Saturday, February 15, 2020


“Slavery is illegal everywhere.” The truth of this statement has been taken for granted for decades. Yet our new research reveals that almost half of all countries in the world have yet to actually make it a crime to enslave another human being.

Legal ownership of people was indeed abolished in all countries over the course of the last two centuries. But in many countries it has not been criminalised. In almost half of the world’s countries, there is no criminal law penalising either slavery or the slave trade. In 94 countries, you cannot be prosecuted and punished in a criminal court for enslaving another human being.

  • 94 states (49%) appear not to have criminal legislation prohibiting slavery
  • 112 states (58%) appear not to have put in place penal provisions punishing forced labour
  • 180 states (93%) appear not to have enacted legislative provisions criminalising servitude
  • 170 states (88%) appear to have failed to criminalise the four institutions and practices similar to slavery.
In all these countries, there is no criminal law in place to punish people for subjecting people to these extreme forms of human exploitation. Abuses in these cases can only be prosecuted indirectly through other offences – such as human trafficking – if they are prosecuted at all. In short, slavery is far from being illegal everywhere.

Human trafficking is defined in international law, while other catch-all terms, such as “modern slavery”, are not. In international law, human trafficking consists of three elements: the act (recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring, or receiving the person); the use of coercion to facilitate this act; and an intention to exploit that person. The crime of trafficking requires all three of its elements to be present. Prosecuting the exploitation itself — be it, for instance, forced labour or slavery — would require specific domestic legislation beyond provisions addressing trafficking.

So having domestic human trafficking legislation in place does not enable prosecution of forced labour, servitude or slavery as offences in domestic law. And while the vast majority of states have domestic criminal provisions prohibiting trafficking, most have not yet looked beyond this to legislate against the full range of exploitation practices they have committed to prohibit.
less than 5% of the 175 states that have undertaken legally-binding obligations to criminalise human trafficking have fully aligned their national law with the international definition of trafficking. This is because they have narrowly interpreted what constitutes human trafficking, creating only partial criminalisation of slavery. The scale of this failing is clear:

  • a handful of states criminalise trafficking in children, but not in adults
  • some states criminalise trafficking in women or children, specifically excluding victims who are men from protection
  • 121 states have not recognised that trafficking in children should not require coercive means (as required by the Palermo Protocol)
  • 31 states do not criminalise all relevant acts associated with trafficking, and 86 do not capture the full range of coercive means
  • several states have focused exclusively on suppressing trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and thereby failed to outlaw trafficking for the purposes of slavery, servitude, forced labour, institutions and practices similar to slavery, or organ harvesting.

Worth a read from the website of the World Socialist Party of the United States.

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