Countries use differing terminologies to describe modern forms of slavery. This includes how they describe slavery itself, but also other concepts such as human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, and the sale and exploitation of children. These terms are defined in various international agreements (treaties), which many countries have voluntarily signed on and agreed to.
Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term that focuses attention on commonalities across these legal concepts. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and / or abuse of power. For example, their passport might be taken away if they are in a foreign country, they might experience or be threatened with violence, or their family might be threatened.
Typology of modern slavery
Human trafficking is defined in the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol as involving three steps.
- Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons;
- By means of 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;
- With the intent of exploiting that person through: prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery (or similar practices), servitude, and removal of organs.
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered "trafficking in persons" even if this does not involve threat, use of force, or coercion.
Forced labour is defined in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Forced Labour 1930 as "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." This excludes compulsory military service, normal civil obligations, penalties imposed by a court action taken in an emergency, and minor communal services.
Slavery and slavery-like practices
Slavery is defined in the 1926 Slavery Convention as the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised. In a later treaty, States agreed that there are also certain "slavery-like practices": debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children (including in armed conflict), and descent-based slavery.
Debt bondage is a status or condition, where one person has pledged their labour or service (or that of someone under their control), in circumstances where the fair value of that labour or service is not reasonably applied to reducing the debt or length of debt, or the length and nature of the service is not limited or defined.
Forced or servile marriage
The following are defined as practices "similar to slavery" in the 1956 Slavery Convention. Any institution or practice whereby: » A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group; or » 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 » A woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person. More recent interpretations of forced marriage are broader than the practices defined in the 1956 Slavery Convention. In 2006 the United-Nations Secretary-General noted that “a forced marriage is one lacking the free and valid consent of at least one of the parties.” Forced marriage therefore refers to any situations in which persons, regardless of their age, have been forced to marry without their consent. Child, early and forced marriages are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably. Some child marriages, particularly those involving children under the age of 16 years, are considered a form of forced marriage, given that one and or/both parties have not expressed full, free, and informed consent (as noted in the joint general recommendation No. 31 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women). It is important to note that in many countries 16 and 17-year-olds who wish to marry are legally able to do so following a judicial ruling or parental consent.
Worst forms of child labour
Drawing on the 1999 International Labour Conference Convention No.182, concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, the term "worst forms of child labour" comprises: a. all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and 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.
IMAGE CREDIT: ILO