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Modern Day Slavery: What is slavery?

A guide to resources on modern day slavery, compiled by your librarians.

How many slaves work for you?

What?? Slaves work for me?? 

Click on image to take a survey and find out how many slaves work for you...

Slavery background


Much of the social life of Western Europe in the 18th century depended on the products of slave labour. In homes and coffee houses, people met over coffee, chocolate or tea, sweetened with Caribbean sugar. They wore clothes made from American cotton and smoked pipes filled with Virginian tobacco. They used furniture made from mahogany and other tropical woods.

Uncle Tom's cabin

"So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war."

This was Abraham Lincoln's reported greeting to HARRIET BEECHER STOWE when he met her ten years after her book UNCLE TOM'S CABIN was published. 

How to end modern slavery and human trafficking - Forbes

Somaly Mam is a global leader who has pioneered the movement against modern slavery for nearly two decades. Through her work as a tireless advocate and human rights leader, Somaly Mam has made it her life’s mission to eradicate slavery and empower its survivors as part of the solution. This article is part of a series of op-eds from key speakers and delegates participating in this year’s Social Innovation Summit

Access the article here, you can also read a biography available in the Adult Biography section of the Senior Library

Slavery in the supply chain

A worker holds a green tomato, Florida, USA
©Coalition of Immokalee Workers



There is evidence of slavery in different stages of the supply chain from the production of raw materials, for example cocoa and cotton farming, to manufacturing goods such as hand-knotted rugs and even at the final stage, when the product reaches the market.


Typically the final product you purchase has passed through a long chain of producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers who have all participated in its production, delivery and sale.

It can therefore be very difficult to track a component of an end product back to a particular producer, for example cotton in a T-shirt back to a particular cotton farm.

Define - Modern Slavery

What is Modern Slavery?

Over the past 15 years, “trafficking in persons” and “human trafficking” have been used as umbrella terms for activities involved when someone obtains or holds a person in compelled service.

The United States government considers trafficking in persons to include all of the criminal conduct involved in forced labor and sex trafficking, essentially the conduct involved in reducing or holding someone in compelled service. 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. 

Defn source :

Human Rights

 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights                                     

 Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms

Article 4, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Global Slavery Index

click above to access the WalkFree Foundation webpage

The inaugural edition of the Global Slavery Index 2013 provides a ranking of 162 countries around the world, based on a combined measure of three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country. 

The Global Slavery Index provides a ranking, reflecting a combined weighted measure of three variables:

  1. Estimated prevalence of modern slavery in each country (accounting for 95% of the total)
  2. A measure of the level of human trafficking to and from each country (accounts for 2.5%)
  3. A measure of the level of child and early marriage in each country (accounts for 2.5%)

Slavery map of the world

Slavery can broadly be described as the ownership, buying and selling of human beings. Slavery is one of the things that everyone agrees is unethical.

Why is slavery wrong?

Although slavery does seem 'obviously wrong' it's worth listing some of the reasons why it's wrong.

  • Slavery increases total human unhappiness
  • The slave-owner treats the slaves as the means to achieve the slave-owner's ends, not as an end in themselves
  • Slavery exploits and degrades human beings
  • Slavery violates human rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly forbids slavery and many of the practices associated with slavery
  • Slavery uses force or the threat of force on other human beings
  • Slavery leaves a legacy of discrimination and disadvantage
  • Slavery is both the result and the fuel of racism, in that many cultures show clear racism in their choice of people to enslave
  • Slavery is both the result and the fuel of gender discrimination
  • Slavery perpetuates the abuse of children

source :

Kevin Bales - How to combat slavery?

Kevin Bales is the co-founder of Free the Slaves, whose mission is to end all forms of human slavery within the next 25 years. 

In this moving yet pragmatic talk, Kevin Bales explains the business of modern slavery, a multibillion-dollar economy that underpins some of the worst industries on earth. He shares stats and personal stories from his on-the-ground research -- and names the price of freeing every slave on earth right now.

Invisible Slavery

Click on image to see particular article from CNN, hover to pause (from the CNN Freedom Project)


Modern-Day Slavery: The Invisible Crime

1) Slavery still exists today!

2) 27 million people are caught in some form of slavery.

3) New York City is a main trafficking hub. According to the U.S. Justice Department, New York is one of the top cities that traffickers use as a point of entry, as a transit location, and as a final destination for victims.

4) Anyone may become a victim. Trafficked persons can be rich or poor, men or women, adults or children, and foreign nationals or U.S. citizens.

5) No community is immune. 

6) People are trafficked for many purposes. 

7) It is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise. 

8) Victims are lured in many different ways. 

9) Traffickers include a wide range of criminal operators, including individual pimps, small families, loose-knit decentralized criminal networks, and international organized criminal syndicates. 

Source :

Slavery exists at different levels

Watch these videos to see different ways in which slavery exists in the modern world

Apparel industry trends

Learn how your favorite brands relate to trafficking and other labor abuses. Free2Work provides consumers with information on forced and child labor for the brands and products they love.

A slavery timeline

Click the image to access the interactive timeline, use the year timeline to scroll forward and back to different years..

An introduction to slavery

Read from the link / Watch the video

Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking (ASSET)

Nineteen-time Latin Grammy winners, Calle 13 hosts the documentary “Invisible Slaves”

National Geographic - How to end slavery

Human trafficking - 21st century slavery: Faridoun Hemani on TED talks

Breaking the silence on slavery

UN News Centre

Protect Victims of Slavery

Kerry Washington performs a speech by abolitionist and former slave, Sojourner Truth

Prison industry?

Human rights organizations, as well as political and social ones, are condemning what they are calling a new form of inhumane exploitation in the United States

There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country.

They don’t have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.