Slavery is a condition of control over a person against their will, enforced by violence or other forms of coercion. Slavery almost always occurs for the purpose of securing the labor of the person concerned. A specific form, known as chattel slavery, implies the legal ownership of a person or persons.



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..." Therefore a slave is someone who cannot leave an owner or employer without explicit permission, and who will be returned if they escape. Control may be accomplished through official or tacit arrangements with local authorities by masters who have some influence because of their status as landowners or wealthy persons.

In the strictest sense of the word, "slaves" are people who work for someone else but are not paid, and who have no rights. The word comes from slav, which originally meant landless serfs from Eastern Europe, including parts of the Roman Empire. However, the current usage of the word serfdom is not usually synonymous with slavery, because serfs are considered to have had some rights.

Similarly, slavery has sometimes been regarded as an expectation such as mandatory military service, or debt slavery. It should be noted that military conscription would not be considered "slavery" in regard to most modern military forces, as the soldier can not legally be killed or beaten by their overseers. People subject to the above conditions are all covered by a more generic term: unfree labour, which includes all forms of slavery and similar labour systems. Unfree labour is now the preferred term of many scholars, because of the wide variety of ambiguities which may be attached to words like "slavery".

In United States legal usage, the term involuntary servitude means a condition of laboring for another without one's willful consent. It is not necessarily experiencing the complete lack of freedom found in chattel slavery. Many left wing thinkers have discussed the idea of "wage slavery", although it is generally accepted that payment of a wage signifies "free labour", with quite different disadvantages experienced by such workers.

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The contemporary status of slavery

Slavery is in all countries today considered illegal, a criminal activity outlawed by UN conventions.

In sweatshop labor cases, unfree labourers are often told that they are working off a debt, but have no access to an accounting for that debt, and no right to take any higher-paying or less supervised employment. These people may be considered slaves if they are under the impression that challenging these conditions, or leaving in protest of them, would lead to serious bodily harm.

Some labor conditions for imported "domestic" workers approach conditions of slavery in developed countries by means of legal loopholes, such as Canada's “Live-in Caregiver Program. [1] ( Numerous abuses are reported to the authorities which frequently turn a blind eye. In all countries, people in many occupations are contracted for a period of years, but they are usually paid on a regular basis, are rarely contracted based on a debt, and are rarely sold into that status by their parents or others.

In the early 1990s evidence of illegal "forced labor and debt bondage" amounting to slavery was unearthed in the Amazon region. The Brazilian government has since taken measures against such activities, although concerns continue to be expressed that more stringent steps may be required. In 1995, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced a new series of measures to force compliance with the anti-slavery statutes. In September of 2002, a report to the Minist鲩o de Trabalho (Ministry of Labor), stated that between 1995 and 2001 approximately 3,500 slave labourers had been freed, and that it was estimated that 2,500 people remained in such conditions at that time (O Globo, 2002).

Annual Trafficking in Persons report

The United States fifth annual Trafficking in Persons report says the 14 nations that are not doing enough to stop international human trafficking are (new to the list) Bolivia, Cambodia, Jamaica, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Togo, United Arab Emirates and (continuing to be on the list) Myanmar, Cuba, Ecuador, North Korea, Sudan and Venezuela.

Who can become a slave?

Historically, slaves were often those humans of a different ethnicity, nationality, religion, sex or race than the dominant or aspirationally dominant group; typically taken prisoner as a result of warfare, capture meant death or slavery if no one paid ransom. Animal rights and Great Ape personhood advocates would also include slave species under the banner of slavery. Societies characterized by poverty, population pressures, and cultural and technological backwardness are frequently exporters of slaves to more developed nations. Today most slaves are rural people forced to move to cities, or those purchased in rural areas and sold into slavery in cities. These moves take place due to loss of subsistence agriculture, thefts of land, and population increases.


Five slave societies: Greece, Rome, the Caribbean, Brazil, and the slave states in the United States were primarily based on chattel slavery.

Slavery in Europe

Slavery in the ancient world

Main article: Slavery in antiquity

Numerous accounts of early slavery exist. Covering the whole focus of slavery would be too much for this article so it has been split. Slavery in the ancient Mediterranean cultures was a mixture of debt-slavery, marriage, slavery as a punishment for crime, and the enslavement of prisoners of war.

Medieval European slavery

Slaves were traded openly in most cities, including as diverse cities as Marseille, Dublin and Prague, and many were sold to buyers in the Middle East.

Nazi labour camps

Main articles: Holocaust; Nazi concentration camps.

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime created many Arbeitslager (labour camps) in Germany and Eastern Europe. Prisoners in Nazi labor camps were worked to death on short rations and in bad conditions, or killed if they became unable to work. Hundreds of thousands of people, possibly millions, died as a direct result of forced labour under the Nazis.

Slavery under Islam

For Islamic views on Slavery see Islam and slavery.

Islam preached the improvement of the condition of slaves; and regarded manumission as a virtue. The Prophet Mohammed freed slaves and declared that it is the duty of every Muslim to do so; to enslave someone would be to enslave oneself for eternal punishment. He also made an Ethiopian freedman, Bilal, the first muezzin.

Nevertheless, the Muslim Arab world traded in slaves, especially with Africa and the Byzantine Empire. Many of these were Turkic and Circassian males from northern Black Sea regions who were enlisted into the army. This soldier class was named Mamelukes and were mainly responsible for the expulsion of the Crusaders from Palestine. Officially, Islam dislikes the idea of slavery and had set rules for dealing with slaves, such as mandated liberation on conversion to Islam, an insistence that slaves be clothed and fed in the same manner as is their master, and that they not be forced into marriage or concubinage, among other prohibitons.

Slavery was legally abolished in Saudi Arabia in 1962, under diplomatic pressure, making it one of the last countries to ban this practice.

Slavery in North Africa

Slaves were imported from Europe to North Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Slave-taking persisted into the 19th century when Barbary pirates would capture ships and enslave the crew. In all, about 1.5 million Europeans were transported to the Barbary Coast. It was a period when Europe was preoccupied by sectarian wars and European navies were depleted. The trade was run by the Moors and the expeditions were often captained by Muslim Europeans with North African crews. They would raid coastal areas and carry away whole villages to the Moorish slave markets. It appears that women often fared better, as brides, than men, as laborers. The true record of this history has not yet been fully researched. In the early 19th century, European powers started to take action to free Christian slaves. The first major action was the bombardment of Algiers in 1816.

Slavery in the rest of Africa


Slavery was common and widespread in Africa into the 19th century. The Dutch imported slaves from Asia into their colony in South Africa. Britain, which held vast colonial territories on the continent (including South Africa), made the practice of slavery illegal in these regions. Ironically, the end of the slave trade and the decline of slavery was imposed upon Africa by its European conquerors. This action is what today may be called an instance of cultural imperialism.

The nature of the slave societies differed greatly across the continent. There were large plantations worked by slaves in Egypt, the Sudan, and Zanzibar, but this was not a typical use of slaves in Africa as a whole. In some slave societies, slaves were protected and incorporated into the slave-owning family. In others, slaves were brutally abused, and even used for human sacrifices. Despite the vast numbers of slaves exported from Africa, it is thought that the majority of African slaves remained in Africa, continuing as slaves in the regions where they were first captured.

Prior to the 16th century, the bulk of slaves exported from Africa were shipped from East Africa to the Arabian peninsula. Zanzibar became a leading port on this trade. Arab slave traders differed from European traders in that they would often capture slaves themselves, sometimes penetrating deep into the continent. They also differed in that their market greatly preferred the purchase of female slaves over male slaves.

The transatlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves were captured in West Africa and shipped to the colonies of the New World. As a result of the Spanish War of Succession, Britain obtained the monopoly (asiento de negros) of transporting captive Africans to Spanish America. It is estimated that over the centuries, twelve to twenty million people were shipped as slaves from Africa by European traders, of whom some 15 percent died during the terrible voyage, many during the arduous journey through the Middle Passage. The great majority were shipped to the Americas, but some also went to Europe and the south of Africa.

Some historians conclude that the total loss in persons removed, those who died on the arduous march to coastal slave marts and those killed in slave raids, far exceeded the 65-75 million inhabitants remaining in Sub-Saharan Africa at the trade's end. Others believe that slavers had a vested interest in capturing rather than killing, and in keeping their captives alive; and that this coupled with the disproportionate removal of males and the introduction of new crops from the Americas (cassava, maize) would have limited general population decline to particular regions of western Africa around 1760-1810, and in Mozambique and neighbouring areas half a century later. There has also been speculation that within Africa, females were most often captured as brides, with their male protectors being a "bycatch" who would have been killed if there had not been an export market for them.

Slavery persists in Africa more than in all other continents. Slavery in Mauritania was legally abolished by laws passed in 1905,1961,and 1981, but several human rights organizations are reporting that the practice continues there. The trading of children has been reported in modern Nigeria and Benin. In parts of Ghana, a family may be punished for an offense by having to turn over a virgin female to serve as a sex slave within the offended family. In this instance, the woman does not gain the title of "wife". In the Sudan slavery continues as part of an ongoing civil war.

Slavery in the Americas

Slavery among indigenous people of the Americas

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica the most common forms of slavery were those of prisoners-of-war and debtors. People unable to pay back a debt could be sentenced to work as a slave to the person owed until the debt was worked off. Slavery was not usually hereditary; children of slaves were born free. In Tahuantinsuyu workers were subject to a mita in lieu of taxes which they paid by working for the government. Each ayllu, or extended family, would decide which family member to send to do the work.

Slavery in the Spanish New World colonies

Slavery in Brazil

During the colonial epoch, slavery was a mainstay of the Brazilian economy, especially in mining and sugar cane production. The Clapham Sect, a group of Victorian Evangelical politicians, campaigned during most of the 19th century for England to use its influence and power to stop the traffic of slaves to Brazil. Besides moral qualms, the low cost of slave-produced Brazilian sugar meant that British colonies in the West Indies were unable to match the market prices of Brazilian sugar, and each Briton was using 16 pounds of sugar a year by the 1800s. This combination led to intensive pressure from the British government for Brazil to end this practice, which it did by steps over several decades. Slavery was legally ended May 13 by the Lei ?rea ("Golden Law") of 1888.

Brazil obtained 37% of all African slaves traded, and more than 3 million slaves were sent to this one country. The Portuguese were the first to initiate the slave trade, and the last to end the slave trade. Starting around 1550, the Portuguese began to trade African slaves to work the sugar plantations once the native Tupi deteriorated.

The African slaves were useful for the sugar plantations in many ways. First, African slaves had immunities to European diseases. The white workers were less able to fend off deadly diseases of the Caribbean, such as malaria. Second, the benefits of the slaves far exceeded the costs. After 2-3 yrs, slaves worked off their worth, and plantation owners began to make profits from them. Plantation owners made lucrative profits even though there was approximately a 10% death rate per year, mainly due to harsh working conditions.

The very harsh manual labor of the sugar cane fields saw slaves use hoes to dig large trenches. In the trenches was planted the sugar cane, followed by using bare hands to spread manure in the trenches. The average life span of a slave was eight years. In the mid to late 19th century, many Amerindians were enslaved to work on rubber plantations. See [[I硝] for more information.

Slavery in the British and French Caribbean

The status of African slaves compared to Caribbean slaves

African slaves and Caribbean slaves both received little respect from their masters, who looked at them as objects for work and trade. Slavery and slave trading was widespread in both the Caribbean islands and in Africa. Many of the slaves were unable to reproduce because the stress of the work caused still births in women and sterility in men.

Caribbean slavery granted the masters complete freedom over the control of their slaves. Caribbean sugar plantations resembled factories in a modern capitalist society. In contrast, African slavery was less harsh than slavery on Caribbean sugar estates. African kinship groups sought to assimilate new slaves into their circle. Many slave villages worked under their own management and paid tribute for their services. The family lifestyle of slavery in many parts of Africa had a closer bond as smaller groups usually had face-to-face relationships.

Slavery in North America


The first imported slaves brought to the British colonies were landed at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Slavery under European rule began with importation of European indentured servants, was followed by the enslavement of local aborigines in the Caribbean, and eventually was primarily replaced with Africans imported through a large slave trade. Most enslaved persons brought to the Americas ended up in the Caribbean or South America where tropical disease took a large toll on their population and required large numbers of replacements. The African slaves had something of a natural immunity to yellow fever and malaria, but the fact that they were severely malnourished, overworked, and poorly housed attributed to their perishing of disease.

In British North America the slave population rapidly repopulated themselves, where in the Caribbean they did not. The lack of proper nourishment, poor health, and lack of heterosexual desire are speculated as reasons. Of the small population of babies that were born to slaves in the Caribbean, only about 1/4 survived miserable conditions on a sugar plantation.

It was not only the big colonial powers in Europe such as France, England, Holland or Portugal that were involved in the transatlantic person trade. Small countries, such as Sweden or Denmark, tried to get into this lucrative business. For more information about this, see The Swedish slave trade.

Example of slave treatment: Back deeply scarred from whipping
Example of slave treatment: Back deeply scarred from whipping

Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (also known as the Freedom Ordinance) under the Continental Congress, slavery was prohibited in the Midwest, including the Free States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. In the East, though, slavery was not abolished until later - in New York state, not finally until 1827, having previously been abolished for those born after 1799.

The importation of slaves into the United States was banned on January 1, 1808; but not the internal slave trade, and the involvement in the international slave trade or the outfitting of ships for that trade by U.S. citizens. Though there were certainly violations of this law, slavery in America became more or less self-sustaining; the overland 'slave trade' from Tidewater Virginia and the Carolinas to Georgia, Alabama, and Texas continued for another half-century. Several slave rebellions took place during the 1700s and 1800s including the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831.

Because the Midwestern states were 'free states' by ordinance before even the Constitution had been ratified, and because Northeastern states became free states later through local abolition and emancipation, a Northern aggregation of free states solidified into one contiguous geographic area, and with the entry of additional free states in the Great Plains, a territory free of slavery was formed north of the Ohio River and the old Mason-Dixon line. This separation of a free North and an enslaved South launched a geographic, cultural and economic struggle over the next two generations which would culminate in the American Civil War. The fiercest combatants were abolitionists and the slaves themselves against an array of planters in the South and pro-slavery shipping interests in the East, battling over control of the Federal Government, economic levers, cultural institutions, and the public opinion of freeholders and church congregants.

Due to the three-fifths compromise, slaveholders exerted power through the Federal Government and the Federal Fugitive slave laws. Anti-slavery Democratic-Republicans, Whigs, and Free Soilers achieved nominal successes in advocating an end to slavery's expansion in the West, especially during and after the Mexican War. Mexico declared the abolition of slavery in 1814 during its War of Independence.

Refugees from slavery fled the South across the Ohio River to the North via the Underground Railroad, and their physical presence in Cincinnati, Oberlin, and other Northern towns agitated Northerners. Prominent Midwestern Governors, like Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, asserted States Rights arguments to refuse Federal jursidiction in their states over fugitives. Northerners fumed that the pro-slavery Democratic Party controlled two or three branches of the Federal government for most of the antebellum era.

Finally, the Dred Scott decision which asserted that slavery's presence in the Midwest was nominally lawful (when owners crossed into free states) turned Northern public opinion against slavery. Border 'wars' in Kansas, for which Congress had not legislated either 'freedom' or 'slavery', broke out. Propaganda 'wars' in Northern newspapers swept anti-slavery legislators into office under the banner of the Republican Party.

Influential leaders of the abolition movement (1810-60) included:

In the election of 1860, the anti-slavery Republican party had swept Abraham Lincoln into the Presidency, with a plurality of popular votes and a majority of electoral votes. Lincoln however, did not appear on the ballots of ten southern states: thus his election necessarily split the nation along sectional lines. After decades of controlling the Federal Government, the newly disenfranchised Southern states rebelled and demanded to secede from the Union, launching the Civil War.

Ironically, Southern leaders clawed back the idea of 'states rights' from Midwestern and Northeastern leaders, and each Southern state would assert their individual sovereign status and right to 'self determination'. Northern leaders like Lincoln and Chase had viewed the slavery interests as a threat politically, and with secession, they viewed the prospect of a new slave nation, with control over the Mississippi River and the West, as a militarily unacceptable impossibility.

The 1860s saw the end of chattel slavery in America. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a symbolic gesture that proclaimed freedom for slaves within the Confederacy, although not those in the strategically important border states of Tennessee, Maryland or Delaware. However, the proclamation made the abolition of slavery an official war goal and it was implemented as the Union retook territory from the Confederacy.

Legally, slaves within the United States remained enslaved until the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December of 1865, eight months after the cessation of hostilities in the Civil War. Practically, the slaves in many parts of the south were freed by Union armies or when they simply left their former owners. Many joined the Union Army as workers or troops, and many more fled to Northern cities. When General Sherman led his famous march through the South to Atlanta and Savannah, hundreds of thousands of new 'freedmen' followed him in his wake.

During the period between the surrender of the last Confederate troops on May 26, 1865 and the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865 (with final recognition of the amendment on December 18), officially ending chattel slavery in the United States, slaveholding persisted in the slave states that had not seceded (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri) and also in the territories located south of 36° 30' North latitude as per the Missouri Compromise (most of the present-day states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, although very few slaves could actually be found in these territories), but history remains unclear on the precise date upon which the last chattel slave was freed in the United States. Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) is celebrated in Texas and some other areas, and commemorates the date when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the last slaves at Galveston, Texas.


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