Modern Slavery Persists Post-400 years of Slavery History – Complementing Ghana’s Year of Return

Feature Article Modern Slavery Persists Post-400 years of Slavery History – Complementing Ghana’s Year of Return

“People Trafficking is modern slavery. There are more slaves today than there were at the height of the slave trade.” – Ross Kemp

If the victims of the African slave trade were told that their generations will continue to suffer different forms of slavery after 400 years, they would not believe it. The marks of their ordeals which have been left in the historic writings and historic sites show the magnitude of the ordeal they faced. This covers all forms of slavery including debt slavery, military slavery, slavery for prostitution and criminal slavery which were practised at different parts of Africa.[1] Despite the gory and disheartening historical memory evident in Ghana which was the centre of the British slave trade, the slavery narrative has just gone through a metamorphosis, not any change to eradicate it. This is why it is so easy to capture the persistence of modern forms of slavery even after one of the laudable Year of Return initiative in Ghana.[2]

Year of Return and Slavery
In 2019, the Ghanaian government commemorated the famous Year of Return in remembrance of the 400 years since the first enslaved Africans landed in the United States. The initiative aims to rebuild the lost past of the 400 years, promote investment in Ghana from the African diaspora and African Americans, as well as, make the country a vital travel destination for the diaspora. Since the start of the campaign, there were impressive advertising and public relations feats, marginal tourist attractions, and economic benefits that accrued to the country.[3] However, in 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic slowed the progress due to travel restrictions globally. Going forward, Ghana and other African countries need to continue to leverage the initiative to strengthen the link with African diaspora to foster socio-economic development.

Interestingly, despite the historic memory being promoted about the ordeals of the African fathers, Ghana continues to witness worse forms of modern slavery. No initiative against the inhumane treatment of Africans in the past can be successful without focusing on addressing modern slavery challenges of today.

Modern Slavery
Instead of limiting the definition of slavery to the Trans-Atlantic Trade, for instance, the modern form of slavery has a broader scope and depth. Modern slavery is also known as institutional slavery, neo-slavery or contemporary slavery. It is sometimes used synonymously to “human trafficking” or “trafficking in persons” as an umbrella term for compelled labour and sex trafficking.[4] Modern slavery is the severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain.[5] In these conditions, the person cannot refuse or leave work because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. Some common forms that modern slavery takes include slavery of children, human trafficking, domestic servitude, forced labour, descent-based slavery, debt bondage/bonded labour, or forced and early marriage.[6] Modern slavery tends to be out of sight but is predominant in the current world, statistically high in Africa, followed by Asia and the Pacific.[7]

Statistics show that globally, 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery.[8] Out of every 200 people, there is at least 1 case of modern slavery.[9] Also, in every 4 modern slavery cases, 1 is a child while almost 7 out of every 10 cases is either a girl or a woman. Although there is evidence of many cases of modern slavery in the public sector, the majority are in the private sectors of the economy.[10]

Majority of modern slavery cases involve the vulnerable, excluded and poor people who are tricked, exploited and trapped. They usually have very appalling and unfavourable external circumstances that lead them on to succumb to the inhumane fate of their modern slave masters as a way to fend for themselves, their dependents and families.

Travel and Work Examples
One of the examples of the long-banned and universally condemned activity evident in Ghana is in the travel and work sub-sector which is operated informally. The unemployment situation in Ghana is so much appalling that any promise to link people for modern slavery related jobs are accepted without question. There are agents in Ghana who make magnificent claims to basic and high school graduates and even older people alike to take advantages of works in countries like Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, among others. In many cases, these already poor and vulnerable people are cheated by agents who promise to help them travel to the countries. Their airfares and processing fees are lost as they lose contact with the agents. Recently, one such individual shared her ordeal but still expressed hope about how she is interested in trying out other agents until she gets the opportunity.

The most depressing situation is concerning those who go through to land jobs in these foreign countries. Their stories are a display of sheer wickedness, abuse and maltreatments, unfavourable contracts and working conditions, as well as very poor working conditions. After expiration of the contract, a victim has to suffer various ordeals again before returning to Ghana, with meagre savings and eventually having to restart life in Ghana. Interestingly, the hope for these victim hinges on going to another country based on the narratives of others, peradventure that will be better. The Covid-19 situation has caused attention to some of the victims.[11]

It has become very clear that majority of these travel and work victims suffer from situations of modern slavery and attention has to be drawn on how to address their challenges as part of the commemoration of the past years of slavery.

Laws and Regulations
The global community continue to recognise the negative effects of modern slavery and there are steps to develop laws and regulations to guide against furthering the incidence. In the United States of America, there is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (Pub. L. 106-386), as amended (TVPA), the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 in the United Kingdom while in Australia there is the Modern Slavery Act 2018. There are also existing human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like offence provisions set out in Divisions 270 and 271 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. These laws aim to consolidate legal guidance on modern slavery, as well as, set out the rights and responsibilities of actors. Notwithstanding much is yet to be done in guiding most African countries including Ghana in this case. As a matter of urgency, Ghanaian institutions should advocate for consolidation of modern slavery regulations in the country, setting out the specific ways to address the idiosyncratic challenges that the citizens and residents face. It is only with this progress that a real memorial of the globally abhorred slavery that started about 400 years ago can be made not to persist.

Response Needed from Corporate Ghana
It is the corporate entities who are some of the agents that need to take a lot of responsibilities in achieving a modern slavery-free world. Yet, the majority of Ghanaian firms have neither instituted internal systems to mitigate modern slavery nor do they report on modern slavery across their value chain. For these issues to be so scant despite many corporate social responsibility discussions, it is clear that corporate Ghana is yet to address the main social problems that affect their internal and external stakeholders.

There is no way that we can celebrate a true success of anti-slavery related initiatives by the Ghana government or government of any African country without addressing the modern slavery situations that continue to persist. There are incidents of child slavery, human trafficking, domestic servitude, forced labour, descent-based slavery, debt bondage/bonded labour, or forced and early marriage masterminded by individuals, corporate Ghana and the government does not appear to be using a comparative measure to mitigate the risks. We propose national discussions for the consolidation of laws to guide conditions of modern slavery in the private sector, public sector and across all aspects of human life in Ghana, as well as, integrate discussions of this nature in all Year of Return related initiatives. We also call on corporate Ghana to inculcate modern slavery issues in their contribution towards the Sustainable Development Goals. It is only after we have acknowledged our heritage or our shared suffering and forge for a shared rediscovery and development that we can see a better Ghana.

[1] Fitzgibbon, Kathleen. "Modern-day slavery? The scope of trafficking in persons in Africa." African Security Studies 12, No. 1 (2003): 81-89.

[2] Tetteh, Benjamin. “2019: Year of return for African Diaspora.” Africa Renewal (2019), Accessed on 1st October, 2020,

[3] BBC, “African diaspora: Did Ghana's Year of Return attract foreign visitors?”, British Broadcasting Corporation (2020), Accessed on 1st October, 2020,

[4] U.S. Department of State, “What is Modern Slavery?”, U.S. Department of State (2020), Accessed on 1st October, 2020,

[5] Anti-Slavery International, “What is modern slavery?”, Anti-Slavery International (2020), Accessed on 1st October, 2020,

[6] Ibid.
[7] Global Slavery Index, “Global Findings”, Global Slavery Index (2018), Accessed on 1st October, 2020,

[8] Anti-Slavery International, “What is modern slavery?”, Anti-Slavery International (2020), Accessed on 1st October, 2020,

[9] The Guardian, “One in 200 people is a slave. Why?”, The Guardian (2019), Accessed on 1st October, 2020,

[10] Ibid.
[11], “Ghanaian women forced into ‘slavery’ in Lebanon finding ways to escape”, (2020), Accessed on 1st October, 2020,

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the authors and not necessarily the views of their affiliated institution.

About Authors
King Carl Tornam Duho is a research consultant, a qualified CIMA Chartered Accountant, and an ACCA finalist. His research aims to use data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence to solve complex accounting, economics and finance problems. He is a member of the Strategic Hub for Organised Crime Research (SHOC) at the Royal United Services Institute (UK). His research appeared in Journal of Financial Crime, International Journal of Managerial Finance, Journal of Economic Studies, International Journal of Banking Accounting and Finance, Afro-Asian Journal of Finance and Accounting, and Public Administration and Policy. Contact: [email protected]

Ivy Agyeiwaa Amponsah is a research consultant with a focus on Africa’s developmental issues. She has a solid experience in the pricing, value chain and revenue management dynamics in Ghana’s cocoa sector, social inclusion policies, sexual reproductive health and rights, foreign direct investment in Ghana’s mining and manufacturing sector, foreign policy analysis, manifesto analysis, contemporary globalization and digital diplomacy. Ivy is an Allan and Nesta Ferguson Scholar from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London, United Kingdom, where she received a Masters of Arts degree in International Studies and Diplomacy. Contact: [email protected]

By King Carl Tornam Duho & Ivy Agyeiwaa Amponsah

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