Slavery in the 21st century

Tony Magliano

Slavery ended in the 19th century, right? Wrong.

It’s an easy enough mistake to make. After all, the end of America’s civil war and the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — both in 1865 — brought an end to slavery in the U.S. And the British Slavery Abolition Act in 1834 ended slavery in the West Indies, Mauritius, and South Africa.

But many countries didn’t outlaw slavery until the 20th century. In fact, it wasn’t until 1981 that Mauritania finally abolished slavery — becoming the last country on earth to end this dehumanizing practice.

Tragically, slavery did not completely end in 1981. It continues to this very day under a new name: Human Trafficking.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

Throughout the world, and in many of our own communities, there are victims of human trafficking, trapped in domestic servitude, agriculture work, fishing, manufacturing, hotel services, construction, hair and nail salons and prostitution.

And of all the sad forms of human trafficking, the worst of the worst are those that enslave children.

According to the International Labour Organization, the worst forms of child labor/trafficking that must be eliminated without delay include: the sale of children, debt bondage and serfdom, forced labor, forced recruitment for armed conflict, child pornography, child prostitution, and the drug trade.

To help end slave labor in the fishing industry, the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking has developed two Lenten postcards addressed to StarKist and Costco, asking these companies to ensure that their supply chains are free from all forms of forced and abusive labor practices.

To download the two postcards for yourself and to obtain printed versions of the postcards for your congregation go to The postcards will still have a positive effect even if sent after Lent.

The modern slavery of human trafficking is not only occurring in far off corners of the world, it is happening in our cities, towns and often in our own neighborhoods.

In her well-researched comprehensive book, “How You Can Fight Human Trafficking,” Susan Patterson expertly helps the reader to understand the full scope of trafficking — from how to spot it, to the pornography connection, to fair trade, to what anyone can do to help end modern-day slavery. I strongly recommend getting this book.

Another excellent resource is the Polaris Project (

To report suspected human trafficking activities call the Homeland Security investigative tip line (1-866-347-2423). Or call your local police department.

To help someone in the U.S. who may be the victim of modern-day slavery call, or urge them to call, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (1-888-373-7888). This hotline has multi-language capabilities.

For help outside the U.S. go to the Global Modern Slavery Directory website (

The dedication page of Patterson’s book has a photo of a product barcode imbedded on the back shoulder of a trafficked young woman — tragically indicating that she is for sale.

We have a lot of tools here to help us end the scourge of modern-day slavery. Let’s get involved. Let’s refuse to be indifferent to human trafficking.

For as Pope Francis said, “It is not possible to remain indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold like goods.”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan and parish gatherings nationwide about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well-received by audiences from Santa Clara, Calif., to Baltimore, Md. Tony can be reached at