Evolution of slavery

By Jan Bogaarts

Paul E. Lovejoy explains about the three timeframes of slavery expansion in history. In the first chapter of “Transformations in Slavery” Lovejoy describes these three periods 1350 - 1600, 1600 - 1800 and 1800 - 1900. The last of these three stages is the transatlantic slave trade. At the time, the U.S was the main importer of slaves. The end of the american civil war was the end of the last expansion of slave-trading. However, this did not conclude the existence of slavery in the world. Today I ask myself and all the readers of this blog what happened between the years 1900 and 2000 and what stage of slavery we are in today?

The institution of slavery has been outlawed in all countries. Perhaps the most famous of all abolitionist movements is the one that caused the American civil war. The Thirteenth amendment to the constitution was passed in 1865 and since then many countries have followed. The last nation to outlaw slavery was Mauritania in 2007. On paper slavery was beaten between 1900 and 2000 but in reality it persists in smaller numbers. Many forms of modern slavery can be found today in countries that seem to have outlawed it.

Bonded labour and forced migrant labour are two modern types of slavery prevalent in Asia. People who are supposedly free workers are in a situation where the alternative to working is death. In many European countries sex-workers are blackmailed into working their whole lives as prostitutes. According to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), human trafficking has increased in the last years.

Are we then in a fourth period of slavery expansion? Is it possible that after the decline of slavery between 1900 and 2000, it is picking up again? What can we do to stop slavery besides outlawing it?

The two faces of slavery

By Lorraine Besnier

Although there are proofs that Europeans did not invent slavery but simply changed its face, some questions remains concerning the extent of this statement. The way Europeans reinvented not only the definition of slave, but also reorganised societies around it, suggests that they did create an entirely new structure.

In this post, I will try to show that by redefining slavery, Europeans completely changed the existing institutions, based on their own perception of the matter.

Lovejoy explains in “Transformation of slavery” how slavery in its basic definition of one person owning another existed long before the Europeans first came to Africa. Indeed, indigenous slavery was based on the survival of the fittest. A man, to protect himself, would enslave his adversary for if he failed to do so, he himself would have to submit. But some rules were informally enforced. For instance, there was no idea of class, and tribes did matter.

After the arrival of the Europeans, the rules changed. Indeed, with the importance given to slaves, the indirect implantation of new institutions, and the creation of an entire market, the incentives were increasing for individuals to pay attention to this “business”.

However, the effects were not the same for everyone, and as the Europeans transposed their own beliefs abroad by solely approaching people whom had some kind of authority in the communities, only a small number of individuals could benefit from it. Lovejoy's example of the Oracle “swallowing” people to sell them perfectly illustrates the idea. Thus, native chiefs and religious guides had the monopoly on slave trafficking.

With their “contribution” of a new system, the Europeans succeeded in creating an unprecedented organisation within Africa. Slavery was no longer a matter of safety, but one of money.

Can Slavery in the Islamic World be justified by the Quran?

By Kelsey Bischot

As Lovejoy and Acemoglu and Robinson have made apparent in their works, slavery didn’t truly end in the 19th century with the abolition. Modern slavery still persists today in the form of child slavery, forced marriage, trafficking, bonded labor and more. I will briefly try to uncover why the institution of slavery continues to gain strength and power across the Islamic World.

When the Islamic world became the heir of slavery, it was a means of converting non-Muslims (Lovejoy). This institution has now distorted into ISIS enslaving thousands of innocent people, especially Yazidi women and children. ISIS claims that rape and sex slavery is admissible because the Yazidis are not Muslim. They blame this on the fact that the Quran accepted the existence of chattel slavery as a fact of life at the time of its revelation (CNN). ISIS uses many of the Quran’s verses to justify its violence and celebrate sexual assault and enslavement. Koran 23:5-6 says: Allah the almighty said: '[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame (Memrijttm). ISIS interprets this to able to rape innocent women as a prayer to God in accordance with Halal.

The institution has gained more followers as ISIS has started using the institution as a recruitment tool to lure men from conservative Muslim societies where casual sex and dating is forbidden (New York Times).

As the institution of slavery continues to gain ground in Islam with the power of ISIS, it is important to realize that the Quran does not actually justify slavery and instead exhorts believers to free their slaves as an exemplification of their piety and belief in God (CNN). Studying history has revealed that the institution justifies its acts based on its initial intent of converting non-Muslims, but has changed in its role from production to the exploitation of women.

Conscription: a modern case of slavery?

By Robin Vroom

Although slavery has been outlawed in all countries, there are modern forms of slavery that still exist to this day. The means through which modern forms of slavery operate differ greatly and do not only come in the obvious form in which one person takes ownership of another. Some forms of modern slavery are: debt bondage, serfdom, forced labour, and human trafficking. Yet one prevalent practise is often disregarded, namely military conscription. With this blog post I address a controversial topic – does conscription as an institution qualify to be labelled as a form of slavery?

The authors of the 1930 Forced Labour Convention – which is ratified by 177 countries - fully realised that military conscription fulfils the characteristics of forced labour. As it defines forced 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,” but exempted “any work or service exacted in virtue of compulsory military service.”

Now, whether one supports military conscription or not, one cannot argue against its substantial persistence in our current world. More than half of the world’s countries currently employ military conscription in one form or another (see figure 1). These forms of conscription are by definition involuntary servitude and restrict freedom of movement. Cooperation is institutionally enforced with punishments like imprisonment, exile, and in some cases even execution.

The main effect here probably is that the connotation attached to slavery evokes different emotions than conscription. Slavery is often regarded not solely as involuntary servitude, but as low-status involuntary servitude. Conscription on the other hand receives honour and provides a deep pool of manpower in the event of a national emergency. Notwithstanding, one ought to be careful when cost-efficiency compromises individual’s freedom. 

Modern slavery

By Laura Ombelet

Slavery is not an issue of the past. Despite its abolishment throughout the 19th and 20th century, 21 million people still exist as slaves today. When someone mentions ‘slavery’ we often conjure images in our mind of thousands being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to work on plantations in the southern United States. However slavery’s reach is far more relevant than we might initially assume. 

One of the most prominent forms of modern day slavery is human trafficking. Trafficking is defined as ‘the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threat or use of force or other forms or coercion, abduction, fraud, deception [and] the abuse of power’. During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, slaves were often captured in a similar manner. Lovejoy states that slavery was initiated through violence, either as kidnapping, through warfare or as punishment. Deception was also of coercion in the past; slaves were often falsely accused of witchcraft and then detained as criminals. However similarities between slavery in the 18th century and today are not numerous. 

During the transatlantic slave trade, slavery was ‘fundamentally tied to labour’. Although sexuality was significant during the buying and selling of slaves, today the sex trafficking industry features far more prominently in modern day slavery. Masters of slaves were in control of sexual and reproductive capacities and the price of females was higher than men precisely because of this sexual dimension. Nonetheless the production of slaves was highly stressed, especially during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Today sex trafficking is rising; the multibillion dollar industry is rife in both developing and developed countries marking it as one of societies biggest global challenges. 

It is not possible to paint all forms of slavery with the same brush. Not only does slavery vary through time, but also with region, cause and effect. 

Is slavery a European invention?

By Hugo van Lent

This is certainly a question worth asking. However, its answer is not that simple. Was the trans-Atlantic slave trade first initiated by European merchant companies? Yes, sine dubio. Was the majority of those slaves transported to and made to toil the soil of European colonies? Yes. Was it European states that were responsible for displacing people on an unprecedented scale? Plausibly. Is it therefore reasonable to call slavery a European invention? Not necessarily.

Slavery, as defined by Paul Lovejoy in his book Transformation in Slavery, is not only based on the fact that its victims were chattel – property to be bought and sold – or that they were employed as forced labour; a third crucial element is that slaves were considered to live outside of civil society and therefore were not deserving of the rights and liberties of the citizen.

European philosophical and political thought during the Age of Slavery was very much set out to define the nature of the citizen and his natural, inalienable rights. Slaves, of course, did not have these rights – they were not considered citizens. Societies exclusively based on institutionalised chattel slavery – what Lovejoy calls “slavery society” – did not exist in Europe; they were meant as a model for the colonies, not for an enlightened European state or a “New-Europe”.

When enlightenment ideas were finally put into practice, Europeans realised their hypocrisy – that their political thought was utterly incompatible with what was happening in the colonies – and the international slave trade was banned. Only in the colonies, such as the American South – did slavery continue and was it institutionalised.

So did Europeans practice slavery on a scale much greater than before? Yes. But may slavery be considered uniquely European? Not at all. If anything is could be called European, it is the abolishment of slavery.

21st century colonialism

By Reinout Huizer

The world’s population is rapidly growing and will continue to do so. Due to the increasing middle class in many countries consumption rates have gone up. Land is scarce and in order to fulfill the needs of this growing group companies and governments are buying and leasing land in the developing world. Countries sell or lease out their land in order to stimulate development, but in most instances this is not the result. Contrary to what the host countries are expecting products are exported out of the country and leave the local population empty handed. Is colonialism a term of the past?

Extracting resources from a country is not a new concept and has been done on an extreme scale during the colonial era. Towards the end of this era colonizers wanted to make as much profit as possible and in order to do so they exploited the countries they had claimed. Nowadays countries are not able to produce enough food on their own territories and to meet the level of consumption they look across the border. In 2009 Saudi Arabia exclusively produced for the Kingdom itself in Ethiopia, where at the time being the population was suffering due to famine. This example clearly illustrates that this modern-day land grab is purely based on the self-interests of foreign investors.

Ethiopia is not the only country that has given up its land, countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia have signed contracts that only profit the twenty-first century colonizers.

The majority of these deals will harm the developing countries in the future and only provide them with money and do not stimulate their long-term development. Because foreign governments are involved in this process it can be argued that colonialism is still present today and that the second scramble for Africa has started.

Missouri Compromise

By Jori Korpershoek

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was an agreement between the slave owning South and the abolitionist North of the United States of America. Congress drew a line through the American continent and declared that on one side slavery would be legal, on the other side it would be illegal. Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson look at institutions on the national level, but in this case the level of inclusiveness clearly differed within the nation. Can the same mechanism of higher settler mortality leading to extractive institutions be used to explain these intra-national differences?

When talking about diseases in the New World, the main culprits are usually smallpocks, measles and chickenpox which wiped out a significant percentage of Native Americans. But not all newly imported diseases would be as harmless to the new settlers. Ships from Africa did not only bring slaves, but also carried malaria falciparum, an especially deadly strain of malaria that many West-Africans developed immunity to. 

In "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development" Acemoglu et al. argue that the higher the mortality rate for Europeans in a colony, the worse its institutions. In his book "1493" Michael C. Mann proposes a similar hypothesis for America. In early colonies where malaria falciparum thrived, death rates for Europeans would be higher than for their immune slaves. These place would in turn rely more heavily on that most ‘peculiar’ extractive institution of African slavery rather than (European) indentured or wage labor.

Mann provides potential evidence that suggests this hypothesis is worth further investigation. Malaria falciparum is very temperature sensitive. The difference between it thriving and not being a problem depends on a temperature difference of a few degrees each winter. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the mosquitos would die every year. 190 Kilometer south in Washington D.C. the mosquito would survive the slightly warmer winters. Between these cities runs the Mason-Dixon line, which roughly divided the North from the South.