1. The Meaning of Modern Slavery - Definitional Challenges
Definitional disagreement in national and international law
In a reactive response to the ‘discovery’ of human trafficking in the 1990s, governments
brought in a number of anti-trafficking/anti-slavery laws, all having different definitions of the
crime being addressed.
The lack of agreement between these instruments generates a lack of conceptual clarity when
confronting activities that may or may not be considered within the wider category of
Courts have issued rulings that either set down divergent definitions or interpreted the same
definition very differently.
While international law sets out that the prohibition of slavery is
international instruments, including UN Conventions, are in definitional disagreement.
Lack of consensus about an operational definition
Likewise, governments, policy makers, research institutions, and enforcement agencies have no
shared operational definition of this criminal activity confounding mutual effective
identification and interdiction.
Survivors voices are central yet currently marginalised in debates around definition,
measurement and post-enslavement wellbeing
We find that the voices and views of those who have been enslaved have been excluded from
the construction of both legal and operational definitions.
Slavery is first the experience of an individual person, and secondarily a relationship between at
least two people, the slave and the slaveholder.
Slavery, in its many types and settings, also exists within larger cultural, political, and social
meanings, meanings that are important to understand if we are to grasp the context of slavery
and the factors that might best be addressed to reduce its prevalence.
Slavery is a lived experience, not a single criminal ‘event’; survivors of slavery are the best
witnesses to and interpreters of that experience, their voices are critical to building useful legal
and operational definitions.
Dimensions of wellbeing include self-acceptance, personal growth, autonomy, purpose in life,
and positive relationships. We find that survivors suggest that these five dimensions are
recurring themes: their loss is a consequence of slavery, and their restoration is a focus for
survivors after enslavement.