The first major international attempt at defining slavery came in 1926, a general definition created by the League of Nations. Over the 20th century, the definition evolved. 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.” Yet, a large number of victims are never identified, as the UNHRC only communicates with the complainant(s), and all procedures are kept classified unless the council decides to publicize them, so many cases are kept under wraps. The bulk of efforts to prevent and eliminate slavery remains with governments, which receive assistance from organizations such as Interpol. Even as “slavery” is universally outlawed, and as unbelievable as it may seem, there are still states where human trafficking is not technically illegal.
The last country on Earth to officially outlaw slavery was Mauritania in 2007, well encroaching into modern times. Despite all the regulations and organizations in place, the Global Slavery Index estimated that upwards of 40 million people worldwide were living in slave-like conditions in 2016. More conservatively, Siddharth Kara, expert and author, estimates there were 31.2 million people living in slavery in 2016. Forms of modern slavery acknowledged by the UN and Walk Free Foundation include human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, servile marriage, and child exploitation. For research purposes, I find Kara’s classification more appropriate, systematic, and comprehensive. Slavery, can be broken into modern (chattel) slavery, human trafficking (excluding smuggling), forced labor, and debt bondage.
My presentation tackles the puzzle of the persistence of slavery around the world, along the following questions: What are the conditions that allow for slavery to persist after its supposed eradication? What have governments as well as non-state actors done to monitor, prevent, and prosecute cases of slavery? Who benefits? Who and what are the main agents behind the persistence of the current forms of slavery? For a practice with 30-40+ million victims worldwide, slavery certainly flies well under the radar in Western media, and to think it could be this prevalent in 2018 is both fascinating and sobering. Seeking to help shed this phenomenon to light, my presentation discusses examples and trends from Thailand, Lybia, Hong Kong, Qatar, and Mauritania.