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Slave market in early medieval Eastern Europe. Painting by Sergei Ivanov.

The 1926 Slavery Convention described slavery as “...the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised...” Today slavery is defined in the broader sense of the word to mean any condition when a person is unfree.

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Photographed in 1863 – Peter, a man who was enslaved in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, whose scars are a result of a whipping by his overseer, who was subsequently discharged by Peter's owner.

There are multiple types of slavery:

  1. chattel slavery, legalised or pseudolegalised ownership of another human.
  2. wage slavery, condition when the worker cannot quit the job out of the fear of starvation.
  3. serfdom, condition when the peasant doesn't control the land on which one grows food.
  4. prison, taking away the freedom as the punishment for the crime.
  5. military recruitment, forcing a person to serve in military.
  6. sex slavery, forcing a person to perform sex acts. See also rape and prostitution.
  7. debt slavery, in which a person is ostensibly working off a debt, but is frequently unable to work themselves out of slavery since the debt grows with interest or purchases from the slaveholder, e.g. of food.
  8. slaving, which can mean performing hard tasks (but also being bossed around by the employer).
  9. submissiveness, specifically in S&M.
  10. slave drive or computer in computing reffers to the drive or computer which is either secondary to or responds to the commands of the master.


The word “slave” comes from Latin sclavus relating to the Slavic people who were the majority of the slaves during the time the word was coined.

Slavery today

There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today, more than there have ever been at any other time in history. Most of the world's slaves are in South Asia, especially India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.[1] Slaves work, for example, in factories, mines, farms, and brothels. Debt slavery is common in places like India and Pakistan, for example with people making bricks under harsh conditions. Thailand has an expecially booming sex trade, and many of the sex workers are slaves. A large percentage of the sugar in the United States was grown in the Dominican Republic, in which Hatians are captured and forced to work on sugar plantations during harvest season. In Mauritania, slavery was recently officially outlawed due to international pressure, but in actuality the practice of slavery is officially sanctioned and continues unabated; "former" slaves are now referred to instead as "domestic workers", for example.

Poverty is a large contributor to the institution of slavery, because it leaves people unable to defend themselves against slavers. Government corruption is another contributor; slavery is not legal anywhere, but officials frequently look the other way or actively participate in slavery (as with Thai police who visit brothels run by slavers).

Unlike slavery in the past, for example in plantations in the 1700s and 1800s in the South in the United States, slaves today are highly disposable. In the past, the cost of slaves provided a motivation for slaveholders to keep them alive; a slave purchased in 1850 cost an average of what today would be US$40,000. Nowadays a slave can be bought for an average of US$90.[2] Thus the health of slaves is not actively maintained by slaveholders. For example, when a slave in a brothel tests positive for the HIV virus, s/he is usually thrown out into the street to die of AIDS.

Modern slavery is closely linked to the global economy; numerous products were made by slaves or with parts that were made by slaves.

Some examples of products that were made by slaves include:

  • Cocoa grown and harvested by slaves in West African countries such as the Ivory Coast
  • Carpets woven by child slaves in India
  • Charcoal made by slaves in Brazil and used to temper steel in various products
  • Paper clips made by prison laborers in China
  • Sugar harvested by Hatian slaves in the Dominican Republic
  • Bricks made by Indian or Pakistani laborers

among many others

See also

External links

  • Definition of “slave” on Wiktionary
  • iAbolish, The American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG)
  • Freetheslaves, a nonprofit working to fight slavery