1. Racial Capitalism and Colonialism

Slavery and Indenturement Today

As the narrator mentions at the end of the video, “there are still millions working in conditions of slavery and indenturement today. It’s a reality that is often hidden from and denied by mainstream society.” (Video 1: Racial Capitalism and Colonialism, 8:53)

Conditions of slavery and indenturement refers to those who are in situations of exploitation in which a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power (Walk Free). Human trafficking and forced labour (see Figure 1.2 below) are common practices around the world that predominantly affect Black and Brown working poor people.


Statistics of slavery around the world (see long description below). Source: Al Jazeera.
Figure 1.2. Statistics of modern-day slavery around the world.


While exploring resources and information on the topic of what some refer to as “modern day slavery”, it is important to identify how mainstream movements for anti-trafficking, for example, reproduce carceral logics of violence and punishment (key features of colonialism and capitalism). This topic is very complex, and when understood from a capitalist and colonial lens, the supposed solutions end up repeating the same patterns. For example, arresting individuals for perpetuating human trafficking, who are then sent to prison and enter into forced labour.

Human Trafficking

According to the United Nations, human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.

For deeper dive into Human Trafficking in Canada, check out Jocelyn Davison’s talk for TEDxUAlberta found below called “People For Sale: Human Trafficking in Canada” (14 minutes). You can also explore APTN InFocus feature “Bringing attention to Canada’s secret shame: Human Trafficking” (1 hour).

Recommended Further Reading

Forced Labour

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), forced labour can be understood as work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty. It refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.

Some contemporary examples of forced labour today include the internment camps in Xinjuang China, bonded labour in Pakistan and child labour in the chocolate industry in Ghana and the Ivory Coast (see articles below).

It is quite common, particularly in Canada, to think that these types of experiences don’t happen here. Next we will highlight two specific examples that relate to the Canadian context as well: migrant and prison labour.

Recommended Further Reading

Example: Prison Labour

Prison or penal labour is a type of forced labour that prisoners are required to perform. It is often manual labour and has been referred to as involuntary servitude (which we discussed in our introductory video), penal servitude and imprisonment with hard labour. It’s roots can be traced back to colonialism and enslavement and it continues to to play a large role in present day mass incarceration. The video below by NowThis World “Is Slave Labor Legal in America?” focuses on the U.S. context, while this is a relevant conversation here in Canada too. Check out Justin Ling’s exploration of Prison Labour for the Canadian Bar Association and explore the work of the Toronto Prisoner’s Rights Project.

Note that the video above appears supportive of the existence in prisons, while simply questioning the use of prison labour. Issues with the prison industry and practice of imprisonment goes beyond the specific topic of prison labour. (which includes prison abolition) will be explored further in the next section. In the meantime, check out the short clips below of both Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore talking about prison abolition.

Recommend further reading

Example: Migrant Labourers

For example, migrant labourers who are forced to travel internationally for work hold up the backbone of many Western economies. Yet they are treated as second-class citizens, in what is called a state of “unfreedom”. They have little access to health care and education in their host countries, earn much lower than the minimum wage and are forced to travel back and forth between their home countries and places of work for years on end with no pathway to citizenship in the country where they work. These workers are hidden away from mainstream societies, often not talked about, even though they do some of our most vital work like food production and raising our children.

For a deeper dive into the experience of migrant farm workers in Canada and the systemic oppression and exploitation they face and resist on an ongoing basis, check out Min Sook Lee’s film Migrant Dreams. The trailer is below, while you can access the full film here.

You can also check out episode 22 of the Henceforward podcast – Migrant Labour, White Settler Anxiety, and No Returns. In the podcast Nisha Toomey and Chris Ramsaroop explore the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program in Canada.

To learn more about the experience of migrants in Canada explore local organizations further like No One is Illegal Toronto and the Migrant Rights Network who resist the unjust treatment of these members of our community.

Recommend further reading


For a transcript of the lyrics for the song Borders visit Genius’s page for Borders.


For a transcript of the lyrics for the song Pa’lante visit Genius’s page for Pa’lante

Reflection 9

Enter your reflection journal and respond to the following questions:

  • What are products and/or services that you use regularly in your life that may require forced labour (what some refer to as modern day slavery) or indenturement?
  • If you are unsure, consider using the following tool: https://slaveryfootprint.org/

Note: to access your reflection journal please review the Introduction section of the Racial Capitalism and Colonialism module.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Global Justice and Change Copyright © 2022 by Nisha Toomey and Emma Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book