What was the philosophical rationale for slavery

Unfree laborThe long shadow of slavery

"This is a human phenomenon, it existed from the Paleolithic to the present day, from Oceania to Europe, Africa, to the Americas. And even if it is now outlawed as a legal institution worldwide, there are still slavery-like states of exploitation." Because of the regional and temporal differences, it is difficult to define the phenomenon of slavery, says Jan-Christoph Marschelke. He is one of the editors of the book "Slavery as a global and regional phenomenon" and works at the Research Center for Cultural and Collective Studies at the University of Regensburg.

Instead, he names a number of elements characteristic of slavery: "Firstly, there is the submission of other people for the purpose of exploiting their labor. And then there is a constant threat of violence. And through this violence, but especially through the possibility that you can buy and sell people, a reification that practically turns them into things. "

Slavery for modernizing banking and insurance

It is precisely this reification of people that distinguishes slavery from similar phenomena such as debt bondage or the forced labor of prisoners. For most of its existence, slavery was institutionalized and legally legitimate. And an example of early globalized trade between Europe, Africa and America from the 16th, 17th centuries. "Considered very schematically: What's in such a transatlantic slave trade? Somebody's aim is to sell a shipload of slaves. That is, this is a company, I have to invest, there is a return but also a risk. It starts in Europe, that I may have to take out a loan, then I have to get a ship and buy goods which I then exchange for the slaves in Africa. That means: I stimulate banking and the economy in Europe. Then I have one Risk of failure because many slaves can die or a shipwreck can happen. That means I have to insure myself somehow or diversify my investment risk. Generally it is said: Something like the banking and insurance industry in Europe has experienced a great surge in modernization through slavery . "

The European colonial powers brought the European understanding of slavery to the new world, says Klaus Weber, Professor of Economic and Social History at the Viadrina European University in Frankfurt Oder. For the work on the plantations in the Caribbean and North America, however, Africans were not enslaved from the start. Until the labor force in Europe became more and more expensive due to an economic boom in the 17th century, the operators resorted to European contract workers. "The majority of these contract workers did not go there voluntarily either. They were either prisoners or marginalized social groups such as non-settled people, prostitutes, orphans, and poor people were also deported," says Weber.

Slavery was abolished - unfree labor was not

In addition to those who were forcibly deported, other Europeans volunteered to work in the New World, usually over four or six years - usually given the poor prospects for life in their homeland. They did not have any direct contracts with the plantation owners. Rather, their contracts, which they concluded in front of middlemen in Amsterdam, London or Liverpool, were sold to plantation operators before they were shipped. These workers were disenfranchised in a similar way to the slaves - but only until the contract term ended. If the Europeans or African slaves survived the crossing, they were mainly used on the American plantations.

"The working conditions on the sugar plantations were particularly harsh. That has to do with the climatic conditions under which sugar cane thrives, but also with the enormous profitability. These workers were extremely exploited there, especially during the planting and harvesting season in three-shift operation," explains Weber. In the course of the 1830s and 40s, slavery was abolished in the British colonial empire, and in 1865 - after the end of the civil war - in the USA too. However, that did not mean the abolition of unfree labor. In the British Caribbean, the plantation owners enforced that the freed slaves had to work for their previous owners for a further six years for low wages.

African Americans have long been persecuted

In the USA, after the official end of slavery, so-called "Black Codes" were enacted, which were valid well into the 20th century. "What they all had in common was that it was possible to arrest African Americans, if they had no permanent address, if they had no permanent employment, if they were allegedly neglecting the care of their children. They could do that too Custody were withdrawn, and they were then sentenced to prison or to a workhouse or penitentiary. And from these institutions they could to a certain extent be lent or leased to industrial or plantation companies, "says Weber.

White Americans could be sued for offering better paid work to blacks who were already employed. From the middle of the 19th century, the plantation companies recruited half a million people from South Asia to work on the monocultures in the Caribbean - under catastrophic conditions, Weber reports: "Even in the opinion of the plantation owners, there was a mortality rate of ten percent among these contract workers. And observers found that it had the highest suicide rate in the world. That would be another example of how quickly unfree work can change its physical state, for example if slavery is banned or other political and economic conditions change. "

Racism as a consequence, not a cause of slavery

Legitimate slavery gradually gave rise to other forms of exploitative and unfree employment relationships that extended into the 20th century. The consequences of slavery shape social coexistence in many regions of the world to this day. Klaus Weber says: "It was only through the centuries-long position of Africans as slaves that this stereotype of Africans as inferior to Europeans spread. So slavery is more a cause of racism than a consequence of racism."

"It is true that slavery was one of the main causes of racism," says the Regensburg cultural scientist Dr. Jan Marschelke. "But while it could be abolished as a legal institution, racism has stopped." An example is the massacre in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which a young white man shot and killed nine African Americans in June 2015. "The perpetrator in the church screamed when he shot: You are raping our women, you are seizing power in our country. That is a sentence that could come from the phase after the US civil war." In photos, the perpetrator posed with the flag of the southern states - a symbol of the Confederates fighting for the preservation of slavery in the American Civil War.

With the end of slavery in the USA, according to Marschelke, new prejudices against black people developed: "Well before that there were black slaves, they were considered a bit stupid but harmless. And when they were freed, they started, for example To penetrate local political offices when the old power elite felt threatened, this stereotype suddenly turned into the opposite. That is, the black was suddenly as malicious, as morally inferior, as sexually unrestrained - and fixated on white women in particular - shown. "

World Cup construction sites in Qatar - labor law creates dependency

Another example of a consequence of slavery that can still be seen today are the favelas - poor areas on the outskirts of Brazilian cities - that came into the public eye during the course of the soccer World Cup last year. "The favelas are structures that were created with the abolition of slavery because suddenly many people were free and they had to go somewhere. So this land that nobody wanted was made available to them," says Marschelke.

Former slaves found their way to freedom penniless. That shaped their social starting point. "This socio-economic asymmetry, of course, it just won't go away." The existence of slavery has not only indirectly left its mark on society. Sometimes the term is also applied to today's conditions. And not only in IS, where the enslavement of women is openly advertised. "We have the World Cup construction sites in Qatar very prominently and constantly in the press, where slavery is often spoken of. From a scientific point of view, one would have to say that this is more of a metaphorical use of the term slavery. Say, man uses this for the purpose of illustration and also to arouse a certain political attention. Because of course, there are conditions that have to be fought. "

The workers on the construction sites come mainly from Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Although they come voluntarily - out of financial need - they are not bought or sold like slaves. However, the working conditions in the desert are often catastrophic. And they are dependent on their employer in several ways, be it for delayed wage payments or freedom of movement in the country. "Especially this Kafala system. So that a worker is dependent on a guarantor - that is usually his employer. Sometimes the workers simply have their passports taken away. Then they are simply illegal immigrants. That then leads to the fact that one cannot turn to the authorities. "

"I would say this is a fine example of some form of debt bondage," says Norbert Cyrus. In an EU-funded project at the University of Bremen, he is researching demand-oriented measures to combat human trafficking. "That means that people usually got into debt in order to get this job at all, that is, they have already paid an agent money. They are then in a dependency from which they can no longer free themselves. And that will then Mercilessly exploited and actually, according to all the information that one hears, they are then systematically monitored and intimidated on the construction site. "

Freedom of labor restricted in many places

In other regions of the world labor freedom is even more severely restricted. According to Cyrus, there are large haciendas in Brazil where farm workers live in conditions similar to slavery. Since the farms are very isolated, there is no state or union protection. Nor are these workers free to choose to leave their jobs. "There are other conditions that mainly affect children in the West African cocoa or coffee plantations who work there for the harvest. This is also often referred to as slavery, but here I would prefer the term child labor to make it clear again that it is but there are also social backgrounds why these children work in the plantations, "says Cyrus.

Cyrus generally urges caution with conceptual classifications. "In Germany and Europe, too, the term slavery or modern slavery, to be precise, is sometimes also used to denote conditions of exploitation in the construction industry or in private households. In fact, in individual cases it can also happen that here are really slavery-like On the whole, however, I would rather speak of severe cases of labor exploitation here, because these people actually still have the option of basically leaving the workplace if they saw an alternative for themselves. "

"Pyramid of Exploitation"

In order to illustrate the range of questionable employment relationships, Cyrus developed the image of a "pyramid of exploitation". At the bottom of this pyramid are employment relationships in which the distribution of the profit achieved is to be assessed as unfair, but no coercion is exercised: For example, a caregiver in a private household who comes to Germany to work in 24-hour care there, and earned extremely little in relation to their work performance. "Nevertheless, she accepts the conditions because she does not see any alternatives for herself in her home country or anywhere else. For me, that would be a form of mutually agreed labor exploitation. Nevertheless, it certainly does because it violates applicable labor regulations or health and safety regulations or collective bargaining or minimum wage regulations must be valued as a form of labor exploitation. "

In the middle of the pyramid there are jobs in which the workers are bullied by false promises and the exploitation of emergencies. The World Cup construction sites in Qatar fall into this area. "And at the top of the pyramid are the numerically very few cases where violence is actually used to bring people into labor-exploitative conditions or to keep them."

The term slavery emotionalizes, attracts attention, evokes images of people in chains. Using it for the diverse forms of modern labor exploitation thus harbors a danger for Cyrus: namely, that possible countermeasures are reduced to physical liberation from bondage. Instead, there should be a bundle of criminal and social measures to combat labor exploitation at different levels. For example, workers must be informed about their options and rights in order to be able to recognize and combat exploitation.

Foreign workers do not know their rights in Germany

"A survey of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens in Berlin showed that a large number of people were not even aware that German labor rights also apply to themselves. And the fact that people without residence status or in undeclared work can also claim their wages , that was simply unimaginable for the respondents and they actually couldn't believe it. " This is another reason why it is difficult for scientists to determine how many people are affected by labor exploitation - also in Germany.

"For criminal law this has actually only become an issue for a very short time. Under the heading of human trafficking," says Joachim Renzikowski, professor of criminal law at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg. The discussion about human trafficking began in the 1990s against the background of forced prostitution. Then in 2000 the United Nations broadened the definition of human trafficking to include labor exploitation. Nevertheless, because of such cases, the police are rarely involved in Germany. "I think an important point is that the authorities in this area are not yet so sensitized and look that way."

In addition, it is often difficult to pursue such cases legally. It is forbidden to use violence, deception or threats to bring people into an exploitative employment relationship and to keep them there. However, this only covers the cases at the top of the exploitation pyramid, and the evidence is often problematic, says Renzikowski: "That means, I have to determine whether it is exploitation in a forced relationship here. And so I need the victim, and this victim has to report: That and that were the factors that put me under pressure. The employer made those and the effects on me. And that will be a victim if he wants to come back again for a starvation wage of five euros, not to do."

Economy would have no interest in a definition

Renzikowski therefore advocates a criminal offense that directly addresses the exploitation of labor - based on numbers, not through evidence of a predicament. Exploitation could be defined in terms of wages - for example, if it deviates by a third from the usual wages for work.

"I could say the following: Someone who in our economic order and in our work system, where the standards have been finely balanced and negotiated by the unions and employers, someone who offers himself here under such dumping conditions - and for whatever reason, even if I don't put a predicament on him - we don't want that, because that's dumping, it disrupts our standards and violates our standards and is at the expense of the general public. You could do something like that. " However, Renzikowski expects resistance from business should the idea actually be implemented. "People will benefit from the current situation, which is unsatisfactory. And these people are definitely not interested in a change, because that limits their profit margins, and that would just have to take a closer look."

Eric Hilgendorf / Jan-Christoph Marschelke / Karin Sekora (eds.): "Slavery as a global and a regional phenomenon", Winter-Verlag, Heidelberg 2015