcontinent, Europe and North America. Singapore, for example, has a very large number of domestic workers from other countries. One in every six houses in Singapore has a domestic worker and, in the worst cases, vulnerable migrants are working 13-19 hours a day, seven days a week. They are unable to leave their place of work and they earn less than half the pay of Singaporean people doing equivalent kinds of work.

This form of contemporary slavery disproportionately affects children (particularly girls) and women. A large number of domestic slaves are aged between 12-17, though some are younger, and they are routinely denied education, which limits their opportunities to free themselves from domestic work. Many domestic workers report being abused, punished and humiliated. Because they work in private households they lack access to protection and support that may be available in factories or other workplaces. See case study 6.

Governments have responsibilities to challenge the exploitation and abuse of domestic workers and these are set out in the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Conventions on “Minimum Age” and on the “Worst Forms of Child Labour”. The ILO has drafted a new charter on “Decent Work for Domestic Workers” which is being discussed and finalised at sessions in 2010 and 2011.

Forced labour for the state

This is the use of labour by people, often incarcerated in prisons and labour camps, who are forced to work by governments or military authorities. In China, over recent decades, several million people have been held for terms of up to four years in “laogai”. These are camps which the government claims are used to reform people convicted of crimes. The government also holds political opponents in them. The inmates of these camps often work up to 16 hours a day with no pay, producing consumer goods both for the internal market and for export. The prisoners are often kept in solitary confinement, and suffer sleep deprivation and malnutrition. See case study 7 and case study 8.

In North Korea, between 150,000 and 200,000 prisoners are interned in forced labour camps, without having been formally arrested or having access to any judicial procedures. Through the use of collective punishments, whole extended families have been imprisoned. They often face a lifetime of imprisonment involving long hours of labour, cruel punishments, poor food and living conditions, and early death. Forced labour for the state is also widely practised in Myanmar (Burma) and Eritrea.

Forced marriage

In a number of communities and cultures, the choosing of marriage partners involves people other than the couple themselves. This can involve parents, other older family members, matchmaking agents and religious leaders. Although participants in such “arranged marriages” may feel under pressure from their communities, these cases are not the same as “forced marriages”. The concept of forced marriage only applies to a small percentage of people who marry.

In forced marriages girls or women are married without having any choice and are kept in servitude, usually by threats and the use of physical violence. In such arrangements, young women are usually exchanged for money or payment in goods. If their husband dies, they can be inherited by another person or sold to someone else. There are cases where young girls and women are forced to marry wealthy older men to become sexual and domestic slaves. On some occasions, men or boys can also be forced into marriage.

Anti-Slavery International reports that the tradition of forced marriage still exists in Ethiopia. In some south Asian, African and other countries, young girls are frequently bought by paying a dowry or “bride price” and married off without the girl giving her consent.

Forced prostitution

This is the recruitment and enslavement of workers (girls and women mainly) in the sex industry, who are forced to have sex for money. Most of the money goes to those who control them.
Many victims of contemporary slavery in richer countries have come from poorer countries and conflict situations in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, and have been forced by deception into the sex industry. Some trafficked women have responded to adverts offering specific kinds of better-paid employment or offers of marriage, which they believe will help improve their quality of life. But they are then trapped in the sex industry by physical threats and by debt bondage as they try to repay the costs of being transported to the country. Many are held against their will in brothels, given little food, and charged rent. The sex industry is highly profitable for those who control it.

In 2002 the ILO produced a report which estimated that 8.4 million children were trapped in the worst forms of child labour. Of these, 1.8 million were reported to be involved in prostitution and pornography.

Wartime enslavement

Child soldier

Child soldier in Afghanistan. IRIN photos

In a number of recent conflicts civilians have been abducted and enslaved. This practice has occurred largely in countries blighted by civil wars, such as the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and northern Uganda. This form of enslavement has particularly affected women and children.

In the Sudanese conflict, when villages have been raided, women have been taken for domestic and sexual enslavement and children have often been recruited as child soldiers. Over a 20-year period the armed rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda abducted an estimated 30,000 children, training many to be guerrillas, and forcing them to commit human rights abuses. Others, mainly girls, were often used as sexual and domestic slaves or traded with arms dealers in Sudan. See case study 11 and case study 12.

Child soldiers are typically treated as expendable, regularly beaten, provided with insufficient food, have little or no access to healthcare and are often forced to undertake hazardous tasks such as laying or detecting landmines. They are beaten or even killed if they attempt to escape. Across the world there may be as many as 300,000 child soldiers, some as young as 7 or 8 years old. While not all child soldiers are enslaved, all child soldiers are very vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Contemporary slavery and the supply chain

migrant workers pick cabbage

Migrant workers picking cabbages in Ohio, USA. Courtesy of Bob Jagendorf

All the goods that we use, consume or wear every day have been through a production, packaging and distribution process that begins with a grower or producer and ends with us as consumers. That process is the supply chain.

As firms try to push prices down to compete for markets, they are under pressure to use cheaper labour. Increasingly they subcontract work to those who can promise to make products at very cheap prices. That is how slavery enters the supply chain. See the products of slavery map (pdf). Users of forced and exploited labour claim in turn that they are forced by ruthless pressures from a small number of powerful supermarkets or clothes retailers to drive the price of suppliers down.

As a result, many everyday products have a small percentage of slave labour in them, but, because supply chains are very complicated and involve many stages, it can be difficult to trace where slavery is taking place and challenge it. Companies claim that their factories are regularly inspected, but inspectors rarely check work subcontracted to out-workers in their homes.

Cases of slave labour have been documented in the production of cocoa, cotton, sugar, timber, beef, tomatoes, lettuce, apples and other fruits, shrimps and other fish products, coffee, steel, gold, tin, diamonds and other gemstones, jewellery, shoes, sporting goods, clothing, fireworks, rope, rugs, carpets, rice bricks, and tantalum - a mineral used to make mobile phones and laptop computers.

Protesters at Trader Joe's

Protest against the use of slavery in the supply of Florida tomatoes outside a branch of Trader Joe's, USA, 2010.

Consumer campaigns have pressured companies to be transparent about their supply chains. As a result there are now certification schemes to guarantee that certain products are free from slave labour and other forms of exploitation. The Fair Trade label is only given to companies which guarantee that they meet clear human rights standards in producing their goods. It certifies that no illegal child labour has been used, that producers are not working in hazardous conditions, and that workers are paid a fair wage. GoodWeave (formerly called Rugmark) is a similar certification scheme used for carpets and rugs - in an industry notorious for its use of child labour.

The cocoa industry, producing chocolate principally for the market in richer countries, has been charged with widespread use of child labour in hazardous work. It is an industry with long and complicated supply chains, which originate on many small farms. Major companies in this industry have been pressured by campaigners into supporting the International Cocoa Initiative, which aims to ensure that illegal child labour and forced labour are removed from the cocoa industry.

For details of organisations that are monitoring and challenging slave labour in the supply chain, see campaigns.

Is slavery different in different countries?

In richer countries fewer people are enslaved but those who are enslaved are more likely to be in forced prostitution. In poorer countries more people are enslaved but a smaller proportion are likely to be in forced prostitution compared with other forms of forced labour.

Vulnerability to contemporary slavery is closely connected with citizenship status. Many of those exploited as slaves are migrant workers whose immigration status is not secure and are therefore afraid to appeal to government officials for assistance when they encounter exploitation and abuse. Often they have migrated voluntarily, but on the basis of fraudulent information. When they reach their destination, the people or organisations that helped transport them break their promises. Workers find themselves enslaved as they are compelled to labour to pay back the loan that allowed them to travel.

Slavery in the UK today

In 2007, a study of slavery in Britain, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, commented, as the 200th anniversary of the legal abolition of the Transatlantic slave trade by Parliament was being marked, that “Thousands of people are working as slaves within the UK... they are working in highly exploitative conditions, have no rights, and are threatened with the fear or the reality of violence.” These people have generally been trafficked from countries experiencing poverty and hardship, war and upheaval. They have been persuaded to come to Britain usually on the promise of lucrative work, and pay a large fee for administration and transport to come. Once here, their employers remove their documents, subject them to violence and trap them through debt bondage in very poorly paid and often hazardous forced labour.

Many contemporary slaves in Britain work in the construction industry, fruit and vegetable picking, food packing and processing, as domestic workers, in care and nursing homes, hospitality and the restaurant trade. Increasing numbers are also found in the sex industry. In the last decade thousands of women and children have been trafficked to Britain for work as prostitutes.

In 2003, some 5,500 Filipino agency nurses were sent to the UK under false pretences. Each of them paid £5,000 as contract fees. They were forced to work 60-hour weeks to try to pay off these exorbitant fees.

The following year, 23 Chinese cockle-pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay while working. They had been brought into the country illegally, and their gangmaster took their documents away from them after they arrived. They were housed in very poor conditions, and transported in closely supervised vehicles to their place of work. They worked in appalling conditions for pitifully small wages, and had no opportunity to protest against their circumstances.

Why is slavery continuing?

Countries have passed laws and signed international agreements to stop slavery, but often these laws are not enforced. The authorities know it is happening but do not act vigorously to stop it. Pakistan, for example, passed laws against debt bondage slavery in 1995, but there have been no convictions, and debt bondage continues. Similar laws in India have resulted in no prison sentences and just a few paltry fines.

Many countries have tightened their laws on human trafficking but women and girls trafficked for forced prostitution continue to arrive at their destinations in Britain, other western European countries, Canada and the United States.

The US Department of State estimates that 17,500 people are brought into America each year for forced labour of different kinds, especially agricultural work, prostitution, domestic service or sweatshop labour. The richest and most powerful country on the planet has proved unable or unwilling to effectively challenge this process.

Public awareness and social action

Anti-slavery campaigners argue that increased public awareness and education are needed, as well as government action to enforce anti-slavery laws. They also state that those escaping slavery need economic, practical and psychological support to stop them from falling back into slavery. Just as in the 19th century, former slaves who have been successfully rehabilitated can be powerful campaigners against contemporary slavery.

Today’s slavery is often hidden from view. Many ordinary people may not realise that it is continuing at all, let alone where it continues or how. But when people are armed with this information they can attempt to make a difference through campaigning. When school students become aware of what is happening to others their own age they may be motivated to contribute their own campaigning ideas to help today’s slaves win their freedom.