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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Siobhán McGrath

McGrath, Siobhan Unfree Labour. In: Castree, N., Goodchild, M., Kobayashi, A., Liu, W., Marston, D. & Richardson, D. International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment, and Technology. Wiley-Blackwell; 2016.

Author(s) from Durham


The persistence and reproduction of unfree labor challenges our understanding of labor relations
under capitalism. Some of those concerned with this phenomenon label it “new slavery,” but this
implies that it had ended and has since returned. An analysis which instead takes into account
different mechanisms by which unfreedom can be imposed in labor relations reveals otherwise.
Unfreedom in labor relations, understood as an exercise of power, has taken a variety of forms
which vary over time and space. This entry discusses the definitions of unfree labor, forced
labor, new slavery and trafficking. It reviews debates around each of these within policy-oriented
literature, the new slavery school of thought, Marxian perspectives and a new critical studies of
unfree labor school of thought. It notes that there is room for labor geography to bring additional
insights to the study of unfree labor and unfreedom in labor relations.