Slavery and Human Trafficking

A man visits the memorial.

For over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the tragic transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history. This legacy of racism continues to impact us, most recently spurring a global movement to end injustices. The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (25 March) aims to honour the victims and to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today. Join us in an online cultural event with musical performances, mini-documentaries, and a multilingual poetry reading.

A woman covers her face with flowers.

The work of the UN and its partners never stops against human traffickers in West and Central Africa, who force people to risk their lives on dangerous journeys across the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea. 

A group of people carrying loads along with donkeys.

According to the ILO more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term covering practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power. The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (2 December) focuses the eradication of slavery, as it has evolved and manifested itself throughout history.

A set of sculptures depicting people with heads bowed and shoulders hunched, face the sea.

The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition intends to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples. On 23 August, UNESCO leads us in honouring the memory of the men and women, who revolted in Haiti in 1791 and paved the way for the end of slavery and dehumanization. The Remember Slavery campaign underscores the lasting effects of the transatlantic slave trade, including racism, that continue to divide societies and hamper our advancement towards a world that respects human rights and enables sustainable development for all.

Organized crime thrives in times of crisis. We must ensure COVID-19 does not provide new opportunities for human traffickers. During lockdowns, those in domestic or sex work are more exposed to violence and abuse. Migrants and seasonal workers face more precarious working conditions.

Nadia Murad details her fight against ISIL as part of a panel discussion on trafficking in persons organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). New York, 20 November 2017. UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Nadia Murad is a Nobel Laureate and Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. In this article she sheds light on sexual violence—an important issue on which she has been working to raise awareness for several years and by which she has been personally affected. "Perpetrators use sexual violence in an attempt to assert dominance and power over entire communities. The consequences are far-reaching and long-term; families and communities experience collective, generational trauma, which can destroy them from within."

Woman from Morocco trapped in forced labour.

The focus of the Day, marked on 2 December, is to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery. According to the  International Labour Organisation (ILO) more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. Modern slavery covers practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking. It refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

We see a dark room with laundry hung to dry in one corner, while a girl stands facing away from the camera and looks out towards the light that is shining through a shuttered glass door.

Slavery is perpetuated by traditional practices such as child and forced marriage, and by the fact that almost 1/2 the countries in the world have yet to criminalize it. According to the latest UN figures, 40 million people were living in a state of modern slavery in 2016.