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The Anti-Slavery Project

From the Slave Trade to Human Trafficking

By Joel Quirk

Publication Year: 2011

It is commonly assumed that slavery came to an end in the nineteenth century. While slavery in the Americas officially ended in 1888, millions of slaves remained in bondage across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East well into the first half of the twentieth century. Wherever laws against slavery were introduced, governments found ways of continuing similar forms of coercion and exploitation, such as forced, bonded, and indentured labor. Every country in the world has now abolished slavery, yet millions of people continue to find themselves subject to contemporary forms of slavery, such as human trafficking, wartime enslavement, and the worst forms of child labor. The Anti-Slavery Project: From the Slave Trade to Human Trafficking offers an innovative study in the attempt to understand and eradicate these ongoing human rights abuses.

In The Anti-Slavery Project, historian and human rights expert Joel Quirk examines the evolution of political opposition to slavery from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day. Beginning with the abolitionist movement in the British Empire, Quirk analyzes the philosophical, economic, and cultural shifts that eventually resulted in the legal abolition of slavery. By viewing the legal abolition of slavery as a cautious first step—rather than the end of the story—he demonstrates that modern anti-slavery activism can be best understood as the latest phase in an evolving response to the historical shortcomings of earlier forms of political activism.

By exposing the historical and cultural roots of contemporary slavery, The Anti-Slavery Project presents an original diagnosis of the underlying causes driving one of the most pressing human rights problems in the world today. It offers valuable insights for historians, political scientists, policy makers, and activists seeking to combat slavery in all its forms.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights

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Introduction: The Anti-Slavery Project

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pp. 1-20

In January 2004, the New York Times once again found itself embroiled in a controversy concerning one of its reporters. The journalist in question was not named Jayson Blair, or Judith Miller, but was instead Peter Landesman, who had just published a New York Times Magazine cover story entitled “The Girls Next Door” exploring the increasingly topical issue of human ...


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1. A Short History of British Anti-Slavery

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pp. 23-53

Slavery and enslavement have existed in a number of different guises throughout recorded history. This pedigree raises a number of difficult and contentious issues. If slavery represents a self-evident wrong, as current legal and moral opinion maintains, why did all of the world’s major religions and civilizations sanction slavery and slave trading for thousands of years? ...

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2. British Anti-Slavery and European International Society

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pp. 54-81

The British Parliament’s 1807 decision to outlaw slave carrying by British subjects had profound international consequences. Having supported transatlantic slave trading for centuries as a central pillar of colonial projects in the Americas, British governments in the nineteenth century pursued a range of policies designed not only to end slavery in British territories, but also to re-...

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3. British Anti-Slavery and European Colonialism

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pp. 82-110

On the one hand, we have the legal abolition of slavery, which has been repeatedly acclaimed as a great moral victory. On the other, we have European colonialism, which has been repeatedly denounced as a vast criminal enterprise. What should we make of the close historical connection between subjects that provoke such diametrically opposed reactions? In the last ...


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4. The Limits of Legal Abolition

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pp. 113-138

The legal abolition of slavery has often been presented as a historical end-point, fostering a misleading impression that the passage of anti-slavery legislation marked a decisive break with the past. This sharp periodization is reflected in a widespread tendency to organize popular histories of anti-slavery around a series of transformative dates— such as 1833 in Britain or 1888 in ...

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5. Defining Slavery in All Its Forms

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pp. 139-163

Slavery is traditionally defined using a combination of individual ownership, property rights, and extreme exploitation. These familiar themes not only have been reflected in various legal instruments, such as the 1926 Slavery Convention, they also have dominated popular impressions of slavery for centuries, serving as a series of cognitive benchmarks against which many different examples of servi-...


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6. “Classical” Slavery and Descent-Based Discrimination

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pp. 167-192

The recent history of the Anti-Slavery Project has been defined by a more expansive understanding of the breadth and depth of anti-slavery obligations. This has resulted in a landscape in which slavery is now widely held to come in a variety of different forms, which require a variety of overlapping solutions. “Classical” slavery occupies an anomalous position within this new political ...

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7. Slaves to Debt

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pp. 193-215

Bonded labor, or debt bondage, has long been identified as a form of servitude that shares many features in common with “classical” slavery. In its most basic form, bonded labor involves a “worker who renders service under conditions of bondage arising from economic considerations, notably indebtedness though a loan or advance.” This usually involves an extended period ...

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8. Trafficked into Slavery

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pp. 216-240

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the Anti-Slavery Project has been dominated by the issue of human trafficking. The main topic of conversation in this ongoing phase in the evolution of organized anti-slavery has been “sexual slavery,” or forced prostitution. This is a topic that inevitably impinges on broader preoccupations with sex, gender, and the status of prostitution more ...

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Conclusion: Contemporary Slavery in the Shadow of History

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pp. 241-252

The past two and a half centuries have witnessed a remarkable transformation in attitudes toward slavery. What was once a natural feature of human existence has instead come to be regarded as an unconscionable crime against humanity. This book has sought to understand the primary causes and consequences of this far-reaching global transformation. My overall argument can ...


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pp. 253-323


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pp. 325-330

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pp. 331-332

This book has been under construction since 2001. The early stages of the writing process took place at the Australian National University in Canberra, where I had the good fortune to encounter many talented teachers and colleagues. I would like to especially express my gratitude to Chris Reus-Smit, head of the Department of International Relations, for helping mold a proj-...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205640
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243338

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights