Some Forms of Slavery Are Less Problematic than Others: Slavery and Its Analogies at the League of Nations (1924-1936)

Mishal Khan, University of Chicago

The abolition of slavery redefined the terrain and stakes involved in categorizing forms of labor arrangements as resembling, or analogous to slavery. In this paper I examine discussions leading up to, during, and following the drafting of the Slavery Convention of 1926, at the League of Nations. Specifically, I examine how actors in this international moment crafted an understanding, not only of “slavery,” but also of the il/legitimacy of other forms of labor. Based on research in the League of Nations archives, the International Labor Office (ILO), and the private papers of high ranking members of the Temporary Slavery Committee, I explore debates around two categories in particular: first, forced labor, and second, debt-bondage, also known as peonage, pledging, and pawning. I then trace the concurrent emergence of two, interconnected, but ultimately distinct sets of issues – those labeled as slavery issues and taken up by the Slavery Committee, and those labeled as labor issues, taken up by the ILO. While the Slavery Committee cast a wide net, in these nascent years the ILO was adamant about restricting the scope of its mandate. By further focusing on the influential role of the British Empire in these debates, I examine the logics deployed to ultimately obscure debt-bondage from the purview of both these bodies/instruments. I thus explore the emergence of critical disjunctures between the post-abolition moment, and the emergence the new international regime around labor regulation and legislation.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 23. Labor and Foreign Policy