Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Slavery-like practices
Dependence on slavery
Denial of the right to freedom from enslavement

Slavery takes many forms, and although some of the more extreme and widespread of these forms have been virtually eradicated, more subtle forms still exist. The essence of slavery is ownership, its corollary is exploitation.

As Article 1 of the United Nations Slavery Convention says: "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."  These powers might include non-payment of wages, physical or sexual abuse, controls over freedom of movement, or selling a person like a piece of property. In the words of slavery historian Orlando Patterson, slavery is a form of “social death”. 

Slavery is also the looting of the wealth and resources of the victim countries and, when such exploitation went on for centuries, it is undeniable that the harm caused is huge and difficult, if not impossible, to quantify even if its reality is undoubted despite the time that has elapsed.


Slavery-type practices remain very widespread throughout the world. From 1978 to 1981 among many instances reported to the ILO were those occurring in Tunisia, India, Italy, Taiwan, Columbia, Morocco, Palestine, Republic of Korea, USA (employment conditions of Mexican children), Spain and France. Slavery is illegal throughout the world except in the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman.

Overt ownership still exists and also the sale of slaves, but more widespread is the trade in women, the paying of bride-price or the inheritance of a brother's widow or widows. The 'adoption' of children for a price is practised in Latin America and Asia. Personal services and debt slavery exist in Asia, Africa and South America. Forced labour occurs in South Africa and other African countries, and in western Europe. Particularly in South Africa it forms part of a policy of racial segregation. In Europe it is the result of a traffic in immigrant workers and the restrictions placed on these by the governments and nationals of the countries in question.

The long and painful period during which the slave trade flourished was indeed begun by individuals but was subsequently shamelessly developed by companies and ultimately organized and directed by States, all of them European. For centuries, millions of men, women and children were torn from their society and taken forcibly to the Americas to be treated there in the most inhuman and degrading manner. Some of these people, after incredible sufferings, perished during the ocean crossings. African history in the period of slavery is marked by a series of crimes and all manner of violations of the rights of the human person which are beginning to be recognized but which have never formed the subject of any redress, while the Powers formerly responsible for this traffic continue to profit from it. Thus, for centuries the African continent witnessed the exploitation and pillage of its physical and human resources. Historically speaking, this exploitation is characteristic of the impunity for the serious violations of the rights of the peoples that suffered them.

It must immediately be said that the African peoples were not the only victims of slavery. The indigenous peoples of the New World were dispossessed of all their lands, which were exploited using the costless labour that slavery supplied. The dual genocide committed, both upstream and downstream of slavery, has remained unpunished.

Slavery left Africa in a state of economic and cultural ruin marked by social ravages from which it has never recovered. The international community and the States which benefited from slavery have recognized the harm done to the victim peoples and apologies to Africa, even by the sovereign pontiff, are not sufficient to erase the odious crime and undo its consequences, including dire poverty, underdevelopment, destitution, disease and ignorance. These violations must be taken into account, although any prospect of decent redress requires a definite will and political courage.

The UK Home Office published a new report in 2018 that estimates that modern slavery costs the country up to £4.3 billion a year. This breaks down to each instance of the crime costing around £330,000 when support, lost earnings, and law enforcement costs are factored in.  The findings prompted the Home Office to announce that it will review the effectiveness of the UK Modern Slavery Act passed in 2015.One member of the review panel said: “The exploitation and enslaving of men, women and children across the world and within the UK is one of the most shocking crimes and one of the most profitable. The Modern Slavery Act is a splendid piece of legislation but it is very important to review how well it is being implemented and how it could be improved.”  The review will examine the nature of modern slavery offences, provisions for legal access and compensation to victims and improving the support given to child victims. The review will also look at what else can be done to strengthen the legislation and minimise the risk that goods and services available in the UK are produced through forced labour and slavery.  In addition to reviewing anti-slavery legislation, the Home Office confirmed that it would spend £2m to expand the Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs) scheme, which helps child victims of human trafficking.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
04.04.2022 – 03:52 CEST