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On June 19, 1865, a Union general proclaimed that slaves in Texas were free. The anniversary of that day, known as “Juneteenth,” is now a federal holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States. It was also a significant milestone in the global movement towards universal emancipation.

While we don’t know exactly when slavery began, it appeared in virtually every civilization, including in Sumer, ancient Greece and Rome, medieval Europe, India, China, the Middle East, pre-colonial Africa, and the pre-Columbian Americas. However, in the 18th century, a strong abolitionist movement began to form in Great Britain and beyond. Public opinion started to shift against slavery while industrialization made it increasingly economically obsolete. International pressure for abolition mounted, first from the British Empire and later from international bodies like the League of Nations. Today, slavery is officially outlawed in every country.

Unfortunately, slavery has not yet been eliminated. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are 28 million slaves in the world today, or 50 million if you include forced marriages. These are heart-wrenching numbers, but it’s important to note that the ILO uses a very broad definition of slavery, which includes people compelled to work because their employer is withholding their wages or because they have no viable alternative. It cannot, therefore, be compared to the brutal chattel slavery common in pre-modern societies.

Eradicating this modern slavery will require alleviating the deprivation that allows people to be exploited. That means the final end of slavery will likely arrive only after absolute poverty disappears. However, we shouldn’t forget how far humanity has come. Thanks to centuries of progress, we no longer need to fight bloody wars or overturn broadly held norms to end slavery. The moral battle has been won, and that is worth celebrating.

Malcolm Cochran, Digital Communications Manager

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