Modern Slavery 101
Definitions of Slavery and Human Trafficking
This web page outlines some of the most prevalent definitions of slavery and human trafficking. There is no complete consensus regarding what slavery and human trafficking exactly entail, but the use of force and exploitation is present within all definitions. Debt bondage, forced servile marriages and child soldiers are all considered cases of slavery. The definitions of human trafficking are more recent. Although human trafficking is often considered a phenomenon of globalization, and of the twentieth century, human trafficking does not have to occur across state borders and has always existed.
The 1926 League of Nations Slavery, Servitude, Forced Labour and Similar Institutions and Practices Convention
Definition of Slavery:
“Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.”
Definition of the Slave Trade:
“... the capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal by sale or exchange of a slave acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged, and, in general, every act of trade or transport in slaves.”
The 1930 International Labour Organization Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour
Definition of Forced or Compulsory Labour:
“... all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”
The 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 4: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.
The 1956 United Nations Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery
This convention extended obligations to the following four areas: debt bondage, serfdom, servile marriage practices, and the transfer of children for the purpose of exploitation.
a) “Debt bondage, that is to say, the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined...”
b) “Serfdom, that is to say, the condition or status of a tenant who is by law, custom or agreement bound to live and labour on land belonging to another person and to render some determinate service to such other person, whether for reward or not, and is not free to change his status.”
c) “Any institution or practice whereby: i) A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind; (ii) The husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise; or (iii) A woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person.”
d) “Any institution or practice whereby a child or young person under the age of 18 years, is delivered by either or both of his natural parents or by his guardian to another person, whether for reward or not, with a view to the exploitation of the child or young person of his labour.”
The 1999 Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour
a) All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
b) The use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
c) The use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
d) Work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
The 2005 Council of Europe Resolution on Forced Marriages and Child Marriages
Definition of Forced Marriage:
“... The union of two persons at least one of whom has not given their full and free consent to the marriage.”
The United States of America William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.
Definition of a Child Soldier:
... Consistent with the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the term ‘‘child soldier’’—
i. any person under 18 years of age who takes a direct part in hostilities as a member of governmental armed forces;
ii. any person under 18 years of age who has been compulsorily recruited into governmental armed forces;
iii. any person under 15 years of age who has been voluntarily recruited into governmental armed forces; or
iv. any person under 18 years of age who has been recruited or used in hostilities by armed forces distinct from the armed forces of a state; and
B. includes any person described in clauses (ii), (iii), or (iv) of subparagraph (A) who is serving in any capacity, including in a support role such as a cook, porter, messenger, medic, guard, or sex slave.
The 2000 United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime [Parlermo Protocol]
Definition of Human Trafficking:
Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
The 2002 European Union Council Framework Decision on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings
Definition of Human Trafficking:
... The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, subsequent reception of a person, including exchange or transfer of control over that person, where:
a) use is made of coercion, force or threat, including abduction, or
b) use is made of deceit or fraud, or
c) there is an abuse of authority or of a position of vulnerability, which is such that the person has no real and acceptable alternative but to submit to the abuse involved, or
d) payments or benefits are given or received to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person’s labour or services, including at least forced or compulsory labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery or servitude, or for the purpose of the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, including in pornography.
The 2011 United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2011. “What is Trafficking in Persons?”
Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as amended (TVPA) and consistent with the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol), individuals may be trafficking victims regardless of whether they once consented, participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked, were transported into the exploitative situation, or were simply born into a state of servitude. Despite a term that seems to connote movement, at the heart of the phenomenon of trafficking in persons are the many forms of enslavement, not the activities involved in international transportation.
Also known as involuntary servitude, forced labor may result when unscrupulous employers exploit workers made more vulnerable by high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, or even cultural acceptance of the practice. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable, but individuals also may be forced into labor in their own countries. Female victims of forced or bonded labor, especially women and girls in domestic servitude, are often sexually exploited as well.
When an adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution – or maintained in prostitution through coercion – that person is a victim of trafficking. All of those involved in recruiting, transporting, harboring, receiving, or obtaining the person for that purpose have committed a trafficking crime. Sex trafficking can also occur within debt bondage, as women and girls are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude “sale,” which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free.
It is critical to understand that a person’s initial consent to participate in prostitution is not legally determinative; if an individual is thereafter held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force, that person is a trafficking victim and should receive the benefits outlined in the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol and applicable laws.
One form of coercion is the use of a bond, or debt. Often referred to as “bonded labor” or “debt bondage,” the practice has long been prohibited under U.S. law by its Spanish name, peonage, and the Palermo Protocol calls for its criminalization as a form of trafficking in persons. Workers around the world fall victim to debt bondage when traffickers or recruiters unlawfully exploit an initial debt the worker assumed as part of the terms of employment. Workers may also inherit intergenerational debt in more traditional systems of bonded labor.
Debt Bondage Among Migrant Laborers
Abuses of contracts and hazardous conditions of employment for migrant laborers do not necessarily constitute human trafficking. However, the burden of illegal costs and debts on these laborers in the source country, often with the support of labor agencies and employers in the destination country, can contribute to a situation of debt bondage. This is often exacerbated when the worker’s status in the country is tied to the employer in the context of employment-based temporary work programs and there is no effective redress for abuse.
Involuntary Domestic Servitude
A unique form of forced labor is the involuntary servitude of domestic workers, whose workplace is informal, connected to their off-duty living quarters, and not often shared with other workers. Such an environment, which often socially isolates domestic workers, is conducive to nonconsensual exploitation since authorities cannot inspect private property as easily as formal workplaces. Investigators and service providers report many cases of untreated illnesses and, tragically, widespread sexual abuse, which in some cases may be symptoms of a situation of involuntary servitude. Ongoing international efforts seek to ensure that not only that administrative remedies are enforced but also that criminal penalties are enacted against those who hold others in involuntary domestic servitude.
Forced Child Labor
Most international organizations and national laws recognize that children may legally engage in certain forms of work. There is a growing consensus, however, that the worst forms of child labor should be eradicated. The sale and trafficking of children and their entrapment in bonded and forced labor are among these worst forms of child labor. A child can be a victim of human trafficking regardless of the location of that exploitation. Indicators of forced labor of a child include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who has the child perform work that financially benefits someone outside the child’s family and does not offer the child the option of leaving. Anti-trafficking responses should supplement, not replace, traditional actions against child labor, such as remediation and education. However, when children are enslaved, their abusers should not escape criminal punishment by virtue of longstanding patters of limited responses to child labor practices rather than more effective law enforcement action.
Child soldiering can be a manifestation of human trafficking where it involves the unlawful recruitment or use of children—through force, fraud, or coercion—as combatants, or for labor or sexual exploitation by armed forces. Perpetrators may be government forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups. Many children are forcibly abducted to be used as combatants. Others are made unlawfully to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Young girls can be forced to marry or have sex with male combatants. Both male and female child soldiers are often sexually abused and are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Child Sex Trafficking
According to UNICEF, as many as two million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade. International covenants and protocols obligate criminalization of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under both U.S. law and the Palermo Protocol as well as by legislation in countries around the world. There can be no exceptions and no cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations preventing the rescue of children from sexual servitude. Sex trafficking has devastating consequences for minors, including long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unintended pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and death.
- Council of Europe. Parliamentary Assembly. Resolution 1468 (2005) on Forced Marriages and Child Marriages, 5 October 2005. 2005.
- European Union. Council Framework Decision of 19 July 2002 on combating trafficking in human beings. 2002.
- International Labour Organization. Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour. 1930.
- League of Nations. Slavery Convention. 1926. Geneva.
- United Nations. Office on Drugs and Crime and Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.
- United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto. 2004.
- United Nations. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. 1956.
- United States. Department of State. “What is Trafficking in Persons?”. Trafficking in Persons Report 2011.
- United States. William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.