Modern Slavery: How Slavery Was Never Truly Abolished

Thoughts on modern slavery: What is the connection between historical slavery and prison systems of the present day? Was slavery really completely abolished?

When most people think of slavery, images of historic racist abuse come to mind. However, while out-and-out blatant slavery was abolished some time ago, those in power have found ways to abuse loopholes in legislation, and create a modern form of slavery, in which millions of individuals around the world are trapped. It would be naïve to believe that slavery has truly been abolished.

By Olivia Eriksen

Modern slavery/Slavery was never truly abolished: view inside a prison
View Inside a Modern Day Prison

Examples of Modern Slavery Around the World

The US Prison System

In the States, prisons are often privatised and so are exempt from a number of the strict rules that state-run institutes face. These private prisons look for ways to cut their costs in order to maximise their bottom lines, and sadly it’s the prisoners that are affected. The prison management manipulates the system and forces detainees to carry out work that directly benefits the prison, in poor conditions, while paying them the absolute bare minimum – less than a dollar a day in some cases.

Unfortunately, it’s often vulnerable individuals such as asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants who are picked up on minor charges and placed in private facilities. They’re detained and held for months or years, during which time they’re put to work as modern-day slaves.

Because this form of slavery is hidden from public view, sheltered behind the high prison walls, it’s mostly ignored by the general public and government. People often view prisoners as second-class citizens, suggesting that they deserve the conditions they live in behind bars due to their criminal behaviours, but no one should have to endure slavery.

The Lure of The UK

The UK isn’t much better. As a prosperous western nation, the UK is seen as a safe haven with endless possibilities for those looking for a better life, but this lure can sometimes be too good to be true. Desperate individuals are lured across the UK borders with promises of good, honest jobs, but once they’re here they realise that their reality is now a life of enslavement.

Tens of thousands of individuals are trafficked from around the world, and once they’re in the UK they’re forced to work in cannabis farms against their will. This is sadly just one example of the modern slavery seen in the UK.

a prison barbed wire fence
How Slavery Was Never Truly Abolished: View Outside a Modern Day Prison

The Rest of The World

All around the world, people have found ways to bend laws to their will, and create loopholes that allow them to perpetuate slavery.

In the Middle East, young women – some still children – are forced into marriages with significantly older men, and are enslaved to lives of servitude.

In Asia, fishing boats are crammed full with vulnerable men who are then sold off as slaves to the highest bidder, and forced to work in inhumane conditions. Innumerable women and children are victims of sex trafficking all around the world.

And, far too many individuals are exposed to unsafe working conditions in exchange for rock-bottom compensation while working in fast fashion factories around the world.

The Harsh Reality of Slavery and Prison

It’s a harsh truth that slavery is as prominent as ever, all around the world. It’s almost more sinister than what we read in history books, as it’s being done right under our noses every single day. The forms of slavery I’ve mentioned here only scratch the surface of what’s really going on in 2021, and they’ll continue to do so until the rest of us step up and confront the institutions that are perpetuating such atrocities.

Perhaps one day our society will reach a stage of true and total abolition of slavery. Before this can happen, conversations need to be sparked and eyes need to be opened to the truth of the matter: slavery was never truly abolished. It may be more subtle and more hidden than ever, but make no mistake, it’s alive and kicking. Maybe our generation is the one that can change it all.

Olivia Eriksen is a writer and correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors that provides legal aid to forcibly displaced persons.