Around 12.3 million people are enslaved worldwide, according to a major report.
The International Labour Organisation says 2.4 million of them are victims of trafficking, and their labour generates profits of over $30bn.
Migrants, women and children are most at risk from forced labour.
In some countries, like Mauritania and Niger, people are born into a class where they are viewed and treated as only being suitable for slave labour.
Why does forced labour still exist? Have you been affected by slave labour, or do you know someone who has? How can the problem be tackled?
We discussed slavery in a special edition of our phone-in programme, Talking Point, on Sunday 15 May. Our guest was the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, Juan Somavia. A video is available above.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Capitalism, by its very nature, breeds slavery. If you want to end slavery you have to come up with a better economic system than capitalism - preferably one that also doesn't mess with the environment or be used as the basis for wars.
Steve Butler, Basingstoke, England
We cannot end slavery. We can reduce it, but we cannot end it. Talking about fair trade and corporate greed isn't going to help it. The international community as a whole has to decide to end it, and then use whatever means they have at their disposal to enforce this. This will not be popular since it will probably involve the use of force, however, it will make the slavery less attractive to run.
Slavery is ended through education. The more people know, the greater the chances of them unshackling themselves from the chains of slavery.
Larry Kwirirayi, Harare, Zimbabwe
In the developing world, children are seen as an economic asset. Parents need their income and skills. No one says you must go and work for pittance, they do it because it is an income. Rightly or wrongly so. Also, remember the cost of living in the UK is much more expensive than in the developing world, hence why there is a major difference in wage levels.
LTC, Manchester, England
The leaders of the countries in which slavery exists must be held accountable by the international community.
Boris Forey, Singapore
As long as the ingredients of poverty, corrupt officialdom, commercial greed and caste systems persist then the forced labour business will thrive.
Kwok, Sydney, Australia
I live in the part of the world where with connivance of corrupt officials, slavery is openly and unabashedly practiced. One can witness hundreds and thousands of children being unabashedly exploited in thriving hotel industries. The slave brokers prey on children arriving from impoverished villages in search of a job. Once trapped in to hotel employment the alternative to these hapless children is starvation. The only salvation to the horrible evil of slavery is to improve rural living conditions. So long as you have the economic disparity, no one can wish away the terrible scourge of slavery.
NG Krishnan, Bangalore, India
You don't have to look for a text book definition of slavery in Liberia, most people here work without laws or rules - people just want to survive.
Chester Clark, Voinjama, Liberia
Slavery in Brazil began in its birth. African people were used as raw material for the growth of an unfair elite. Although it was legally extinct in 1888 (Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery in world), some historians claim black slavery persisted up to 1930. We have huge social problems due to the lack of former public policies to introduce black people to society. If wage-slaves are not (re)introduced to human rights, we'll have critical problems in the future. There are no races, there is only one human race which need to be fair. Cultural slavery must be abolished as well. Respect to one's culture has its limits.
Eli Vieira, Patos de Minas, Brazil
The issue is simple. No buyer, no seller. As long as there is someone who is benefiting from these illegal businesses; sex trade, prostitution, child labour, slavery, etc, the battle against these crimes will be an up-hill battle.
E Julu Swen, Monrovia, Liberia
Being from a part of the developing world, the growth of my nation sometimes keeps me in awe when I see several scandals get flashed on the newspapers about corporate bosses sexually exploiting several of their female employees. On many occasions the ladies draw curtains on it and never protest, despite of harassed repeatedly; fearing themselves of becoming an outcast in the society. These activities gradually drag the people of literate society towards enslavement. Slavery can become extinct on the day when every individual avoids and protests from being enslaved, rather than falling victim to it on their struggle of life.
Shib Sen Chaudhury, Calcutta, India
Only the spread of education, equalization of living conditions and commitment by the mature powers of the world can bring this to an end. The United Nations is potentially the largest power in the world...imagine a day, when they actually start living up to there potential influence.
D, West Jefferson, Ohio
Slavery, forced labour and child labour should be stamped out once and for all. There are several grass-root groups working to improve conditions for working children and young people. These groups should all come under one umbrella financially and the projects should be coordinated forcefully by the United Nations. Child labour in making carpets, particularly in South Asia, should be disallowed.
Pancha Chandra, Brussels, Belgium
Personally I try to 'shop ethically' and boycott brands and companies with poor human rights records, but if I talk about it I'm usually challenged on either the facts behind my decisions (which are always going to be difficult to establish - companies will do whatever they can to avoid being seen to have poor labour standards) or I'm dismissed as a 'leftie'. It frustrates me that so many people spend more time finding reasons why campaigners' approaches won't work than they do looking for ways they can make a difference.
It is a shame that we still allow something like this to happen, because I think as we get richer we get more selfish and forget about our friends who are struggling. I think our governments are to be blamed for this because instead of fighting real economic problems they support people like Bush who could have used the money for problems such as these.
Zanele Mathebula, Gauten, South Africa
Every culture has had slaves at some point in its evolution (including our own - serfdom was invented here). There is a point at which it's the most economically sensible solution. But that's only a passing phase. The key is to get those societies currently using slaves through this period as quickly as possible, and we won't do it by passing UN resolutions or holding hand-wringing debates in parliament or indulging in gestures like wearing pretty wristbands. Practical steps such as breaking down the EU Common Agricultural Policy, dropping US and Japanese trade levies, eliminating import duties etc are the key. If these countries can grow their economies through trade then social change will follow. If you want a living example, look at China and the rate at which money is spreading across their nation with political and social change following along behind. If it works there it will work anywhere.
John R Smith, UK
I think human beings should come to see themselves and others equally. If we can't look at one another equally then talk nothing of ending slavery. Who initiated slavery and why? Today, slavery is done in a different and more advanced form by those who initiated it and for the simple reason that they look at others not as human beings like themselves, maybe because of their ethnic background, colour, wealth etc. Those forced in to slavery are often the poor from mostly the poor nations in the world. Secondly reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. Today you hear of forced labour and trafficking and so on and so forth. These are new forms of slavery we are having today. All these are due to inequality and poverty.
Raymond Ndikum A, Bamenda, Cameroon
Slavery has different connotations. Unfair trade policies, unresponsive and oppressive regimes, tight and very unreasonable immigration laws and the like are all forms of blanketed slavery.
Ikenna Oforma, Calabar, Nigeria
Interesting...the answers are varied and completely dependent on the posters world view. How about hearing from some those "well-treated" slaves talked about on this posting. I would like to get their opinion on this matter. Or are they "allowed" by their masters? The sad truth is that people will always seek to have their way over others by any means required. The trick is being on the right side of this equation.
Craig Traylor, Houston, Texas
I don't think we in the West appreciate what it's like to live hand to mouth. Yet, Gordon Brown as PM will give us a taste and then we'll be able feel what these poor people go through everyday.
Bob Biryani, London, UK
As for the developed world, it is about a change in values. Prevailing trend setters are commercial media and governments therefore the change is slow; current media and governments live off mass consumerism based on mis-values. Empathy and desire for responsibility comes with a knowledge, activity and independence of an individual (which most media and governments are scared of).
Kamil, Czech Republic
As long as the great country of USA keeps on wasting all of the world's money for war I don't think this problem will ever be tackled. The solution to this problem is bigger countries taking a stand for these people. Because I guarantee you if the USA decided to tackle this problem personally, they could drastically reduce this number very quickly.
Anthony, Arizona USA
I think it was ironic that Saudi Arabia reportedly has endless human abuses and allegations of slavery against its domestic workers, while there are protests about the treatment of a book.
Christine Ford, Cambridge, Canada
The 'sex' side of the slave trade would be greatly reduced if so called 'important' and 'respectable' business men on business trips abroad stopped thinking it was acceptable to indulge in 'social activities' during the evening. Do they considered the situation that the young girl may be in? A girl who is probably the same age as their own daughter...
Paul, Shropshire, England
A profound change of heart amongst the enslavers is the only way slavery will ever be abolished. The practice is as old as the human race. Since humans have not changed much over time, the problem of slavery is not likely to go away any time soon.
It's arrogant of the developed nations to believe they can 'end slavery'. It implies a level of control that no nation or group of nations has, or is likely to achieve.
Matthew, Stockton, USA
In an ideal world all slavery would be abolished. Unfortunately the sad fact is that the "slaves" are not represented by social "niceties" Most would starve or even worse. Until the system is changed and governments are made to be responsible the "do-gooders" are making a tragic way of life even worse.
Melvyn Sinclair, United Kingdom
How can we end slavery? In my opinion we need to be more aware of where we are shopping and the TNCs we are supporting. If we made more effort to support Fair Trade and ethical businesses I believe that we would reduce cheap labour, increase third world development and ultimately reduce slavery. Ethical living is global living.
Sarah, Near Bristol, England
Throughout recorded history there were slaves, including in the great civilisations. Look around you now at all the low-paying jobs that are little more than slavery. People are willing to work for little and others are willing to exploit. Maybe we aren't as far removed from those days as we think.
Chrisse, Houston, Texas
Slavery will never end as poverty will never end. Unless poverty is ended, the use of slaves or the exploitation of people living in poverty will just go on and on.
This BBC report documents slavery in poor developing countries and no doubt raises awareness to some horrible situations. Yet even in our own developed nations slavery is common place. The conditions may not be as horrible but you can find hundreds of thousands of workers living on $6-8 per hour. In a large city such as mine that pays for rent in a small apartment, basic bus pass, basic food staples and a cell phone which you need to find the work. After all those minimum required expenses the worker is left with zero. No one is forced but there aren't many other options for these workers and no protections either. Slavery is a consequence of greed and that can be found anywhere from Brazil to Canada from China to Spain. Whether you get no money or you do get some money, but can't do anything else but work, that's all slavery.
Carmen, Vancouver, Canada
12.3m people are slaves? Is this number accurate? If in a world of 6 billion people there are only 12.3m slaves then we have made an enormous progress. I really doubt that the number is so low. We can't expect the people who live in the deepest villages of Africa, Asia and the Amazon jungle to have the same standards as us. There are 6bn people on the planet. How many of them have internet access? How many don't have electricity? We are talking about a quite different world than the one we see on our screens.
Manos Bairaktaris, Athens, Greece
Think about it... for the vast majority of people, all labour is enforced. How many of us would love to stop working but can't?
Slavery will never end. There will always be those willing to take advantage of others. It's human nature.
Edward, Vancouver, Canada
If people simply stopped the practice of just buying the cheapest goods regardless of source and first asked who made them so cheaply, this would go a long way towards ending slavery and forced labour.
David Hazel, Fareham, UK
I just wonder if we all don't think that slavery happens only in Third World countries. In the USA, we have mafia run prostitution, illegal immigrants working our farms. But do we as a nation consider this slavery? I think that we need to tackle our own forms of slavery. Our leaders need to enforce existing laws and impose sanctions on all imports that are so cheap that they have to be from forced labour. Some things that are so clear, everyone wants to make complicated.
Kathleen Mcwain, Eureka, Utah
Slavery continues to exist because it is profitable for some and because governments and people benefit. The problem is that the average person says what can I do about it? Well if you are willing to pay higher prices and to boycott stores or chains that use slave labour that would be a start.
Sergio, London, UK (now Pakistan)
Never thought I'd say this but it is creeping into the workplace here. Little things like workers having an hour of unpaid lunch break but are expected and often do, due to the nature of their job work through this 'break' and have no set coffee break time so are lucky if they get one at all. All these 'little things' might not seem like much in isolation but do add up over time.
Every single comment misses the point that the vast majority of slaves are sex slaves, not domestic or industrial slaves. I think that presents another problem entirely, one that cannot be excused as cultural, or remedied with trade reforms or education. It is about greed and exploitation of those members of society too weak or vulnerable to help themselves. It is a crime against humanity, and should be treated as such wherever it occurs.
DW, LA, USA
Slavery exists on a massive scale, most of it economically legitimised by western governments in order to supply us with a wide range of cheap footwear and clothing. Would you let your son or daughter work for a dollar a day making UK high street clothing? Of course not, so why subject someone else to work for a similar wage - buy fair trade and stop oppressing people just so you can look good!
Andrew Hirst, Leeds
Indirectly slave labour is being encouraged by developed or rich western countries. They do this by terminating the manufacture of consumables at home and looking for cheap imports. During the past 10 to 15 years we have seen the closure of manufacturing industries in the UK. This is not because they are losing but because of the greed to multiply their profits by importing cheap goods and still maintaining the qualities.
S. Ranganathan, Chelmsford, Essex
The world works in a system of markets. As long as people are willing to consume slave labour, and there are people without alternatives, there will be slaves. Let's face it, poverty and slavery will always exist, and there's nothing to be done about it, unless you change everyone's mind about the desire to consume anything, and that's not going to happen.
Chase Boday, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Most the slavery or forced labour is because of poverty. If rich countries spend some of their military money which is used to destroy human life and material to eliminate poverty in this world there will be definitely better universe where there is no forced labour or slavery.
Slavery will exist as long as there are those who are willing to perpetuate it. Remember the children missing after the tsunami, and the measures which had to implement to save orphaned and lost children from being taken out of hospitals by slave traders. I'm not religious but I know that evil exists in this world.
Corran, Newcastle, UK
To end slavery, give everyone his due right, regardless of race, sex or anything. Think Human!
The only way to stop slavery in the industrialised world is to remove the money made from it. No police force or government can do this; it's up the global population to stop purchasing the services and wares supplied by this abhorrent practice.
Nick, Wilmington, USA
We could stop slavery in the UK by tightening our borders - some 21 Chinese Nationals drowned last year in Morecambe bay. UK Police and Politicians knew that these workers were illegal immigrants working for a pittance, yet did nothing. These people died because they work for less than the UK's minimum wage and UK citizens won't.
Most definitions of slavery would include a 'without consent' clause. But what if no other viable alternatives are available? Many people face the choice between extremely hard work for very low reward, and starvation. The way to end slavery is to offer opportunities to people.
Nowadays only capital can easily travel across borders, therefore labour is at the mercy of capital. Either capital exploits your efforts at home, or if you go overseas you are doing so illegally and are by definition vulnerable to exploitation. Want to end slavery? Allow free movement of goods, and better still allow free movement of goods and people. Allow everyone to have alternatives and opportunities.
As long as we demand products that are cheaper than what can be produced in this country we are supporting slavery. If we support British products, or products that have been produced in countries where the workforce gets paid a decent wage there won't be a demand for sweatshop output. But then the question is, if we don't buy anything at all from these countries, will the people be better or worse off?
As long as countries and peoples cling to their "traditions" and "customs"; thus justifying slavery, it will never stop. Slavery is alive and kicking in many forms, and it affects millions of individuals on a daily basis causing pain, indignity, and suffering. Harsh sanctions, boycotts? No go. It will make things worse, if anything. Corruption, greed, arrogance, discrimination and intolerance are all ways of life for billions of people, east to west, Africa to North America. How then can slavery ever be stopped...?
Arno Kemp, Port Elizabeth, South Africa (living in Saudi Arabia)
How can we end slavery? In a perfect world I would love to see that day, but even in countries that have no recorded instances of slavery, people from Third World countries are smuggled in by those who have money, connections to the crime world and those elite few who have no regards for humanity. We can only ever be vigilant and try to stop this insidious crime.
Rudi, Melbourne, Australia
I hate to see that slavery still exists, but I am at a loss to know how Britain could stop it. In the 19th Century banning slavery across the British Empire was an incredibly significant step towards the liberation of millions, precisely because we were an EMPIRE not simply a moderately sized European state. Perhaps the responsibility for sorting out this problem rightly falls at the door of today's imperial power - the US. Only they have the muscle and the finances to sort this out!
Michael Lakey, Newcastle
If you want to see what slavery looks like come to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. Slavery is perpetuated here on a daily basis. It is all about economics. The Arabs have money. I no longer believe that it is about education because the Arabs here aren't much more educated than the Indians they enslave. The US government should put an end to this.
NSM, Dubai, UAE
There seems to be the underlying assumption in this forum that slavery is wrong - but I disagree. In order for we in the middle and upper class to exist with our current lifestyle, we need the poor to produce goods at a price we are able to afford. If we got rid of slavery in its various forms, be it covert (such as underpaid sweat shop workers) or overt (the classical slave) society would degrade for the masses. I say let the minority suffer so that the majority can live and prosper. It is the way of humanity - always was, and always will be. What are we going to do next? Campaign for the rights of worker bees?
Peter Owen, Perth, Australia
Slavery is not just a crime. It is a business. People have built a business on the blood, sweat, and tears of other humans. Free trade and lack of just regulations between borders encourage such atrocities (this includes our mindless shopping sprees). Only when each of us works enough to support ourselves, gives surplus to those in need (and because it is just plain nice to do), and each have a hobby.... only then will we not have the time to enslave one another. The end begins with my efforts to lead a giving life, and slavery will only be ended if we give more than we receive.
Jessica, Houghton, USA
We all need to look at the products we purchase. In every element and level of our society, almost everything is linked to some sort of injustice or slavery. The plastic chairs you have in your garden are probably made in a sweatshop somewhere in Asia/Pacific by a 10 year old girl not even making enough to equal a cup of coffee here. Just think! We are all guilty!
Jeremy, Calgary Canada
Eliminate greed and you have a chance, albeit a slim one, of eliminating slavery. As long as greed is present, slavery and near slavery will always be with us.
Robert Graham, Canada
I feel hopeful when I see various corners of the media raising awareness of the issue and the fact that many can't even recognize the slavery close to their own lives. Social justice may come some day when everyone may easily leave this world for other worlds. But for now, inequality exists because people, not just the rich and powerful, want it to exist.
David Stephen Ball-Romney, Seattle, USA
Dispossessing the slavers of their property and liquid assets could be an incentive for them to release their slaves back into freedom. What is really needed is the creation of societies where slavery is regarded as repellent, and that will take some social engineering. My suggestion could be a start.
Martin, London, UK
Britain's employers lead the European league table in exploiting the working men and women of this country, especially in food, and the service industries.
Jim Evans, Brighton, UK
People seem to be rather carelessly confusing slavery with low wages. They are very different. A slave is owned, body and soul, by his master. He has no freedom, no rights, no autonomy, and is a possession. Low wages are bad but they are not slavery.
Jamie Shepherd, UK
Stop giving aid money to dictators and tyrants that allow slavery in their "regimes". Its all very well blaming the West and its consumers (all of us), but this is becoming very tiresome and allows those countries leaders to abdicate their own responsibilities. Cut the aid, if that fails send in the UN troops...oh, sorry, a toothless tiger won't be any use in ending slavery.
Roger, Whitwick, Leicestershire, England
Slavery has been with us since the dawn of time, some people say. And so has the fight to escape it. No matter how 'well treated' a slave is, it is still an offence to human dignity. We are talking about people (including children) forced into labour for the entirety of their natural life with no choice or option, no way to better themselves, no future of their own to look forward to, no control over their own reproduction. Shame on anyone who would defend this. How can we end it? By continuing to fight people who argue that there is anything good to say about it.
Katherine, London, UK
Slavery can be ended by ending Western hypocrisy. The United States could lead the world by example by acknowledging and taking steps at reparations for its role in the transatlantic slave trade. Leading the demise of slavery by example does not condemn others but openly states that certain aspects of humanity need to be laid to rest for us all to progress with our evolving attitudes and values towards human freedom and self-determination (which are robbed by slavery). Imposing this new value as opposed to sharing it risks rebuttal.
Diepiriye S Kuku-Siemons, Nigeria (American)
Unfortunately, like prostitution and drugs, slavery will never go away. It is a relative term which can be argued forever. There will always be regimes which use this form of labour. That said, do you really think a government barbaric enough to let this continue is really going to pay attention to someone from another country. I think not. What should be doing is trying to tackle child poverty in our own country. Only when we are perfect can we rightfully preach to others.
Karen Smith, London, UK
Boycotting the multinationals that use sweatshop/slave labour would be a sure start. That way we can hit them where it hurts - in the wallet. Then and only then will they change their ways.
Phillip Wedgwood Brand, London, England
Is not the minimum wage a form of western economic slavery? Those in the western world love to shout about the rights of these poor people. But when it comes to buying cheap goods, we are all for that. Go around the large supermarkets and see all those goods and a cheap price, now the poor in the country of production get less that that and have to live in poverty.
Bumble, Dartford, UK
The issue of slave labour is largely sponsored by family members and relatives who co-opt young children under the pretext of educating them and instead subjugate them to slavery. The solution lies in warning parents who rush to give their children to relatives from the city to be very wary of such overtures.
Ayongwa Israel Ambe, Bamenda, Cameroon
Maintaining a slave in a western country would cost more than 20 low-paid workers do in a developing country. These people work in the most awful conditions very much comparable to that of slaves. Where does slavery end and acceptable employment start? Are the people producing many of the goods we use every day living in better conditions and situations than slaves? Slavery comes in many forms!
N van Leeuwen, Germany
As long as people can get away with it they will. There needs to be a joint effort made by World leaders with a political agenda to bring change. Bringing democracy to the Middle East is one thing, ignoring the deplorable suffering of humans is another!
Mark Harrris, Swansea, Wales
Stop buying £4 jeans that have been produced in Eastern sweat shops, it's nothing more than long-distance slavery!
Chrissie Nyssen, Aberdeen, Scotland
I think that this forum is a good example of why slavery hasn't ended. Everyone wants to discuss who started slavery and whose fault the problem is. I can only imagine the good that could be done if we were less intent on placing blame and more intent on finding a solution to the problem.
Shanda, Denver, USA
The trouble I have with many of the high minded comments I have read here is just how do we differentiate exploitation from taking advantage of low wages to give an industry a start in developing countries? In some countries an orphanage is worse than a factory and maybe a kid is better off in one than the other?
Glen Barrington, Florida, USA
The problem of slave labour must be tackled in a high-profile manner through the collaboration of governments. Perpetrators pander to human greed. We need a strong political will and huge effort if human slavery is to be stopped. This cannot be achieved by one nation alone because the malaise extends across countries and borders.
R Chan, Hong Kong
As a starting point multi-national companies who use what we would see as slave labour as a matter of course and who have the resources to do something about it should be forced by law to document the origin of their imported products, what they paid for them and the conditions in which they were produced. Slavery will not be gotten rid of by one large stroke but by hundreds of small strokes consistently applied.
Milton, Bath, UK
The antidote to slavery is civil rights; things like freedom of speech and the presumption of innocence. Representative government which has been hardened against the occasional ill wind of mob rule is best suited to provide civil rights. A chance to vote in a fair and square election and to see the results implemented is a chance to protect freedom and everything that comes with it. Today I think shades of grey try to blur the concepts of employment, self employment, and undocumented labour. Britain's decision to patrol the high seas for slave traders in the late 1800s should be applauded but now it's a much different world and we need fair trade rules which protect workers.
Dale Lanan, Longmont, Colorado, USA
As a Muslim, I have a different view of slavery. Slavery is part of Islam. It is not racially based. Instead it is a fundamental aspect of the Islamic society. Westerners think slavery is a bad thing because Westerners treated slaves so badly. In Islam the master must look after his slaves even better than he looks after himself. The idea that slavery is always wrong is just another example of Western cultural imperialism.
Saeed Aktar, Birmingham, England
I find Saeed's comments that slavery is a fundamental part of Islam nothing short of infuriating. It is difficult enough to fight against existing misconception of my religion without such comments. Slavery is indefensible. To excuse it as a cultural or religious normality is equally indefensible.
Rashid Achmar, Liverpool, UK
Saeed's argument that slavery is a part of his religion and culture and that the slaves are well cared for is an echo of the arguments used by Southern plantation owners before the American Civil War. Their arguments were wrong then and they are wrong today. Slavery is wrong--period.
Clearly it will take an international effort to raise awareness, change people's attitudes and perhaps even impose sanctions on nations reluctant to give up slavery. The United Nations would seem ideally suited to take on this task and it would do much to restore the UN's prestige and credibility as a force for good in the world.
Scott Westwood, Port Orchard, WA, USA
Slavery is not a topic that ordinary Africans like myself are comfortable with. The grim reality is that although the white slavers certainly did add a new level of barbarity and bloody inhumanity to what was already an odious practice, our ancestors were not entirely blameless: It was they who went searching for their fellow villagers and tribesmen. It was they who exchanged them for gifts of cognac and whisky. But even if that was merely a tragic part of our history, we need to remember that as I write, there are countless African children being sold all over our continent. Many end up in so-called respectable homes. In Nigeria, it is a status symbol to own a "houseboy" or "housegirl." Many endure untold suffering (including prolonged starvation and rape), and are in may cases, treated much worse than the family dog.
In places such as Mauritania, it is almost a crime not to own a black slave. Indeed, much of the Arab world still regards black people like myself as "beasts of burden"! The solution? How about changing our own very attitudes towards our fellow humans, for a start? And then perhaps we might get our respective governments to take it seriously? It is, after all, the case that as soon as the likes of Wilberforce and Wesley were able to force a change of attitude in Britain, even the mighty Royal Navy - once a guarantor of safe slave-trading routes across the Atlantic - soon became a force for ending it.
What business is it of the West what we do in Africa? You all claim to be so tolerant and multicultural, but then try to stop every custom you don't agree with. Most 'slaves' in Africa are better off than American or British blacks, who have no rights or protection.
Name withheld, Niger
There is a notion that it's the whites who started slavery, but the fact is that slavery has been going on for the past 6000 years, beginning with the Phoenicians. There are only two periods in history where slavery actually was outlawed by the law of the land. The first was the "Maurya Empire" in India, under the Emperor Ashoka the Great, and the next was when the British Empire banned the slave trade in all its dominions. The British and the western people merely continued a tradition that had been passed from one culture to another.
Micheal Rodrigues, Auckland, NZ
Slavery is just one of many forms of misery suffered by the world's poor. Many "free" people (the working poor) live in conditions so desperate that being a slave might be a relief as it would at least add some certainty too their lives. Slavery is bad and so is poverty.
Mark Floden, Dubai, UAE
How easy is it to identify those perpetrating 'slavery'? My guess is that it is very difficult. The perpetrators know how to stay well hidden. Slavery itself is well hidden. Where I live in NJ I see a lot of 'illegals' from South America being conned into working 18 hr days for room and board. I also see who is doing it. In this case it is happening in the building trades. Slavery is an underground phenomenon so the best way to stop it is to raise awareness and tell everyone what is happening.
Kaye, NYC USA
Many of the countries having a policy towards removing slavery are in fact the perpetuators of slavery. These countries have enslaved whole populations of other countries and cultures and are exploiting their resources.
Ahmad Farooq, Islamabad, Pakistan
We are informed that in today's world corporations are more powerful than governments. Do you think forced labour is discussed sympathetically in Wall Street board rooms?
Larry Stout, USA
More public awareness is needed. When talking to a colleague about the use of child slaves to make chocolate and carpets they told me that "at least they have a job". I pointed out that children being kidnapped from their families and forced to work in appalling conditions was not "having a job" but totally unacceptable. Most people just seem to want to pretend it is not happening.
As a white woman who spent thirty years in the southern US teaching African-American students, I made it my business to study history and to learn how and why things changed both on the social level and on the institutional level for American blacks. What I discovered was that the self-empowerment which came through learning to read and write was the lynchpin which propelled American slaves toward their liberation. Once the mind was opened to the world at large the tide turned. In most cases it is the lack of education that is the root of enslavement. With child prostitutes, sweat shop workers, illegal immigrants, and even with battered and abused wives, empowerment comes through knowledge.
Slavery is a twofold issue: economic and social. And unfortunately, you cannot dispense with it entirely without addressing both. Granted dealing with the economic conditions will help ease the pressures that have encouraged the practice, but slavery often subsists on some social level (by varying degrees) that infers the superiority of one human to another. If we wish to utterly eradicate slavery, we need to also address the social conditions that have allowed it to perpetuate.
Tina, Ca, USA
So now maybe its a good time to stop talking about past slavery and focus on how we can stop it today.
Mike, Saint Louis, USA
Slavery is in the hands of governments, not individual consumers. Surely if we opt not to buy products imported from certain countries we negatively affect that country's export market?
We are all affected by slave labour whether we realise it or not. It is the degradation of other human beings and it should never be tolerated. The trafficking of children should carry are particularly high penalty for the criminals. We must put pressure on our government to adopt a no tolerance policy towards this sort of thing.
Why is it always someone else that has to put an end to the problem of slavery? We must take some responsibility ourselves. Every time we buy the cheapest goods we can find we are contributing to continuing slavery. Find out where things are made and how they are made. Don't keep passing the buck. It won't get rid of all slavery but it will help and you won't be blindly supporting it.
After it was outlawed, the British Empire lead the way in ending the slave trade in its dominions by finding the slavers and hanging them. It seems like an effective solution.
Gordon McStraun, UK
I don't think slavery will ever be fully stopped. For that we would have to get rid of crime. Fair trade goes towards helping, as it promotes trade with poorer countries with fairer conditions, which in turn helps their local communities.
Julie, Cardiff Wales
The only way to stop forced labour is to put harsh sanctions against all those states where it is practiced. Death or life imprisonment penalties for all those individuals proved to be involved in it.
Our entire lives filled with our useless commodities are drenched with the sweat of slaves. Only we never call them slaves, but low wage workers or migrant labourers. Just one more simple case of semantics covering up a world travesty.
Anjali Wason, London
When the British outlawed slavery at the beginning of the 19th Century, the ban had to be enforced by an armed naval blockade, similar force should be used now to finally rid the African continent and the rest of the world of this scourge.
Abdul Bezarwi, Beirut
Slavery has been going on since humans climbed out of trees. As long as there are rich power hungry humans and poor weak ones to pick on it will continue.
Susan King, Derwood MD
Slavery that we see today has nothing to do with capitalism, religion, or even poverty. It has more to do with people holding to their customs, living in their traditional way. These societies are not that far from where we were in the dark ages in Europe.
William, Virginia, US
Just like Jeremy, Atlanta, most slave owners argue that the slaves are better off with slavery. They say "at least they are getting food". After they benefit from slavery they can easily come out richer, clean and then start talking about justice.
I grew up in Niger, the son of foreign aid workers. The Bouzou tribe was traditionally the slave tribe of the Touareg, and although they are officially free, occasionally someone would tell us, for example, "that girl over there is a servant to a Touareg family." I cannot substantiate it, but longstanding traditions die out slowly. Government and international support are both necessary to eradicate class distinctions.
Randy Ceton, Johnson City, Tennessee, USA
Slave labour has existed since the beginning of recorded time. It is in the nature of many humans to elevate themselves by any means necessary, including on the backs of their weaker fellow man. Only by the strength of those of us who deplore this practice will the slave trade be stopped as it was in the U.S.
Logan, Mississippi, USA
Slave labour is not just caused by corrupt governments in the Third World - it's also due to the reckless free-market attitude advocated by multinational corporations. If a large corporation exploits its workers in the Third World, people seeing this will latch on to the idea and think it's acceptable. A crackdown on corporate greed is needed.
Andy Shaw, Droitwich, UK
By paying a fair price and not accepting products which we know are made by slave labour. That would be start.
As businesses "right size" and manufacturing goes overseas, as consumers we must be aware how pricing can be cut so dramatically. Children, migrant workers and women especially are trapped in many forms of slave trade, including the sex industry and it is up to consumers (and voters) to tell our governments this is wrong. It's time for a collective conscience - our politicians won't do anything until we all speak out and vote them out of office. As to the businesses sending work overseas, boycott them. Hit them in the wallet - where it hurts.
D Stewart, North Carolina, USA (UK)
These unfortunates are economic prisoners - as we all are, to a greater or lesser extent. The problem can only be tackled when humanity as a whole manages to outgrow its tragic dependence on outmoded ideas like religion and capitalism.
Matt Naion, Bath Spa, UK
Slavery will never end unless world leaders begin to address poverty. Poverty has been the only true reason why young Africans, Asians, east Europeans, etc, Migrate to other countries choosing to do anything from prostitution to low paid job as a way of evading poverty. I have had people say "I am ready to do anything to feed" There's no more dignity. Poverty rules. I would rather become a slave than have my kids starve.
Stanley Chukwu, Lucca, Italy
In the US we know a thing or two about slavery. It has existed from the beginning of time and only in the past 150 years has it been considered morally reprehensible by the enlightened classes. However, it will continue to exist as long as there are those who value money over human life and dignity. The only way to end slavery is through courageous leadership, accountability, and the will to win.
Rich Sittema, Dallas, Texas
Many people mistakenly believe that slavery was an invention of white people in early America. The fact is that slaves were bought on the open market from slave-bearing African societies at the time. I'm sure there were some abuses, but conditions for factory workers or labourers of the time were generally dangerous and hard, and most slaves on American plantations weren't really bad off. Many slaves returned to their plantation homes to live after the civil war. Whites also picked cotton and worked for little or nothing in agriculture, and it must be remembered that whites gave slaves their freedom, too.
Jeremy, Atlanta, USA
To Jeremy, Atlanta, USA: You say that "most slaves on American plantations weren't really bad off". What about the horrific conditions on the ships that brought them across the Atlantic? Are you aware that men, women, and children were chained in the dark, waist deep in bilge that was full of their own excrement? Did you know that plantation owners bred slaves like cattle, putting the strong ones together to 'mate' and killing off anyone who was too intelligent? Your ignorance of your own country's history astounds me.
Franchesca Mullin, Belfast, Northern Ireland
This cycle of slavery is very difficult to break. Extreme poverty is one of the main causes why slavery still exists. Wealth is concentrated on one group of people and not divided equally amongst people. Lack of concrete laws and the governments concerned are still denying that there is slavery in their country. A united coalition should work together to stop this trade of slavery. Slavery does not recognise borders and the slave traders will continue to make money should no one tries to stop this.