Doing DE – using the case study of modern slavery to raise and explore issues

Note: The materials and resources listed here are primarily suited to ages 14+ and can be used in a wide variety of learning and teaching contexts.

 ‘It’s an ancient abuse, but it persists throughout the world today. Slavery remains one of the greatest human rights challenges of history. Today it’s largely hidden from sight. People now are trapped by different forces – less visible, but just as powerful.’

NGO Free the Slaves

Watching Sebastião Salgado on TED recently on the silent drama of photography I was reminded of the importance and value of doing development education through issue-based case studies.

As noted earlier in the year, the feedback we have received makes it clear users of enjoy tackling challenging topics, so I decided to put together some links to accessible resources on one of the issues tackled by Salgado in his magnificent photography – that of modern slavery; a topic we have covered on this website many times before.

Using modern day slavery as a case study has many ‘added value’ dimensions, it:

  • Highlights how modern business and consumer preferences can fuel poverty and oppression
  • Illustrates how consumers have a very powerful role to play with regard to supply chains and commodities (e.g. fish and cotton)
  • Traces the history of one of the world’s longest running struggles for justice – the campaign against slavery in both past and present
  • Tells us a lot about current patterns of globalisation and their human consequences in an 80:20 world
  • Can create a basis for exploring core values and concepts that (should) underpin learning and teaching on many related issues

It is estimated that over 35 million people are forced to live in slavery worldwide today; some of it has been highlighted in recent times (for example the scandal of labour conditions in the build up to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022 – see Carl O’Malley’s important Irish Times report and also see The Guardian reporting on labour conditions in Qatar – with much of it existing under the radar of public attention.

The issue raises a number of questions about popular products and about supply chain ethics and monitoring as well as about the effectiveness of legislation on employment practices.

Recent responses to the challenge of modern day slavery also provide interesting examples of action for change involving churches, consumer and youth groups.  Learning about modern slavery is a rich platform upon which to approach a number of broader questions and challenges.  It is an issue upon which we have blogged before (see below) and in what follows; I have annotated a number of useful websites which provide rich pickings on the subject.

Defining slavery, measuring its scale and highlighting its human face

Photo: precarious (May 10, 2007) by the apostrophe. CC BY--NC-SA 2.0 License via Flickr.
Photo: precarious (May 10, 2007) by the apostrophe. CC BY–NC-SA 2.0 License via Flickr.

A great place to start is with the Walk Free Foundation site which provides an annual overview of the topic with global, regional and local statistics and analysis (including those for European countries including Ireland).  It offers sections on terminology (and underlying concepts), regional and local case studies (of the 10 countries with the highest levels), evidence from consumer polls (on public attitudes) and its annual report which is downloadable free.

The site also has a series of accessible and immediately useable international stories that humanise the issue (they provide excellent raw material for individual and group work).

The 1926 Slavery Convention defines slavery in Article 1:

  • Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.
  • The slave trade includes all acts involved in the capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal by sale or exchange of a slave acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged, and, in general, every act of trade or transport in slaves.

Check this link for a history of the convention and its content, (the text can be downloaded in pdf format for group or class work).

See also the international agreement Supplementary Convention on Slavery of 1956 which addresses ongoing issues of debt bondage, serfdom, forced marriage and child exploitation.

Two additional excellent sources of information and analysis can be found on The Guardian’s series Modern Slavery in Focus (very strong on updated news, case studies and video resources and which highlights different types of slavery today and on campaigns against slavery and how to get involved.  See also the BBC’s materials on

Case studies and analysis

A great place to start is the UK based Environmental Justice Foundation – a hugely rich source of resources on a vast range of topics from slavery and labour abuse in the fishing industry worldwide to climate change, pesticides, cotton and bees…  It focuses on four key topics – Oceans, Climate, Commodities and pesticides and strongly features stories on slavery in a variety of industries especially in fishing and in commodities.

For example:

‘Our investigations into human trafficking and brutality on Thai fishing vessels has led to action taken by the USA and industry taskforces established to address slavery in their supply chains.’

There are immediately useable reports and films on seafood and slavery (especially in Thailand and Bangladesh and on the shrimp industry), on making supply chains accountable (e.g. in Europe), on the shrimp industry and mangrove swamps, on illegal fishing and the EU food plate etc.

The site is especially strong on providing accessible films on many of the same issues, see, for example the film Pirates and Slaves, Sold to the Sea: Human Trafficking in Thailand’s Fishing Industry, Bangladesh: Land of Rivers (on the impact of climate change) and Cotton, Child Labour and Human Rights Abuses.  Most films are about 10 mins in length, ideal for teaching and learning purposes.

Check out their 1.49mins stimulus video on Cotton: have you picked yours carefully?

More case studies and lesson planning material:

  • International Slavery Museum: For classroom ideas plus a series of individual case studies see this learning about modern slavery lesson-plan focused website, and you will also find the site of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool very useful (lesson plans, worksheets, resources, case studies, key concepts and campaign).
  • Amnesty international has also produced an excellent resource with learning and teaching ideas on slavery which is also downloadable.
  • Times Educational supplement: an additional set of lesson plans; case studies worksheets and a useful PowerPoint can be downloaded free (you will need to register).
  • Slavery footprint: An interesting additional link which offers food for thought on some of our possible links to slavery is

Campaigns and campaign resources

Last year, many of the world’s most prominent Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Orthodox leaders signed a Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery committing themselves to campaign for the eradication of modern slavery and human trafficking worldwide by 2020.  The Declaration is easily accessed online on the Global Freedom Network and offers a rich platform upon which to discuss the issue and some of the core values associated with a faith based approach.

The site has an extensive range of useful resources from a comprehensive listing of legal frameworks to selected government resources, key religious resources (from different perspectives – rich pickings here!) to prayers and video.

Other campaign resources include:

And a lot more besides…