you will not see it until you believe it

A lot of people think slavery belongs to the past, but unfortunately this is not the case. Slavery still exists. According to a report by ILO, Walk Free Foundation and IOM (2017) approximately 40 million people live in slavery across the world.
The question remains; do we recognise them?

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from plantations to modern cities

Slavery has existed in many forms throughout the ages. From the times when slave holders were legally allowed to own another human being and to control their labour, to todays hidden form of slavery where people are exploited by the use of threat, violence and social restriction. Slavery in this century takes the form of forced labour, forced commercial sexual exploitation and forced marriage. A human being has never in history been cheaper.

See it - believe it

Ironically, we call it “modern slavery”. Nothing is more prehistoric and outdated. Modern slavery can be defined as the use of force or fraud to rob a person of the control of their freedom and labour.

You will not see it until you believe it” said the former public prosecutor, Rudolf Christoffersen, about modern slavery. 

So, what is modern slavery? Simply explained one can say that modern slavery is the use of force and control to deprive someone's freedom and their right to determine their own life and employment. Those exploited in modern slavery are found in forced labour, prostitution or other services with a fractional payment, or without payment at all. There are many forms of modern slavery. The most common forms of slavery are forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation, but it also exists in debt slavery, organ trafficking, child labour, child soldiers, forced marriages and child brides.

Modern slavery involve the use of force and control to deprive someone’s freedom and their right to determine their own life and employment

Vulnerable people 

The people exploited in modern slavery are mainly vulnerable and poor people from different ethnic groups. Orphans, minor refugees and children in orphanages are especially vulnerable for slavery, both in Europe and throughout the world. Stateless and nomadic people such as the Romains are also vulnerable groups. These people lack their rights and the state does not seem to bother that their rights are maintained. They are easy to betray by telling that there is a better future for them to pursue in the West, for example in Norway. The traffickers often promise great jobs, education, citizenship or marriage, but end up exploiting them as modern slaves. Some are also sold or exploited by their own family, others are kidnapped. 

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From legal ownership to inhuman control 

In the old slavery it was legal to own another human being. The slave owners and slave traders had documents proving they owned the slave. The slaves were expensive, and even though they worked long days and some were held in chains, they were fed and taken care of, because of the value of the slave. In our time it is illegal to own and sell people. The traffickers would want to avoid documents that can prove they are selling and owning people, so that there will be less evidence in a possible investigation. The traffickers, therefore, need to use other control mechanisms to control their slaves. They use violence and threats to the slaves, but also to the slave’s families. Physical and sexual violence are common methods the traffickers use to control their slaves. Some force the victims to use drugs so they depend on the traffickers to get the drug they have become physically dependent on. In some cases, barbed wires, locked doors and links have been used to control the slaves.


Physical violence are not the only tactics that are used. Psychological tactics have proven to be equally effective in many cases, such as threats of violence against the slaves and their families. This creates invisible links around the victims, often called “a chain around the brain”. Traffickers expose the slaves to brainwashing so that they eventually believe that they have chosen prostitution themselves, for example, or that they have no human value other than making money for the traffickers. The use of false debt is also a common way of exploiting people. This means that the traffickers pay for travel and living expenses, and then put on high interest rates. The slaves have no opportunity to repay this money, and are therefore forced to prostitute themselves. It is also quite common for the traffickers to take control of the slaves' passports and visas so that they cannot escape. The victims are brainwashed to believe that the police will arrest them, and that no one will help them if they try to escape. General inhuman treatment, combined with other factors, can break down the slaves' ability and willingness to fight for their own freedom.

Who are the traffickers? 

It is natural that you ask yourself who the traffickers are. Who can expose another human to such an inhuman treatment that is the reality of modern slaves? A trafficker is one that exploits people against their will for their own financial gain. This means that anyone involved in recruiting, transporting or buying a modern slave is a trafficker. They often have a mafia affiliation or hide slaves in family business.  It is not unusual for them to be self-employed, contractors or suppliers. The traffickers can also often be middlemen in the face of customers, such as a pimp.

Outdated slavery in a modern world

Modern slavery exists because of two factors, supply and demand. Modern slavery would not exist if there was no demand for cheap labour, products and services. Poverty, lack of education and work opportunities creates few opportunities to choose how to live their lives. People are forced to take the job they can get, which the traffickers take advantage of. In many countries, war and armed conflict are a reality. This creates perfect conditions for the traffickers to find new victims. False escape opportunity offers may turn into slavery, but refugees are also kidnapped and used as slaves. Children are forced to be child soldiers in some cases, whilst other times children and young women are forced to work for a guerrilla or army by cooking and cleaning.

Modern slavery would not exist if there was no demand for cheap labour, products and services

Many manufacturers of goods choose to move their production to a country where labor and raw materials are cheap. It is cheaper in these countries because working conditions and legislation in such countries are significantly poorer or non-existent. This results in cheap production costs and high profit. Asia is a good example of this. The clothing industry produces most of the fabrics and clothing in Asia where poverty and lack of education are great. A lot of the production of electronics also works like this. These are goods that are in great demand, but the willingness for the buyer to pay for the product is relatively low. This allows manufacturers to rely on cheap or free labour to keep costs down.

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Big and small efforts can solve the problem

There are four things that are important in fighting modern slavery:

  1. Information and prevention work 

  2. Protection for trafficked persons

  3. Good legislation and prosecution of traffickers

  4. Cooperation between state, county and NGO’s

Norwegians can contribute to tackle modern slavery by preventing demand for cheap products and labour. This is done by buying fair goods and avoid buying black services. One can look for products that are marked with Fairtrade, UTZ or similar fair trade brands. You can resist the consumer mentality and fast fashion, do not buy sex, and dare to question services and products that are too cheap. If it seems too cheap to be true then it often is so. See "Ethical Trading" to learn more.