Short Questions on Modern Slavery

What is the difference between ancient and modern slavery?

Slavery has, like all things in society, undergone a process. The slavery rampant in Ancient Rome, medieval Europe and the American cotton fields prior to the Civil War was an accepted and overt part of the trade and economic system. Today, no industry relies on slavery any longer, and according to key international legal instruments, slavery has been abolished. However, modern slavery persists, albeit in a covert form. It is very cheap – cheaper in fact than the Atlantic Slave Trade, where African people were enslaved and transported to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries. Corruption and crime allows modern slavery to exist in the form of marital and sexual slavery, child labour, and debt bondage, to name a few.
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What is the legal definition of slavery?

The definition of slavery is a much-debated topic among scholars and advocates. Many differ on what can be classified as “slavery” and what the state’s obligations are. The first international definition, as outlined in the 1926 Slavery Convention, defined it as “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised”. In 1956, it was decided that the definition should be expanded to include practices equivalent to slavery. This supplementary convention is still used in courts today in cases of modern slavery, despite appeals to redefine “slavery” for the current context.
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Is slavery really unfair?

Slavery is unfair due to its coercive and forceful nature. If we can agree that people should be treated equally and their human rights valued, then anything less is simply unjust. There are around 40 million people in slavery, which means 40 million people who have been coerced into situations they would not be in of their own volition.
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What were the historical reasons for abolishing slavery?

There were two main arguments: one religious and one philosophical. Many in the Church of England and Quakers, Methodists and other non-conformists, believed slavery was amoral and against the teachings of the New Testament. Those inspired by the intellectualism of the enlightenment saw a universal brotherhood of man, with each person endowed with natural rights. Both groups, which included many prominent people of the day, established organised campaigns to influence government and society, and were eventually successful between 1794 and 1865 in various countries.
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Wasn’t the abolishment of slavery all about money?

Some have argued that slavery was abolished because it no longer made economic sense. Increasing competition, the opening of new suppliers and markets, and a move towards free trade, drove down the prices of commodities that relied on slave labour, such as sugar. Mechanisation also drove down costs and made work less labour intensive. As their relative wealth declined, slave-owners increasingly lost their political influence. It was only after slavery became less profitable that it was abolished in most countries.
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Who were the pioneers of the anti-slavery movement?

Early critics of slavery included the ancient Greek Stoic philosophers and the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. Louis X abolished slavery in France in the 14th century, as did several other medieval European monarchs. However, it was with the creation of the Europe-Africa-Americas ‘triangular’ slave trade that modern abolitionism formed. Pioneers included: William Wilberforce, Josiah Wedgewood, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill (UK); Montesquieu, Jacques Pierre Brissot and Toussaint Louverture (France / French Empire); and Thomas Paine, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Johns Hopkins, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman (USA).
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Why do people enslave others?

Many used to believe that there are two types of people; rulers and those who are ruled. Slaves are people who do not have the capacity to be rulers and thus are to be ruled. It is then better for themselves and the community to be a slave. The contemporary reason for slavery is simply money, as it continues to make billions of dollars of profit every year.
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Aren’t enslaved people responsible for falling into slavery?

Extreme poverty and poor living conditions are leading factors for people falling into slavery. Many people are starving and enter the slave trade under false pretences, in hopes of a job or food to survive. They may enter of their own volition but it’s not as black and white as this. Distress, fear and starvation are all fuel to the coercive fire. Whether directly or indirectly, those in slavery have been manipulated and forced and as a result cannot be responsible for falling into slavery.
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What factors can cause modern slavery?

There are many social and economic factors that contribute to human trafficking and modern slavery. Poverty, armed conflicts, migration, a lack of educational opportunities, inefficient or non-existent health-care systems, and even natural disasters generate populations vulnerable to exploitation, which can lead to modern slavery. Some cultural and social practices, that mainly affect women, such as early marriage and pregnancy, can also contribute to human trafficking.
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Why won’t people do more against slavery?

Slavery is rather normalised. It’s still seen as a problem of the past, or for those who do accept that it happens today, they don’t think that slavery is happening close to home. Many of the clothes, technology, food and jewellery that you own and continue to buy are made through slavery. Besides the fact that many don’t recognise modern slavery, there are also many people that benefit from it. They’re not willing to pay more when slaves can make their products for much cheaper.
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Why can’t people do more against slavery?

Individuals have certain limitations, and simply lack the resources and abilities that large organisations and governments possess. Slavery is often invisible, so people aren’t aware of the slavery happening around them. Also, it isn’t a high profile subject in most developed countries . If you’re not aware of what to look for, or even looking for signs of slavery at all, then slaves will continue to fall through the cracks.
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Why don’t the traditional media talk more about modern slavery?

Traditional media plays an important role shaping and influencing opinion and policy, and in many cases, media outlets are influenced or controlled by powerful elites and governments. Modern slavery, therefore, is represented only as these elites see fit. It may be in their best interest to limit representations of modern slavery if they want to seem powerful and in control, or they may choose to frame modern slavery to further their agendas (like implementing anti-immigration policies and stricter policing and borders). Trafficking, for example, is now framed as a national security and criminal issue, rather than a human rights one. When modern slavery is presented in such a narrow way, it prevents the audience from thinking critically about the issue and can impact our ability to solve the problem itself.
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