Center for Social Solutions - University of Michigan

The Third Slavery Project: Towards Ending Contemporary Involuntary Servitude

Lead Organization

Center for Social Solutions - University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States

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Project Summary

Despite efforts to abolish slavery at the end of the 19th century, various forms of forced servitude, slavery, and human trafficking have persisted or reemerged, with a global estimate of 40 million persons in some form of slavery today. Mounting worldwide pressures from climate-related displacement and labor automation trends will exacerbate this crisis. Noble, yet disjointed, efforts of contemporary anti-slavery and anti-trafficking groups, practitioners, scholar-activists, faith groups, legislators, corporations and philanthropists have yet to prove successful in eradicating trafficking and slavery. “Third Slavery Project” (TSP) reframes the problem and proposes an ambitious solution with a coordinated, multi-pronged global campaign that informs, educates, and, through the establishment of slave-free labor certification campaigns, transforms sectors where slavery persists. When implemented at scale, TSP has the power to curtail the expansion of the Third Slavery and ultimately end forced labor and human trafficking for millions worldwide.

Problem Statement

Despite valiant efforts to end human slavery at the end of the 19th century, various forms of involuntary servitude have persisted and new forms have emerged. Human exploitation in the 21st century is larger in scale and scope than most imagine. We use the term “Third Slavery” to historicize contemporary forms of involuntary servitude, in contrast to the “classical” slavery of pre-15th centuries and the trans-Atlantic and trans-Saharan slaveries spanning the 15th to 20th centuries.Today an estimated 40 million people are victimized by the Third Slavery. It exacts a mental, physical, and financial toll. While many are hidden, some victims are more visible than others. They may be the women painting our nails or offering massages with “fringe benefits.” They might be children picking the beans for the chocolate we crave. They might assemble our ubiquitous digital tools, supply the foods we eat, the garments we wear, or the bricks used to construct our buildings. According to some estimates, G20 nations alone import commercial products worth $354 billion (US) annually from supply-chains populated with individuals ensnared by the Third Slavery. Estimated profits from human trafficking reach as high as $150 billion annually, with approximately $100 billion in the sex industry and $50 billion in forced labor.We tolerate the Third Slavery because we often see it as something else. Naming the problem is the first step, making the visible comprehensible the second, and devising and implementing an integrated strategy for elimination the third. We will address all three.

Solution Overview

The TSP leverages the expertise of a multi-sector partnership in a coordinated initiative to recognize, halt, and terminate the proliferation of contemporary forms of involuntary servitude.Too often initiatives operate in a historical vacuum, suggesting the past is divorced from the present or future. Yet we know descendants of the second slavery carried with them the traumas of an earlier era; they inherited wealth inequities, racialized subordination, inferior access to education, and other barriers that positioned some to enter the Third Slavery. The TSP triangulates an integrated campaign of discrete, testing and overlapping programmatic components that will scale over time. 1) Documentation: we will amplify awareness and visibility of the Third Slavery through multi-media campaigns that document both the “enslaved” and the “enslavers.” 2) Education: through educational, cultural, and public programming, we will deliver anti-slavery and anti-trafficking awareness and competency training in K-12 and other educational arenas and through exhibits at venues like the Smithsonian that link the Second and Third Slavery. 3) Strategy: we will utilize expertise to create certification tools that foster active marketplace mechanisms to track compliance with non-slave labor regulations through external evaluations and audits. With a focus on targeted interventions, we will systematically measure increased awareness of the Third Slavery concept; increase independent collection of data and on-the-ground interventions; and implement and evaluate growth of the “Non-Slave Labor” certification campaign. We will directly impact the currently enslaved, and shift attitudes and behaviors worldwide by prompting civic engagement with the cause of emancipation for all.

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