In Canada, our prison system has a type of forced labor which the prisoners are not paid, the equipment is unsafe and has caused potentially life threatening injuries not limited to loss of limbs. "Workers" are often pushed to work, even when sick, and not working encompases harsh punishment such as being locked in a cell for 6 months straight without blankets, and lesser food rations. The supplies produced are for profit, such as License Plates, park benches, etc (ref: http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/corr_serv/adult_off/OffenderProgramsServices/treat_prog_trilcor/treat_prog_trilcor.html ), and is justified as legitimate "correction" for inmates.

Strictly philosophical, could such a system be considered slavery ?

I can draw a lot of parallels to America's not so distant past where such "abuse" of power led to the enslavement of millions and was commonly accepted as those people were considered (at the time) to be sub-human.

  • When you say "strictly philosophical", what do you mean? Are you asking whether such a description fits under some definition of slavery or something else?
    – virmaior
    May 19, 2015 at 10:43

1 Answer 1


Even forced labor with excellent working conditions and high pay is slavery. "Forced" is all it takes. However, the question is somewhat blunted by the under-scrutinized question of what rights prisoners have. That is, if prisoners do not have the rights that others have, then nothing would follow from this being slavery. I think the key to solving this is to understand that in violating the rights of another and thus ending up in prison, there is a specific and limited restriction on your freedom, which does not in fact include forced labor, at least, not in Canada or the US. Needless to say, not all prisoners are rights-violaters.

[EDIT] To clarify, the fundamental question is the nature (and source) of rights, and what follows from that. Imprisonment is, properly, a product of a person denying the rights of another, but if A violates the rights of B, that does not mean that A entirely loses their rights. A simple case would be breach of contract, which is a violation of property rights of another, which obviously is not properly rewarded with death. I would say that a concept of "justice" is what both justifies and tempers punishment for rights violations. That concept does not then justify forced labor, at least the indiscriminate kind potentially sanctioned by weak laws of the US and Canada. I don't believe that forced labor is absolutely immoral (because I don't believe that morality can properly be absolute), but it would be tangential to discuss rare circumstances where forced labor would be proper.

  • Imprisoned is one thing, but does that by extension mean that person no longer has the right to not be a slave ? With global activist groups pushing for human rights against enslavement, etc, to the extend they invade those countries to push those values, .... does being punished of a crime by being deprived of your freedoms and basics, also make it just to enslave someone ? May 19, 2015 at 2:22
  • Consider this argument @SanuelJackson. Since a prisoner has violated someone else's right (thus ending up in prison), he or she nullifies some of his or her rights (depending on the magnitude of the crime). Read up on social contract theory, a related idea, to understand more.
    – Cicero
    May 19, 2015 at 4:53
  • Note: this argument doesn't apply to all prisoners, and doesn't reflect my personal views.
    – Cicero
    May 19, 2015 at 4:54
  • I think first and formost why so-called prisonors went into prison. Taking it into consideration, one might guess the difference between slaves in ancient era, and prisonors who were for some partcular reason thrown into prison who have to pay their due to certain degree, I think.
    – user13955
    May 19, 2015 at 5:52
  • To elaborate on Cicero's point, the reasoning he's suggested would appropriately cover those rights that are legal rights, and determined by common consensus and contract that the perpetrator might be breaking. On the other hand, if you think that freedom of self-governance is a natural right, and that such rights are inalienable, then even the prisoner's own choice would not nullify that right. The "fundamental question" in the edited answer aims at this split.
    – Paul Ross
    May 19, 2015 at 9:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .