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Defining Contemporary Forms of Slavery: Updating a Venerable NGO

110 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2008  

Claude Welch

University at Buffalo, SUNY

Date Written: January 9, 2008


No human rights abuse has resulted in more formal international treaties than slavery. The great majority of these agreements resulted from pressure from civil society, starting in Great Britain late in the 18th century. Anti-Slavery is the world's oldest international human rights organization, having been founded in London in 1839. Since its inception, it has pressed for greater international recognition and elimination of numerous practices loosely grouped under forms of slavery. In addition to the well-known chattel variety, these include servitude and contemporary forms of slavery, such as debt bondage, compulsory marriage, forced or child labor, sham adoption of children, and trafficking in persons. The efforts of Anti-Slavery have not succeeded in a key area: establishment of a permanent monitoring committee under UN auspices to receive reports and recommend international action.

Defining and combating contemporary forms of slavery; examines the historical evolution of Anti-Slavery as an organization from its inception to the early 21st century. The article highlights reasons for the absence of an effective intra-governmental supervisory group, apart from the weak Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. The article also examines the evolution of slavery as an institution and concept, from chattel forms to current forms that are deeply embedded in social, economic and political structures, thereby making change all the more difficult.

Keywords: Anti-Slavery, slavery, Abolition, Child Labor, Servitude, Forced Labor, Children's Rights, Human Trafficking

Suggested Citation

Welch, Claude, Defining Contemporary Forms of Slavery: Updating a Venerable NGO (January 9, 2008). Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-002. Available at SSRN: or

Claude Welch (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo, SUNY ( email )

520 Park Hall
Department of Political Science
Buffalo, NY 14260
United States
716 645-8434 (Phone)
716 645-2166 (Fax)


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