Slavery no longer seems to be as ‘black and white’ and outrightly evident as it used to be from as early as the 17th century to the 20th century, especially in the corporate world. Modern slavery is everywhere and is increasingly prevalent in many spheres of life. Particularly also where contractual relationships are formed and exist. In this article, I would discuss slave contracts as a form of modern slavery for employees in large corporations, highlighting its existence in the global entertainment industry.
As the name implies, slave contracts are formed as a result of the need to unfairly or harmfully control one party in a contractual relationship. They are usually long-term contracts with unfair terms that exist ordinarily between an employee and an employer. In many situations, they are suffocating to the employee and bound so tight such that it would be more beneficial for such employee to remain within the binds of the contract, than attempt to terminate the contract.
Slave Contracts in the Global Entertainment Industry.
A vivid example of the workings of slave contracts is exemplified in the behind-the-scenes works of the global entertainment industry. Popular pop artist, Prince, once compared the contracts artists sign to slavery, describing the contractual relationships formed as one which ‘turn artists into indentured servants’. Similarly, in the South Korean entertainment industry, trainees are signed onto their companies as early as the age of 12 to 13. In the past, such contract lengths went on for as long as 13 years (until the South Korean Fair Trade Commission restricted contract lengths to 7 years). Such contracts are often very restrictive and often incorporate another form of modern slavery, known as ‘debt bondage’. Debt bondage occurs where a debtor pays his or her debt to the lender, in the form of services or employment. In the Korean entertainment setting, a form of debt bondage is created when trainees are recruited and sign on to an entertainment company, and such contracts stipulate that trainees are required to pay back the company for the ‘period of training and resources put into training’. This usually takes the form of profit shares made on singles and albums, until such debt is fully paid off.
The concern with slave contracts in the corporate world is that the strand of modern slavery it is built on is not glaring or outrightly obvious even to the employee. This inevitably causes potential artists or employees to sign contracts with red flag splattered conspicuously all over the contract. Additionally, this would lead to them forming harmful contractual relationships with employers who have no regard for the labour and human rights of its workers.
Modern Slavery and International Law
As reiterated previously, modern slavery exists everywhere, with statistics showing that it affects more than 45 million of the world’s population. A range of international laws and regulations exist in order to address the need to identify and avoid the risks of modern slavery. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the primary point of reference for slavery, declares that: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”. Article 8 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stipulates that no one should be held in slavery and no one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour, which impliedly includes all hidden forms of debt bondage in contracts. National laws which are based on the UN Guiding Principles have also been introduced in various jurisdictions as a need to further emphasis the risks to human rights which are associated with modern slavery. Mandatory due diligence laws specifically for corporate bodies now require companies to actively demonstrate that they are taking measures to identify and mitigate against any incidence of modern slavery in the corporate world. As directed by international regulations, the U.K. introduced the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, which includes a clause, ‘Transparency in Supply Chains’, to encourage corporate organisations to participate in the fight against modern slavery in the corporate world. As such, this clause creates a mandatory obligation on companies with an annual turnover of at least £36 million to produce and publish an annual slavery and human trafficking statement. Although this is not a mandatory obligation for smaller companies, they are encouraged to do so as well. Resultantly, many corporate bodies have now developed various initiatives and systems to identify and manage the associated risks with modern slavery and its effect on human rights.
Overall, the phenomenon of slave contracts especially within the global entertainment industry is based off the idea and notion of ownership of the entirety of an artist and seeing them as money-making systems as opposed to humans with rights. The importance of transparency of employers or companies as well as an in-depth understanding of human rights and labour rights of workers regarding employment contracts cannot be overstated. Therefore, employees and artists also need to understand the importance of identifying any potentially unfair terms or red flags in contracts which have any modern slavery risks, in order to protect themselves better.