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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Hello. Today I’m with Todd Landman, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Nottingham, and a well-known social and political scientist himself who works on human rights around the world. Todd, we have a great raft of international human rights laws that would help countries, and to which countries have already subscribed, to build programs which they might use to eradicate slavery. But we have enormous differences country to country. What’s going on there?

Skip to 0 minutes and 34 seconds So historically, we know there’s been a proliferation of human rights laws, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights all the way till today there’s been an enactment, if you will, of many international instruments for the protection of human rights, within which there are lots of legal codes and frameworks and expectations of states who are members of those treaties to protect things like slavery, or to eradicate slavery. So freedom from servitude is a kind of language that we find in international law repeated over and over again. The problem is that countries then need to implement policies and have institutions in place that realize the objectives that are in those international treaties. And that’s where the problem lies.

Skip to 1 minute and 11 seconds Because countries have different capacities, they’re wealthy, they’re poor, they’re middle income countries, and they may have different policy preferences within their domestic politics which suggests that maybe slavery doesn’t have the same importance as health care. So there are trade-offs that countries face on a daily basis about where to put oftentimes scarce resources to realize and protect the fundamental human rights of their citizens, and at the same time eradicate some of the worst forms of practices that we see around the world. So that variation, if you will, in the ability for countries to protect and eradicate slavery will be contingent on the resources they have, as well as the political will for doing something around it.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 seconds So when I think about countries around the world that have, let’s say, a limitation on national resources. I understand you’ve done some work in Mauritania. So you went into Mauritania, you were working on a national plan to eradicate slavery, what happened? Well that’s a very interesting story, because it perfectly illustrates what you were just saying about the juxtaposition of will, resources, and political frameworks. I was called upon by the Mauritanian government to come work with them to prepare a national plan for the eradication of slavery. Now, it’s worth noting that, of course, Mauritania is one of the countries in the world which has the highest prevalence of slavery, and some of the most long-lasting slavery in the world.

Skip to 2 minutes and 32 seconds In other words, hereditary slavery has been operating there for we’re not even sure how long, but at least 1,000 years. And now this first newly democratically elected government was asking for help. It was a wonderful moment, a very exciting moment to be alive, in a sense, if you’re an abolitionist. And a lot of the world’s larger democratic countries began to gather around and say, let us give you help to make this happen. Working through the World Bank, they organized a donor group, they organized a support group, they organized a group of constitutional experts and anti-slavery experts and people working on contingency plans about how you could transfer funds to support people coming out of slavery.

Skip to 3 minutes and 17 seconds Part of the process was to educate the judiciary, so they would actually enforce those laws which had been in place for many years but never enforced. To train law enforcement to– in fact put up billboards around the country to say, there’s no more slavery in our country. Which is interesting, because while they had legally eradicated slavery four times, no one had bothered to tell the people in slavery. So slavery had continued for a very long time. We were going great guns along this path, and feeling pretty cocky and happy about it, when about nine months into the process there was a coup d’etat, that military took over.

Skip to 3 minutes and 55 seconds I think too many of them were part of too many major controlling Hassaniya families who were deeply involved in and with hereditary forms of slavery. So the entire thing collapsed. My colleagues there disappeared, some of them we don’t know what happened to them. So it’s a pretty grim situation. And that was more than eight years ago, and we’re now at a moment when it’s just beginning to be talked about again in Mauritania. So it illustrates that way in which rights are out there, but you can’t necessarily penetrate for political or cultural reasons.

Skip to 4 minutes and 36 seconds So that case of Mauritania is really interesting to me, because it’s kind of an extreme case of a disruption, there’s a military coup that actually disrupts any kind of progress that you might have made. But states that don’t experience coups, let’s say, on a regular basis, or have not experienced a coup also face a lot of challenges in dealing with the nature and extent of a problem like slavery.

Skip to 4 minutes and 55 seconds And I was doing a project for a DFID, the Department for International Development here in the United Kingdom, and I went to Bangladesh to talk to local NGOs and government officials and foreign officials that had been working in that country on human rights, and how human rights could work into governance structures, local institutions, justice reform, all the sorts of things that you’re talking about with respect to Mauritania. And one of the things I was interested in is how do you measure the nature and extent of a problem, a human rights problem.

Skip to 5 minutes and 23 seconds And I was actually interviewing the head of the National statistical office in Bangladesh, and I said something about, what I’m really interested in is a way in which we can demonstrate the disproportional treatment of groups in society. And often when we look at issues of slavery, we’re looking at the disproportionality of certain groups involved in slavery versus other groups. And I said, you run a national survey every year of 10,000 respondents in Bangladesh. Can you break that down by the ethnic groups that are in Bangladesh? He said, absolutely not. He said we have 45 different ethnic groups in this country.

Skip to 5 minutes and 54 seconds We would need a sample size so large for our statistical work that we could never actually tell you anything about the differences between some of those groups. So the actual cost of running a survey, the capacity of a government to run a survey that actually captures the true dimensions of the human population within a country, wouldn’t even allow that country to even understand the full nature and extent of the problem before even doing something about it. So that is, again, another illustration of just the day-to-day work of governments, and how difficult it is to realize some of these idealistic objectives around human rights.

Skip to 6 minutes and 26 seconds And yet, if the problem were not slavery, but something like a highly infectious form of diphtheria, you bet they’d go out there with a 40,000 sample and go after that because that could actually infect people who had power. In fact, people of the right ethnic groups and so forth. It’s very interesting about that because people in slavery, of course, are people who don’t get to vote, they don’t get to have the power to have much influence on the people around them. It’s interesting that you mention Bangladesh as well, because next door in India you actually see this almost schizophrenia of national plans or reactions to slavery that is often compared to what goes on in Bangladesh.

Skip to 7 minutes and 9 seconds So that– and India is one of the few countries in the world which would operate what they would have called in the United States the 40 acres and a mule response. So there’s actually, by law, for anyone who’s certificated to have come out of situations of slavery, an immediate grant of funds, a secondary grant of funds, a special access to appropriated land, job training, a whole series, a whole raft of government provisions.

Skip to 7 minutes and 37 seconds And yet, one of the things that we’ve discovered is that to access those grants, to have the opportunity to start a new life with a little bit of income, a little bit of stability, the chance to put your kids in school, is pretty much determined by who’s walking alongside you from an NGO to make the legal representation before you can access that national plan for eradication. Otherwise, very often local officials simply sign your certificate, put it in their own pocket, take it around to their buddy in an office and collect your money and put in their pocket as well. So that raises a really interesting question for me around legal equality and social inequality.

Skip to 8 minutes and 20 seconds So legal equality, pristine legal equality can be granted through declaration, through law, through institutions, et cetera. But the actual realization of law butts up against social equality and social inequality. And one example I think from the United States that’s also very telling, is after the Civil War and after the abolition of slavery the right to vote was being given to residents in the south of the United States. And the story goes that there was legal equality, people could vote. If your grandfather voted in an election, you could vote in an election. Well that immediately eliminated people who were slaves, because their grandfathers had not voted in elections. So, legally, if you took a test and qualified you could then vote.

Skip to 8 minutes and 58 seconds But the test was so difficult that even people with PhDs coming out of the Tuskegee University, for example, wouldn’t be able to pass the test. So legally, on paper, it looked like everyone was equal and had access to the same set of rights. But we know socially that was not possible. Well and I have to say the United States is a classic negative example of how to do a plan for the eradication of slavery. Because at the end of the Civil War, there was no 40 acres and a mule for any freed slave family. And fundamentally the entire population, about 4 million people who had been in slavery were lifted up out of legal slavery but then dumped.

Skip to 9 minutes and 39 seconds No access to political participation, as you were saying, no access to credit, which might help them do some asset formation, no opportunity to really access decent education, socially set aside prejudice, discrimination, violence used to enforce all of that. And creating a situation in which that botched emancipation then echoed down through the generations. And I have to say, all the way into my life as going up in the deep South, you know, what I saw as a tiny child of segregation was just one of the last echoes of that. Well, I hope it was one of the last because it’s certainly echoing today. It’s echoing today.

Skip to 10 minutes and 17 seconds And I think that one of the dimensions that you didn’t mention was the breakup of family. So the social networks that non-slave communities were able to form as they came to America and settled and developed their family networks and communities et cetera, that wasn’t available to freed slaves, because family members would be taken off to different parts of the country and they couldn’t reconnect, their names had been changed, and there was no social capital to build the networks that one needs to succeed in American life.

Skip to 10 minutes and 45 seconds So that extra challenge as it were, the social inequality, the sort of being set aside, left behind et cetera, really did color the way in which things then happened leading up to the civil rights movement, and at least the promulgation of the Voting Rights Act and the 1960s. So if we’re going to put together a national plan for the eradication of slavery for any country it has to have economic components, educational components, legal components, obviously, but even address pretty deep and textured questions of family relationships, and social relationships, and so forth. It’s complex. And it’s hard to find one that’s anywhere near that in the world today.

Skip to 11 minutes and 24 seconds So far we’ve got a bag of tricks hardly ever assembled into a mechanism of liberation that’s sound. So I think we’ll probably just have to keep all of that in mind as we begin to move forward. And to look at ideas about how people come to freedom at the individual level. And listen to the narratives of freed slaves as we move forward in this course.

A National Plan

Professor Todd Landman, Pro Vice Chancellor for the Social Sciences faculty at the University of Nottingham, is a leading expert on human rights, internationally renowned for his work on measurement and analysis.

In this film, he joins Kevin Bales to discuss ways in which to map, explain, and understand the variation in human rights abuse around the world. They discuss human rights contexts at the national level, and how human rights advocacy can be advanced through the tools of economics, political science, and international relations.

Todd and Kevin also debate countries’ national contemporary antislavery plans. Today these include, for example, a slavery eradication plan for the government of Mauritania and the Brazilian National Plan for the Eradication of Slavery. The role of national governments in the eradication of slavery is crucial. But some nations will have the resources to eradicate slavery very quickly and an extreme shortage of political will. Poorer countries may have the best will in the world, but not enough money to take on the slaveholders. Government officials have yet to understand that slavery’s eradication is multi-dimensional. Slavery is a legal problem but also, to a greater or lesser extent in every country, a problem of economic development, migration, gender, prejudice and corruption.

You can also dip into a longer lecture by Todd, about the comparative politics of human rights, where he discusses the evolution of the international human rights regime, different kinds of human rights measures, and systematic ways in which to map, explain, and understand the variation in human rights abuse around the world.

Please then search online for particular countries’ responses to slavery. What has a country tried? Can you find announcements of its intentions to tackle a particular form of slavery? Or evidence that it has a national plan, a national hotline for reporting suspected slavery cases, a particular government official working on antislavery action, or any other mechanism for tackling slavery? Share any examples you find - whether of governments that seem to be taking particularly innovative action or those that aren’t engaging extensively with the issue.

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This video is from the free online course:

Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition

The University of Nottingham