The slave trade was formally abolished 200 years ago, but this flagrant human rights violation persists, fuelled by a continuing lack of respect for the dignity of human beings, a denial of their humanity and desperate poverty.
Despite centuries of prohibition against slavery, traditional forms still exist. We have also seen a disturbing emergence of contemporary forms of slavery, such as the sale of children, debt bondage and human trafficking. Domestic and migrant workers are often kept as de facto slaves, as are people working in construction, catering, garment production and other industries.
The global economic crisis could exacerbate this already alarming situation. Poor people are likely to be driven further into poverty, making them more vulnerable to slavery-like practices. Those who consciously exploit them will have to extract even more to make a profit, and consumers, who may not be aware of the consequences, will be more likely to purchase products whose labour costs are kept unreasonably
The United Nations World Conference against Racism, held in 2001, broke new ground by declaring that slavery was and is a crime against humanity.
There are now an estimated 27 million victims of this atrocity, and we must reach out to help them.
Governments, civil society organizations, businesses and individuals must join forces to protect victims, raise awareness and demand an end to all forms of slavery and exploitation. We need new strategies to deal with this old curse. We need to change laws, and we need to alter attitudes and customs.
On December 10, the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Together, we must ensure that one of its most fundamental tenets - that "no one shall be held in slavery or servitude" - will soon ring true.
United Nations secretary general
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