International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

The UN International Day for the Abolition of Slavery is annually held on 2 December to raise awareness of the atrocities of modern slavery. The focus of this day is on eradicating all forms of slavery, such as child labour, forced marriage, forced labour, bonded labour, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.

Despite freedom from slavery being defined in numerous international conventions and legal systems of many countries, for example,

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
  • UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocols 2000
  • Slavery Convention 1926
  • European Convention on Action against Trafficking 2005


millions of people are still subjected to slavery in many forms today. Unlike other universally recognised gross abuses of human rights, there is no specific monitoring UN treaty body to deal with slavery or slave-like practices.

Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals, calls for effective measures to end forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking, as well as child labour in all its forms. This target is closely related with several others, including,

  • Eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (SDG 5.2)
  • Eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early, and forced marriage and female genital mutilations (SDG 5.3)
  • Ending abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of children (SDG 16.2)
  • Facilitating orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies (SDG 10.7)

According to the United Nations:

  • An estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage
  • There are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world.
  • 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children
  • Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million people in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million people in forced labour imposed by state authorities
  • Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors



Forced Labour

According to the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention, forced or compulsory labour is all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily. Forced labour can include forced sexual services.

The 50 for Freedom Campaign is led by the International Labour Organisation and its partners, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Organisation of Employers, which aims to persuade at least 50 countries to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol by 2018.

People are forced to work under the threat of violence or coercion and for no pay, as domestic workers, on construction sites, in clandestine factories, on farms and fishing boats, in other sectors, and in the sex industry. Often, they are only given food, water and minimal shelter. These people are treated as property and forced to work, allowing private individuals and groups or by state authorities to profit or gain from their work. The products they are forced to make and services they provide, end up in seemingly legitimate commercial channels. Everyday products such as the clothes we wear and food we eat have been manufactured by people working in slave like conditions.

So what can we do to raise awareness of forced labour and take steps to end all forms of modern-day slavery?

Become a conscious consumer. Check the companies you purchase from and their supply chains — including food, clothing, electronics and more — to ensure there is no slave labour used in creating their goods. (Coffee and chocolate have two of the highest rates of slave labour in their processing and production!)

Buy products marked “fair trade” or other official labels indicating they are produced in an ethical manner. Although they might cost slightly more for you, it could mean saving someone else’s life.

You may also write letters, use social media or contact businesses to call on them to end forced labour and slavery in their supply chains. (Of course not spending your money on their products is the LOUDEST message!)

Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose. Our consumerism drives demand and unwittingly, we contribute to the problem. By consuming less, we lessen demand for cheap goods, often made with slave labour.

Become a conscious investor. Check your investments to be sure the companies you are involved in do not have any associations with forced labour. In fact, you could invest in socially and environmentally responsible companies and put your money to work for good!

Get involved. Join local coalitions and abolitionist movements and offer your gifts, talents, time and money to support outreach, education, advocacy and justice.

Get active. Call on your representatives in government — from local to national — to take meaningful action to prevent and end all forms of modern-day slavery, and to create and strengthen laws and policies to hold criminals responsible.

Buy Survivor Made Goods. Another tip offered by End Slavery Now, is to economically empower human trafficking survivors buy purchasing their goods and support real and lasting freedom.

Although this effort can seem overwhelming, even daunting, we have the power to change.

We cannot all do everything on this list, but every single one of us, can do something, even if it is one thing.

Together we can make a difference. Together, in this generation, we can end slavery.



Sign up to read the very latest edition of the Soroptimist International Newsletter.