UNFREE: Coerced labor across time and place

UNFREE: Coerced labor across time and place

Image credit: Rockin'Rita, CottonCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Summer Institute for Community College Instructors

June 2 - 4, 2021

9:00 AM to 12:30 PM (PDT) each day via Zoom

In the US, the ongoing conversation about Black Lives draws connections between our history of chattel slavery and modern racism. This summer, the ORIAS Summer Institute for Community College Instructors seeks to contextualize that national history within a broader, global context by exploring coerced labor in different guises across time and place. 

How have individuals, states, companies, and other organizations expropriated the labor, skills, and reproductive capacities of people in different societies? How have unfree people and coerced workers navigated, collaborated with, and resisted these systems? And how have individual and community efforts at liberation contributed to modern ideas of citizenship, equality, and human rights? We'll explore these and other questions over three days of presentations and discussion.

This ORIAS Summer Institute is ONLY open to community college instructors across disciplines and high school teachers of AP courses. This program is designed for instructors in Humanities, Social Sciences, and Global Studies. Participation is free.

When you register, the organizer will use the information you provide to confirm your position at the institution where you work. Once that is confirmed, your registration will be approved and you will receive a confirmation email containing a link to join the event.


Each day will feature presentations, opportunities for Q & A with speakers, and discussions.

Discussions will be facilitated by Alan Karras (Associate Director of International and Area Studies at UC Berkeley) and Shane Carter (ORIAS Program Coordinator).

Wednesday, June 2

9:00 AM - 12:30 PM

The Other Slavery

Andrés Reséndez

Our opening talk explores the system of bondage that targeted Native Americans, a system that was every bit as terrible, degrading, and vast as African slavery. Anywhere between 2.5 and 5 million Native Americans may have been enslaved throughout the hemisphere in the centuries between the arrival of Columbus and the beginning of the 20th century.  And, interestingly, in contrast to African slavery which targeted mostly adult males, the majority of these Indian slaves were women and children.

What is the difference, if any, between slavery and forced labor and why does it matter?

Bernard Freamon

This talk will trace the legal histories of both slavery and forced labor, focusing particularly on the Middle East, East Africa, and Southern and Southwestern Asia. Professor Freamon will stake out the legal differences between the practices and comment on implications for contemporary examples.

Forced Labor in Xinjiang

Laura Murphy and Nyrola Elimä

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has placed as many as 1.6 million indigenous Uyghur and Kazakh citizens from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region into what the government calls “surplus labor” and “labor transfer” programs. Researchers have determined that these programs are constitute state-sponsored forced labor by international law, and at least one survivor of the programs has called the experience "slavery." The government claims that these programs are in accordance with PRC law and that workers are engaged voluntarily, in a concerted government-supported effort to alleviate poverty. However, significant evidence – largely drawn from government and corporate sources – reveals that labor transfers are deployed in the Uyghur Region within an environment of unprecedented coercion, undergirded by the constant threat of re-education and internment. This presentation will explore the situation in the Uyghur Region, as well as the rationale for determining these programs to be forced labor, in an effort to build participants' understanding of this expansive systematic state-sponsored forced labor regime.

Thursday, June 3

9:00 AM - 12:30 PM

“Justice to India”: The Questions of Slavery and Freedom in the British Indian Ocean World, 1833-1900

William Skidmore

This talk will examine the antislavery discourses on slavery in India, which arose after the British government passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. The Act abolished slavery throughout most of the British empire, but it included one specific exception. Section LXIV of the Act announced, “That nothing in this Act contained doth or shall extend to any of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or to the Island of Ceylon, or to the Island of Saint Helena.”

Professor Skidmore will show how this exemption led American and British abolitionists to investigate slavery in India for markedly different reasons. While the British conducted their investigations because of growing concerns that slavery continued within their empire, Americans surveyed British India hoping to find a source of “free-grown” cotton that would challenge the monopoly southern slaveholders held over the global market. Regardless of their motivations, these explorations led to the same baffling conclusions. Because they had underestimated the scope and variety that bondage took in the Indian Ocean, moral certitude gave way to confusion and contention. Additionally, these efforts helped generate bodies of knowledge that irrevocably turned the familiar problem of slavery into the bewildering problems associated with enslavement in all its varieties today.

Remembering Slave Revolt and Resistance in Haiti

Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

This talk will introduce instructors to resources they can use to teach students about how enslaved people in Haiti and other Caribbean colonies resisted the French slave system. Prof. Sepinwall will share classroom-ready resources on resistance. She will also discuss her new book Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games, which focuses on how slave revolt is remembered in popular culture.

Russian Serfdom, American Slavery, and National Identity in the Post-Emancipation Era

Amanda Bellows

What is the relationship between forced labor, servitude, and national identity? To answer this question, we will compare American slavery and Russian serfdom, two contemporaneous systems of unfree labor. We will analyze textual and visual images from the post-emancipation era to understand how representations of Russian peasants and African Americans shaped concepts of national identity after abolition. 

Friday, June 4

9:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Unfree Labor in the Vietnamese Sex Industry, 1920-1945

Christina Firpo

During the late colonial period, northern Vietnam had a bustling market for "unfree labor," a common practice across multiple industries in which workers were not recompensed for their labor and, for a variety of reasons, remained stuck in their place of employment. In this talk, Dr. Firpo will examine two forms of unfree labor--debt bondage and human trafficking--as they relate to the sale of sex. She finds that the colonial state appropriated rhetoric about unfree labor to police all forms of sex work, including voluntary sex work.

Enslavement, Coercion, or Exploitation? Understanding Labor Trafficking in the Modern Supply Chain

Monica Ketchum

Our modern lifestyle is supported by exploitative labor practices throughout the world as global supply chains make it increasingly difficult to discern where products, or their components, originate.  From the cobalt mines in Democratic Republic of Congo, to the cotton fields of Uzbekistan, to candy peddlers in California, enslavement, coercion, and exploitation can be found in from the extraction of raw materials to the distribution of finished goods around the globe. Even when NGOs and governments call for economic sanctions and prosecution, demand for smartphones, fast fashion, and a convenient snack perpetuate the cycle of labor trafficking. Through examination of three case studies, students can gain insights into how the supply chain works, understand how consumer choices contribute to exploitative labor practices, and develop strategies to address labor trafficking, locally and globally.

Alan Karras facilitating a closing discussion for participants.

When & Where

Where: The Institute will be held online.

When: See the agenda to the left for daily schedule information. It will be updated as new information becomes available.

Registration: Register at this link.

Accessibility: If you require an accommodation for effective communication (ASL interpreting/CART captioning, alternative media formats, etc.) in order to fully participate in this event, please contact Shane Carter at orias@berkeley.edu with as much advance notice as possible.

Learn More

Do you want to incorporate this topic into your teaching? The following resources will enable you to deepen your understanding. Some of them are appropriate classroom materials; others are for your own continued learning.


"Writing about "Slavery"? This Might Help" by Gabrielle Foreman

"Are the Persian Gulf city-states slave societies?” by Bernard Freamon

"How companies profit from forced labor in Xinjiang" by Darren Byler


The Abbe Gregoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

American Slavery and Russian Serfdom in the Post-Emancipation Imagination by Amanda Bellows

Black Market Business: Selling Sex in Northern Vietnam, 1920-1945 by Christina Firpo

Caste Matters by Suraj Yengde

Creole Folktales by Patrick Chamoiseau

Making Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution From Below by Carolyn E. Fick

Metaphor and the Slave Trade in West African Literature by Laura Murphy

The Other Slavery by Andrés Resendéz

Possessed by the Right Hand: The Problem of Slavery in Islamic Law and Muslim Cultures by Bernard Freamon

Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study by Orlando Patterson

Survivors of Slavery: Modern-day Slave Narratives by Laura Murphy


Ijma On Slavery, a website created by Bernard Freamon

"In Broad Daylight: Uyghur Forced Labour and Global Solar Supply Chains," a report authored by Laura Murphy and Nyrola Elimä

"Episode 164: The American Revolution in the Age of Revolutions" from Ben Franklin's World podcast (a focus on the Haiti and other parts of the French Empire during the Age of Revolutions)

"Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang" by Raffi Khatchadourian, in The New Yorker

Raped, beaten, confined in Libya: Teen migrant’s horrific odyssey