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Prague Model United Nations 2017

Topic A: Fighting contemporary

forms of slavery
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

Introduction to the issue of Fighting

contemporary forms of slavery
Slavery did not end with abolition in the 19th century. The practice still continues today in one
form or another in every country in the world and impacts across every level of society.
More than 45 million people are living in modern slavery, with Asia accounting for two thirds of
the victims. This is roughly equivalent to the population of Spain. The International Labour
Organisation estimates that there are 21 million victims of forced labour globally. 19 million of
whom are exploited by criminals, and over 2 million by the State or rebel groups. More than 20%
of them are sexually exploited. Victims of sex trafficking include an estimated 1.8 million children.
In Africa and the Middle East children make up the majority of victims. In Europe and Central Asia
are outnumbered by adults, mainly women. Forced labour in the private economy generates 150
billion USD in illegal profits per year. Thats more than the Gross Domestic Product of most African
countries and three times Apples revenues. Domestic work, agriculture, construction,
manufacturing and entertainment are among the sectors most concerned.

Slavery takes different forms, from forced prostitution and labour to debt bondage. The common
denominator is poverty. Victims are needy and vulnerable; they dont know their rights. In some
countries, people are still born into slavery.

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(Global Slavery Index 2016 and the Walk Free Foundation)

Discussion of the topic

Although slavery has existed since ancient times, the Declaration Relative to the Universal
Abolition of the Slave Trade of 8 February 1815 was the first international document of great
historical significance to condemn it. The Declaration has been rightly credited with having
introduced abolition of the slave trade as a principle in general international law. As such, it
became an inspiration and point of reference for the fight for general abolition. The abolitionist
movement began as an effort to stop the Atlantic slave trade and free slaves in the colonies of
European powers and in the United States. A significant number of international treaties dating
from the early 19th century, both of bilateral and multilateral nature, contained provisions on the
abolition of the slavery. No international agreement has been effective though in reducing slavery,
within individual States or globally.

The League of Nations was active in its work to eliminate slavery, and as a result international
attention focused on the elimination of slavery and related practices following the 1st World War.
After the 2nd World War, the United Nations has continued to working towards the elimination of
slavery. As a result, the prohibition against slavery and slavery related practices has achieved the
level of international customary law and has attained status of the principle jus cogens of
international law. The International Court of Justice also considers the protection from slavery as
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an example of obligations erga omnes owed by a State to the international community as a

whole that arise from the basic rights of the human person.

In some ways the United Nations has been an anti-slavery leader for decades. The first global
treaty on slavery was a product of the League of Nations in 1926, and when the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights was agreed in 1948, slavery was declared illegal in all forms
everywhere. Today the UNs anti-slavery mechanisms are the Special Rapporteur on
Contemporary Forms of Slavery, appointed for the first time in 2008and housed within the Office
of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which also administers the
Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery(providing funds to projects that assist
victims of contemporary slavery); the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking
(UN.GIFT), which develops anti-trafficking tools and partnerships and was launched in 2007 by
the ILO, OHCHR, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Office on Drugs
and Crime (UNODC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and OSCE; and UNODC,
which focuses on the criminal justice element of human trafficking. However, the UN rarely has
the resources needed to take meaningful action.

Traditional definition of slavery

The definition of slavery has caused many controversies since the beginning of the abolition
process. There are two main reasons for that. The first is that there are differences of opinion about
which practices should be categorised as slavery and thus designated for eradication. The second,
definitions are usually accompanied by provisions imposing obligations on States to implement
or enforce certain measures.

The inability of the international community to clarify a definition has not helped in working
towards the eradication of slavery. If the United Nations Human Rights Council is going to be
effective in addressing slavery it would be helpful to develop and lead an international consensus
on what practices constitute slavery. If the term is interpreted too broadly, it would reduce
effectiveness of efforts undertaken by the international community. If slavery is defined in a way
that includes phenomena across the breadth of social injustice or human rights violations, its
meaning becomes diluted, leading to a diffusion of anti-slavery and causing anti-slavery
resources to be spread thinly across many areas.
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A definition of slavery first appeared in the League of Nations Slavery Convention of 25

September 1926. It defined slavery in art. 1(I) as the status or condition of a person over whom any
or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.

It further included within the concept of slavery all acts involved in the capture, acquisition or
disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a
slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal by sale or exchange of a slave
acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged, and, in general, every act of trade or transport
in slaves (art. 1(II)).

The Convention also distinguished forced labour, stipulating that forced labour may only be
exacted for public purposes and requiring States parties to prevent compulsory or forced labour
from developing into conditions analogous to slavery (art. 5).

Slavery can often be identified by circumstances in which an individual is deprived of choice or

control over his life. The existence of those circumstances is crucial to establishing which practices
should be considered as slavery. Those include:
the restriction of the freedom of movement,
the control of the personal belongings, and
the lack of consent or full understanding or the nature of the relationship.
Those are often accompanied by the threat of violence. Those circumstances are central to
identifying the existence of slavery. Loss of other fundamental rights and freedoms, including
freedom of expression, religion, association, and freedom to receive information and
communicate may also occur in the context of modern slavery.

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Contemporary slavery issues

The definition in the Slavery Convention did not cover the full range of practices and institutions
related to slavery. Those were refined in the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of
Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery of 1956 as well other
treaties furthering prohibition of slavery. Contemporary forms of slavery include: debt bondage,
serfdom, forced marriage, forced prostitution, and trafficking, especially of women and children.

Debt bondage
Debt bondage, often termed bonded labour, can hardly be distinguished from traditional form
of slavery. People enter the status or condition of debt bondage when their labour, or the labour
of a third party under their control, is demanded as repayment of a loan or of money given to
them in advance. Debt bondage often occurs where an individual incurs a debt to unscrupulous
persons that cannot be repaid. The work demanded to pay off the debt does not provide for
means sufficient for the individual to subsist on, much less repay what is owed.

In situations of debt bondage, the power imbalance between the employer or a creditor and the
worker often increases the workers vulnerability to further human rights abuses. Employers and
creditors can adjust interest rates, to make further deductions arbitrarily as penalties for perceived
poor performance, and/or to charge high prices for basic goods or working tools resulting in an
increase of the debt and the perpetuation of deeply exploitative situations.

Bonded labourers are often subjected to physical and psychological abuse, to abusive conditions
of work, such as long working hours, to dangerous and unhealthy work, and to severe restrictions
on their freedom of movement, including in relation to changing employment. Children in debt
bondage can be particularly vulnerable to additional violations of their human rights, as they lack
access to education as well as to opportunities to participate in cultural and recreational activities

Debt bondage remains prevalent in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri

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Serfdom can be categorised as a form of servile status that is defined as a condition or status
of a person who is by law, custom or agreement bound to live and labour on land that belongs to
another person and to render some determinate service to such person whether for reward or
not. Those practices can include:
providing a land owner with a proportion of the crop at harvest,
working for the landowner
doing other work, such as chores around the home

In each case, it is not the provision of labour in return for access to land that is in itself considered
a form of servitude, but the inability of the victim to change this status. This system, regardless
of its legal, economic, social or political nature, can be seen as oppressive power relationship that
arises from ownership of land and disposition of its products. Serfdom often affects entire families
as the status is frequently hereditary in nature and permanent in status.

Even though serfdom has been widely used in Europe in the Middle Ages, some countries such
as Haiti - continue to employ it even today.

Forced labour
The use of forced labour has been condemned by the international community as a practice
similar to but distinct from slavery. The League of Nations and the United Nations have made a
distinction between slavery and forced or compulsory labour and the International Labour
Organization was given principal responsibility for the abolition of the latter.

Forced labour is defined in the art. 2 of the Convention concerning Forced of Compulsory Labour
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. The definition of the International
Labour Organisation distinguishes forced labour from slavery in that forced labour does not

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include an attribute of ownership. it is clear though that the practice imposes a similar degree of
restriction on the victims freedom often through violent means, making forced labour similar to
slavery in its effect on the individual.

Forced labour continues to persist throughout the world. It does not only occur in developing
countries, but continues to persist in the developed parts of the world as well. A common element
of forced labour is coercion, which may be found within contemporary economic practices such
as the offering of credits or loans to individuals incapable of repayment within the specified terms.

Forced marriage and trafficking of women

The trafficking of persons today can be viewed as the modern equivalent of the slave trade of the
19th century. Selling or otherwise forcing a woman into marriage, or the transfer of a woman as a
possession between individuals or groups, constitutes a form of slavery. Two of the oldest yet
most prevalent forms of slavery existing today, forced marriage and the trafficking of women,
have not historically received the same attention as other forms of slavery.

Women and children are abducted from poor countries and trafficked to another, where they are
sold into labour, marriage, or prostitution. Women are frequently advertised and sold into
marriages with men in developed countries as well as less developed nations.

Women are often forced into marriage or prostitution by threats of violence or economic coercion.
Forced marriages and trafficking of women are amongst the most widely practised forms of
slavery, occurring in such countries as China, France, Ghana, the United Kingdom, and the United

Child labour and Child Servitude

The need to protect children from exploitative practices was formally acknowledged at the
international level early in the twentieth century. The League of Nations included the
protection of children within the ambit of its work on eliminating slavery and the slave trade. The

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Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924, stated that children must be protected
against every form of exploitation.

The Universal Declaration and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contain
provisions prohibiting exploitation, trafficking and forced labour of children in all their forms and
acknowledge the special place of children in society. The Supplementary Convention on the
Abolition of Slavery includes within its definition of institutions and practices similar to slavery:
any institution or practice whereby a child or young person under the age of 18 years, is delivered
by either or both of his natural parents or by his guardian to another person, whether for reward
or not, with a view to the exploitation of the child or young person or of his labour (art. 1(d)).

In developing countries, children are often abducted or sold by their families to obtain money
necessary for survival, or in hopes of giving children what the parents are told will be a better life.
Often exploited for little or no compensation, children are forced to work long hours, commonly in
dangerous jobs. In such cases, the children are frequently subjected to debt bondage and sexual

Exploitation, trafficking, and forced labour of children remain a problem in nations around the
world, including China, France, the UK, the US, and many developing countries, including Ghana.

Prostitution and sexual exploitation

Prostitution takes various forms and involves women, children and also men. It is very closely
related to trafficking. International legal instruments do not contain a definition of prostitution,
though it is most commonly interpreted according to its ordinary meaning, that is any sexual act
offered for reward or profit. Forced prostitution occurs when an individual is prostituted against
her or his will. Force may include:
physical abuse,
physical control of prostitutes children, with threats to keep the children as
hostages if prostitute leave,
threats of physical harm, including murder,

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keeping prostitutes in a continuous state of poverty and indebtedness,

deprivation of the freedom of movement.

Sexual slavery is distinct from prostitution in that it does not require financial gain or reward. It is,
however, related to forced prostitution in that it is the coerced exploitation of persons in a sexual
manner. Sexual slavery involves the sexual exploitation of individuals through the use or threat of
force, often occurring in times of armed conflict or belligerent occupation. The Rome Statute of
the International Criminal Court prohibits as war crimes or crimes against humanity such offences
as rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and other forms of sexual violence
(art. 7 and 8).

Current situation
International human rights law provides rights to individuals vis--vis States. It is not based
merely on the reciprocity of rights and obligations between a State and an individual. These rights
need to be secured by the State authorities exercising their jurisdiction or effective control. The
effective implementation of international treaties and international human rights protection
standards cannot be limited to the national measures adopted by States.

International human rights mechanisms adopted to review or monitor the national actions play
an important role as they fill a gap when domestic mechanisms fail or prove insufficient. While
they do not replace national implementation, their impact on national jurisdictions is becoming
increasingly direct. International human rights treaties supplement the efforts of national
authorities through their enforcement mechanisms.

All major international and regional human rights instruments since the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights have provided for periodic reports from the States that have ratified
the relevant provisions. Those reports are reviewed by expert bodies, which then issue specific
recommendations. This procedure is considered crucial for the monitoring of implementation and
enforcement of international human rights standards. Sadly, there is no such international

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mechanism for the monitoring and enforcement of States obligations to abolish slavery and
similar practices.

Vulnerability to modern forms of slavery is affected by a complex set of interactions between the
factors related to the level of protection and respect for human rights, safety and security, access
to food, water and health care, as well as patterns of migrations, displacements and conflicts. The
Global Slavery Index identifies 24 measures of vulnerability that are grouped into four dimensions:
civil and political protections,
social health and economic rights,
personal security
refugee population and conflict.

(Dimensions and variables in vulnerability model)

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Country positions
For an estimated proportion of population in modern slavery by a country, absolute number of
people in modern slavery by a country, measures of vulnerability to modern slavery by a country
and a detailed rank of countries by their government response to the modern forms of slavery, as
well as regional analysis please consult the Global Slavery Index 2016 Report (available to
download at and the annual thematic reports
of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences
(available to download at
The governments which are taking the most action to respond to modern slavery are:
the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Portugal, Croatia,
Spain, Belgium, and Norway.
These countries generally have more economic wealth, score higher on government response,
have low levels of conflict, and are politically stable with a willingness to combat modern slavery.

Among states that are taking positive steps to respond to the challenges of modern slavery relative
to their wealth are:
Croatia, the Philippines, Montenegro, Brazil, Macedonia, Georgia, Moldova, Albania, Jamaica, and

Among States that are taking the least actions to combat modern slavery are:
North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Hong Kong, Central African Republic, Papua New
Guinea, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.
Some of these countries are characterised by:
government complicity, as is the case in North Korea;
low levels of political will in countries like Iran;
fewer resources, as with Papua New Guinea;

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or high levels of conflict, as is the case in South Sudan and Central African Republic
An important factor, as it is in the case of Hong Kong, is that relatively limited actions are taken
due to low level or recognition that modern slavery occurs.

Points to Consider:
1. The true effectiveness of international treaties and regulations can be assessed by the extent in
which the States apply those provisions at the national level. First, you should consider however,
if the current international human rights norms are sufficient for a global eradication of
contemporary forms of slavery and slavery-like practices?
2. Are the existing international human rights monitoring systems effective in the process of
national implementation and compliance with international human rights norms on the
prohibition of slavery and its contemporary manifestations?
3. Are different additional mechanisms needed to deal with particular kinds of violations or
thematic issues relevant to the prevention of slavery (special rapporteurs, working groups, special
representatives, thematic mechanisms that have the capacity to receive information from
individuals, to make direct appeals to Governments, to visit countries and ultimately to seek an
end to specific violations)?
4. Does expansion of the scope of contemporary forms of slavery (such as e.g. apartheid,
colonialism, trafficking in human organs and incest) dilute efforts to eradicate the its historical
forms? Although these practices generally constitute serious violations of international human
rights, they may not necessarily fall within the ambit of the international conventions abolishing

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Further reading

The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at the Brown University offers a fine selection of
varied research and resources available on the interdisciplinary study of the historical forms of
slavery and how these legacies shape the contemporary world:

Orlando Patterson address the challenge of defining slavery in the modern world and explores the
gendered nature of slavery in both traditional and modern times.
Patterson O. Trafficking, Gender & Slavery: Past and Present, in The Legal Parameters of Slavery:
Historical to the Contemporary. Harvard Law School: The Hourston Institute. 2011, available at
a__autosaved_.pdf, 20.12.2016.
With 167 contributions from 150 top academics and practitioners, Beyond Trafficking and Slavery
Short Course offers an open access e-syllabus on forced labour, trafficking, and slavery. It is
divided into eight volumes and contains essays and papers addressing the political, economic,
and social root causes of exploitation, vulnerability, and forced labour around the world:
The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism offers an amazing selection of the full scope of
investigative reporting on human trafficking and modern-day slavery, with multu-media, picture
slideshows and everything you might need after going through the 900-page research offered
by the Open Democracy: