France will hold a national day of remembrance for the victims of slavery every 10 May, President Jacques Chirac has announced.
President Jacques Chirac wants laws to tackle modern slavery
The date for the annual holiday was chosen as it marks the day in 2001 when France passed a law recognising slavery as a crime against humanity.
He said children should be taught about slavery at primary and secondary school as part of the national curriculum.
He said UN figures suggest more than 20 million people were in slavery today.
"Slavery fed racism," he said. "When people tried to justify the unjustifiable, that was when the first racist theories were elaborated.
"Racism is a crime of the heart and the spirit... which is why the memory of slavery remains a living wound for some of our fellow citizens."
Mr Chirac said he would propose a "European and international initiative" to tackle any company still using slave labour.
"We must ensure that when western companies invest in poor or emerging countries they respect basic labour rules such as have been lain out in international law," he said.
Earlier this month, Mr Chirac said a controversial law on the teaching of France's colonial past would be overturned.
The law requires teachers to stress positive aspects of French colonialism, especially in north Africa.
But during a New Year address, Mr Chirac said the law should be rewritten.
Race relations have been a key issue in France in recent months.
November saw the worst unrest in the country in nearly 40 years. Riots in Paris suburbs spread to cities across the country.
The trouble started when two boys of North and West African origin were electrocuted in a Paris suburb after running from police, believing they were being chased.
Residents of the country's poor suburbs, where most of the unrest took place, complained of racism and heavy-handed policing.