International Law and Contemporary Slavery: The Long View

The three essays in this special issue come together to confirm the value of exploring varying domestic expressions of and adaptations to international legal ideals. In each polity, lawmakers have viewed the terms “slavery” and “slave labor” in part through a domestic historical lens, and have drafted (or failed to draft) legislation accordingly. The United States inherited core concepts dating back to the moment of abolition of chattel slavery, and thus initially built its prohibitions of modern slavery on nineteenth-century rights guarantees and anti-peonage statutes, later reinforced by modern concepts of human trafficking. Having just emerged from a long dictatorship, Brazilian lawmakers in 1988 crafted a constitution containing ringing human rights guarantees, and gradually amended their mid-twentieth-century penal code and labor legislation to address contemporary working conditions. France, where consciousness about historical slavery has been relatively slow to develop, only very recently incorporated into domestic law explicit language referring to modern slavery, drawing nearly word-for-word from the 1926/1956 international conventions.