The Thirteenth Amendment and Slavery in the Global Economy

Tobias Barrington Wolff, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

102 Colum. L. Rev. 973 (2002).


The globalization of industry has been accompanied by a globalization of labor exploitation. With increasing frequency, U.S.-based multinational corporations are carrying on their foreign operations through the deliberate exploitation of involuntary or slave labor. This development in the foreign labor practices of U.S. entities heralds a new era of challenge and transformation for the Thirteenth Amendment and its prohibition on the existence of slavery or involuntary servitude. It has become necessary to reexamine the range of activities in American industry - and American participation in global industry - that the amendment reaches. I begin that reexamination here. In this article, I analyze the history of slavery and the slave trade in America in order to identify the principles that lie at the core of the Thirteenth Amendment's eradication of those practices. I describe how the Court has translated these core principles into a new industrial context once before, in response to the rise of domestic peonage arrangements in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I then offer a model for translating these same core principles into the emerging context of the global economy and, in the process, lay the foundation for a more modern and salient Thirteenth Amendment jurisprudence.