“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
These words — flowing from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 — have impacted anti-slavery efforts throughout U.S. history; sometimes as a terrible swift sword of Emancipation, sometimes as an uncashed promissory note or a set of loopholes to be exploited to justify prison labor, as a cause of action to be inexplicably ignored in favor of other approaches to abuse, or a remembered guarantee of rights that is rediscovered every other generation. The Thirteenth Amendment ebbs and flows, at times taking a back seat to the other Reconstruction Amendments in our Civil Rights history and practice (or to the Commerce Clause), only to penetrate through as an action-forcing frame to confront slavery and its legacies in domestic and international settings alike, whether at the Nuremburg Trials, through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in federal hate crimes legislation, or as manifested in the modern anti-trafficking regime.
We will examine modern anti-trafficking efforts by addressing the ongoing relevance of the Thirteenth Amendment and its history, not just as binding law but also as a norm-setter. As we explore the post-Emancipation law of slavery from the Antebellum period through the modern era, we will highlight common techniques and parallels in abolitionist activism and government enforcement. For instance, sugar boycotts of the early 1800s are echoed in today’s solutions of Worker-led Social Responsibility, supply chain transparency, and end-user liability. Modern practices in prisons and detention centers are traceable to convict leasing schemes of the Jim Crow era. And the Progressive Era bifurcation of statutory and enforcement regimes around labor and sex trafficking (and the attitudes it reveals about immigration, morality, femininity, and whiteness) play out in current debates over the sex industry and technology policy.
A note on terminology. With an emphasis on legislative and law enforcement responses based on the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, this seminar will explore slavery and involuntary servitude — terms set forth in the Amendment itself. In the last twenty years, the term “human trafficking” or “trafficking in persons” became dominant, with a recent resurgence of “slavery,” especially in the Commonwealth Countries. For this seminar the many ways of naming compelled service will be used as being roughly synonymous, but we will explore the terms (and the tensions and structures that they reflect), definitional trade-offs, and such issues as race, gender, citizenship, rule of law, worker’s rights, immigration, prisoners’ and detainees’ rights, victims’ rights, colonialism, globalization, and federalism.