CRF Blog

Modern Slavery: An exploration of its root causes and the human toll

by Bill Hayes

InfoGuides from the Council on Foreign Relations provide basic information on current issues around the world. InfoGuides usually include histories, summaries, case studies, images, graphs, video, and links to additional resources. A recent InfoGuide was on Modern Slavery: An exploration of its root causes and the human toll.

Slavery dates back to ancient times and has left its trace across cultures and continents. Though slavery is now universally prohibited, with protections for individual rights enshrined in national and international laws, it persists.

Slavery exists any time a person has been recruited, transported, or compelled to work by “force, fraud, or coercion,” according to the U.S. State Department. Victims do not have the means to leave of their own will. Slavery today most often occurs in industries that are labor intensive, low skilled, and underregulated.

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, 1948

Slavery occurs in the gulags of North Korea, on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, and in the brothels of Eastern Europe. Its victims are children forced into military action in the Democratic Republic of Congo or born into debt bondage at brick kilns in India, young men laboring on rickety fishing boats in Thailand, and children and women pressed into domestic servitude in Haiti. An estimated 40.3 million people are enslaved worldwide. [more