Freedom from Slavery and Servitude

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Craig Axford
5 min readSep 17, 2021


Photo by British Library on Unsplash

Author’s Note: This essay is part 4 of a series considering all thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Links to all essays will be added at the bottom of the introductory post announcing this series as they appear.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. ~ Article 4, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” ~ Frederick Douglas

Because, as so many others have pointed out, the enslavement of even one human being diminishes all of us, it is difficult to discuss how far humanity has come with regard to slavery without running the risk of sounding like you’re minimizing the plight of those still suffering under its yoke. But the fact remains, slavery isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it once was. Where once it was a universal rule, it is now widely considered an extreme exception.

The decline of slavery has been remarkably quick by historical standards. When we consider that throughout the entire recorded history of civilization slavery has been a documented part of every culture to at least some degree and that the tide only began to turn against in any meaningful way about 200 -300 years ago, it is remarkable that the United Nations declared it a significant human rights violation in 1948. According to The Guardian, as of 2018 “slavery is illegal in every country in the world…”

That’s progress. However, the rest of that sentence in The Guardian’s February 2019 report on slavery around the world reads “…yet [slavery] still runs rampant.” While our achievements on this issue have been significant and are something humanity should be proud of, they should serve to inspire confidence that with a little more effort we can eliminate it entirely rather than reassure us that we have done all we can.

Most of us identify slavery with the plantations of the old American South and Caribbean. This form of slavery is associated with whips and chains as well as with the skin color of the enslaved populations, making it…



Craig Axford

M.A. in Environment and Management and undergraduate degrees in Anthropology & Environmental Studies. Living in Moab, Utah. A generalist, not a specialist.