Modern-day slavery: The result of informal institutions.

By Rachel Knibbe

Slavery has existed for many centuries; however, case studies are not similar as they happened in various forms that differ from place to place and from colonizer to colonizer. Moreover, during the 16th century, the British intensified slave trade and made slaves a product that could be sold on the global market. Although slavery was abolished in the British Empire early in the 19th century, which, according to Acemoglu and Robinson in Why nations fail caused the external demand for slaves to be reduced. Moreover, African societies had organized themselves around slave trade, so they redeployed the slaves on the African continent until late into the 20th century. It will be argued that where slavery still exists, it is the result of removing formal institutions but holding onto  informal institutions.  

Slavery still exists in the present day in different forms in every country. Asia and Africa have the highest prevalence of forced labour. Hence it is still frequent today due to the continuation of slave trade in Africa after the British abolished it. Slavery can be seen as a formal institution that was set up by the British, when they left the indigenous population continued with the formal institution. In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibited slavery. However, it is hard to abolish a formal institution completely if it is embedded in the informal institutions.

This is due to the economic demand for African slaves, which altered African practices of slavery. Hence it became a structural part of African life. It is argued by Roitman that traditional affiliations are resurfacing in the informal sector. Hence it can be said that slavery is one of those traditional affiliations. It is hard to change informal institutions when they are embedded in society.