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.
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 tabour 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.
In 1990 it was suggested that there may be as many people in conditions properly denoted as slavery as there were 150 years earlier.