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On history

Campaigners and governments leading the fight to end ‘modern-day slavery’ regularly appeal to the history of anti-slavery to help justify their current activities and agendas. These appeals to history typically involve one or more of the following: 1) a selective focus upon mostly white anti-slavery campaigners in Britain and the United States; 2) a largely uncritical celebration of the virtues of ‘great emancipators’, such as William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln, whose personal examples are invoked as models to emulate; and 3) a recurring emphasis on innovative strategies used by ordinary citizens—petitions, boycotts, pamphlets—whose impact is held to have been politically decisive in securing ‘freedom’ for enslaved Africans. This superficial approach to history is flawed. Read on...



Two years of the ‘Irish slaves’ myth: racism, reductionism and the tradition of diminishing the transatlantic slave trade

The myth of ‘Irish slaves’ and of an ‘equality of suffering’ between enslaved Africans and white Europeans has gone mainstream, appearing everywhere to legitimate racism and to undermine black rights struggles.

Reparations for enslavement, UNESCO, and the United Nations decade for peoples of African descent

More and more groups are demanding state reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Could this be a reality before the ‘international decade for people of African descent’ ends?

Slave narratives from the past

The existence of more than 200 autobiographical writings by former slaves gives us a crucial window in the world of legal slavery, however reading them is tricky.

Servants of capitalism

Capitalism has always depended on domestic servitude, which still persists today. So why have the women clothing, caring, and cooking for new generations of workers been omitted from its history?

Reparations are too confronting: let’s talk about 'modern-day slavery' instead

Governments and activists in Europe and America invoke the immediacy of “modern-day slavery” to sidestep challenging questions regarding the case for reparations. Instead of repairing harm, they promise rescue.

A wall of silence around slavery

We must acknowledge slavery’s role in creating the modern world if we are to address its legacy. The UNESCO Slave Route Project exists to help breach the wall of silence.

Slavery is not dead: it’s not even past

Commemorating slavery is popular in Europe and the Americas these days, but the living legacies of slavery remain significant problems in former slave societies like the United States and Brazil.

Different times, same weaknesses: abolitionism past and present

Activism against so-called 'modern slavery' often appears to descend from the abolitionism of previous centuries. The history of past movements provides insight into the forms and weaknesses of current movements. Français.

L’abolitionnisme de l’esclavage au prisme du passé/présent

La lutte contre l’esclavage dit « moderne » apparaît souvent comme un héritage de l’abolitionnisme des siècles antérieurs. Interroger l’histoire de ces courants antiesclavagistes passés permet une perception différente des formes d’engagements actuels, de leurs forces et de leurs faiblesses. English.

'Not made by slaves': the ambivalent origins of ethical consumption

Ethical consumption is seen as a way of combating the evils found in global supply chains, yet its ambivalent track record highlights a number of practical complications and political challenges.

The legacies of slavery in southern Senegal

The history of slavery and the slave trade shape contemporary patterns of vulnerability and exclusion in Southern Senegal, but continuity between past and present is not a straightforward process.

Sexual surveillance and moral quarantines: a history of anti-trafficking

The US government is using anti-human trafficking laws to intensify the surveillance and criminalisation of migrating women and harden the national security state—as it has since 1875.

Anti-trafficking movements and journalism: who sets the agenda?

Many have criticised the media for their sensationalist reporting on sex trafficking. But few realise the extent to which social movements are shaping this agenda.

Bigger than the World Cup: state-sponsored human trafficking in the Gulf states

Recent attention to the plight of migrant workers in Qatar is welcome, but the problems of trafficking and forced labour in the Middle East are endemic.

Slaves of the state: American prison labour past and present

We know that corporations are drawn to prisoners because they constitute a source of cheap and reliable labour. But what makes prison labour so attractive to governments?

Using US prison labour to make crime pay

Under the guise of ‘prisoner rehabilitation,’ US prison-made products are silently infiltrating consumer markets and propping up its carceral empire, much as they have throughout US history. 

The everyday gender inequalities that underpin wartime atrocities

The contemporary enslavement of women, and sexual violence inflicted on them in times of war, are rooted in ‘everyday’ gender-based inequalities between men and women.

The ‘new abolitionists’ and the problem of race

‘New abolitionists’ have failed to engage with the history and legacies of slavery and racism. They must learn more about the past if they are to clearly understand the present.

The use and abuse of history: slavery and its contemporary legacies

Beyond Trafficking and Slavery editors introduce their issue 'On History', which challenges the superficial narratives of anti-slavery used by 'modern-day abolitionists' and considers the lessons found in alternative historical approaches.

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