When was slavery abolished in Russia?

When was slavery abolished in Russia?

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It is usually agreed that the Russian serfdom which was abolished in the mid-19th century originated in the 16th century as a form of martial law needed for armed campaigns and was especially strengthened by Peter the Great in the 17th-18th centuries.

This hints that by 16th century classical slavery (for which Russian word "раб" would be used) was already abolished or extremely rare. Yet we know that at some stage there was quite widespread slavery at least in Kievan Rus. Given this I wonder when slavery went out of use and was formally abolished in Russia?

The usual answer is that Russia abolished slavery in 1723. Technically speaking, there were no more slaves in Russia after this point. In reality, it meant they were merged into the class of serfs, whose lives were barely distinguishable from the formally enslaved anyway.

State measures to increase the numbers of people liable to direct taxation in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries led to the addition of two groups to the peasant estate… All slaves, including those who lived in their owners' households, were added to the poll tax census in 1723. By making slaves liable to taxation, the state extended its jurisdiction to them, thereby abolishing slavery in Russia. There was no longer any legal distinction between slaves and seigniorial peasants, and former slaves were merged with the seigniorial peasantry.

- Moon, David. The Russian Peasantry, 1600-1930: the World the Peasants Made. London: Longman, 1999.

Agricultural slaves who lived in their own houses were converted to serfs earlier, in 1679. Either way, as the last sentence states, this "abolition" results from the erasure of legal distinction between slavery and serfdom from the state's point of view. Practically speaking therefore, slavery essentially continued as serfdom until Alexander II's reforms emancipated the serfs.

Finally, as happened in the late Roman Empire, the status of peasant degraded into serfdom and become almost undistinguishable from slavery; in 1723 the two estates were amalgamated. Confusion persisted long thereafter, as can be seen from the fact that serfs were often sold as chattels, without land, in spite of official efforts to restrict the practice.

- Hosking, Geoffrey A. Russia and the Russians: a History. Harvard University Press, 2001.

To add to Semaphore's answer, Russian Wikipedia confirms that it was specifically Peter the Great's doing:

Холо́пство - состояние несвободного населения в княжествах Древней Руси, в Русском государстве, отменённая Петром Первым высочайшей резолюцией на докладные пункты генерала Чернышева 19 января 1723 г

… abolished by Peter the First via the High Resolution reacting to report of General Tchernyshev on 1723/01/19

However, the process was underway for a while, with the goal being to get as many people taxable as possible, which the slaves were not. The report mentioned basically detailed how the nobility was evading prior taxation and census rules.

Countries That Still Have Slavery 2021

Slavery is a system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy, and sell other individuals as a form of property. Slaves are unable to withdraw from this arrangement and work with little to no pay.

Before 1865, the United States had 16 slave states. Slavery was abolished in 1865 following the Civil War. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Modern slavery, however, still exists around the world and continues to be a severe problem, mainly because modern slavery is not easy to recognize. According to the U.S. Department of State, modern slavery is used as an umbrella term for "the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud or coercion." Modern slavery is often known as human trafficking.

Today, 167 countries still have slavery, affecting about 46 million people. Although governments have taken steps and raised awareness about modern slavery, it is difficult to detect and recognize in many cases. It's important to know the signs of slavery so that authorities and organizations can be alerted.

While over a hundred countries still have slavery, six countries have significantly high numbers:

India has the highest number of slaves in the world at 18.4 million slaves. This number is higher than the Netherlands' population and is approximately 1.4% of India's entire population. All forms of modern slavery exist in India, including forced child labor, forced marriage, commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labor, and forced recruitment into non-state armed groups.

China has the second-highest number of slaves at 3.4 million, which is less than a quarter of India's. Other countries with significantly high slave populations are Russia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Egypt, Myanmar, Iran, Turkey, and Sudan.

Slavery, by contrast, was an ancient institution in Russia and effectively was abolished in the 1720s. Serfdom, which began in 1450, evolved into near-slavery in the eighteenth century and was finally abolished in 1906.

Slavery was first abolished by the French Republic in 1794, but Napoleon revoked that decree in 1802. In 1815, the Republic abolished the slave trade but the decree did not come into effect until 1826. France re-abolished slavery in her colonies in 1848 with a general and unconditional emancipation.

DOCUMENTARY: The long path to freedom

M oulkheir was born a slave in the northern deserts of Mauritania, where the sand dunes are pocked with thorny acacia trees. As a child, she talked more frequently with camels than people, spending days at a time in the Sahara, tending to her master&rsquos herd. She rose before dawn and toiled into the night, pounding millet to make food, milking livestock, cleaning and doing laundry. She never was paid for her work. &ldquoI was like an animal living with animals,&rdquo she said.

Slave masters in Mauritania exercise full ownership over their slaves. They can send them away at will, and it&rsquos common for a master to give away a young slave as a wedding present. This practice tears families apart Moulkheir never knew her mother and barely knew her father.

Most slave families in Mauritania consist of dark-skinned people whose ancestors were captured by lighter-skinned Arab Berbers centuries ago. Slaves typically are not bought and sold &mdash only given as gifts, and bound for life. Their offspring automatically become slaves, too.

All of Moulkheir&rsquos children were born into slavery.

And all were the result of rape by her master.

The attacks began when she had barely begun to cover her head with a scarf, a Muslim tradition that begins at puberty. The master took Moulkheir out to the goat fields near his home and raped her in front of the animals. Moulkheir had no choice but to endure this torture. She&rsquod convinced herself that her master knew what was best for her &mdash that this was the way it had always been, would always be.

She couldn&rsquot see beyond her small, enslaved world.

T o document slavery in Mauritania, we traveled out of Nouakchott and into the Sahara, where the desert landscape is so expansive it&rsquos claustrophobic.

We drove for hours without seeing a single person or dwelling, save for the military checkpoints where men in black turbans &mdash only slivers of their faces showing &mdash stop every vehicle, demanding to know what its occupants are doing in the desert.

The scenery is a highlight reel of emptiness: dusty plains, thorny shrubs and sand dunes flying past our Land Cruiser&rsquos windows at 75 mph. It looks as if an enormous syringe has been jabbed into the ground to suck out all the color &mdash except for yellows and browns.

The farther into the desert one goes, the more it seems possible that the outside world simply doesn&rsquot exist &mdash that memory is playing a trick. That this is all there is.

It&rsquos in this isolated environment that slavery has been able to thrive.

Occasionally, a village pops into view. In most of these, we saw the same scene: dark-skinned people working as servants. They live in tents made of rags, some so shabby that their bark-stripped stick frames look like carcasses left to rot in the sun.

It&rsquos impossible, from the road, to know for sure which of these men and women are enslaved and which are paid for their work. Many exist somewhere on the continuum between slavery and freedom. Some are beaten some aren&rsquot. Some are held captive under the threat of violence. Others are like Moulkheir once was &mdash chained by more complicated methods, tricked into believing that their darker skin makes them less worthy, that it&rsquos their place to serve light-skinned masters. Some have escaped and live in fear they&rsquoll be found and returned to the families that own them some return voluntarily, unable to survive without assistance.

Because slavery is so common in Mauritania, the experience of being a slave there is quite varied, said Kevin Bales, president of the group Free the Slaves. &ldquoWe&rsquore talking about hundreds of thousands of people,&rdquo he said when asked about how slaves are usually treated in Mauritania. &ldquoThe answer is all of the above.&rdquo

In a strange twist, some masters who no longer need a slave&rsquos help send the servants away to slave-only villages in the countryside. They check on them only occasionally or employ informants who make sure the slaves tend to the land and don&rsquot leave it.

Fences that surround these circular villages are often made of long twigs, stuck vertically into the ground so that they look like the horns of enormous bulls submerged in the sand.

Nothing ties these skeletal posts together. Nothing stops people from running.

Abolition of the Slave Trade

One of the reasons that people began to accept that slavery was wrong was the comparison of working conditions with those in the factories in Britain where white workers were referred to as &lsquowhite slaves&rsquo.Some people realised that if they objected to the treatment of factory workers in Britain then they should also oppose slavery.

There was a decline in the economic benefits of slavery.Adam Smith argued that slavery was making less money than it used to and therefore wasn&rsquot worth maintaining.Sugar could be imported more cheaply from Brazil and Cuba.There was no longer any need for the British to grow it for themselves.

The Maroon slaves in Jamaica had escaped from their plantations when the British took control of Jamaica in 1655.They lived in the mountains ad celebrated their native African culture.The British knew that if word spread of this group, they would face slave rebellions everywhere so they negotiated and managed to control the rebellions.

In 1804 Toussaint L&rsquoOuverture led the slaves of St Dominique to a victory (killed white slave owners, set fire to sugar crops) and slavery was abolished on the French island.It was declared an independent island and renamed Haiti.


Many of the wealthy in Britain had become wealthy either directly through the slave trade by via associated industries such as ship or rope making. They were reluctant to abolish slavery as it made them powerful.

The Society of the Abolition of Slavery was led by William Wilberforce and others. They held public meetings to educate people, produced pamphlets and posters, and wore badges to display their membership.

Workers in Manchester signed a petition which by 1792, a quarter of the population of Manchester had signed.

Many women were involved in the campaign for example, Hannah More, who wrote poems for the movement.

There were 73 organisations against slavery run by women in 1833.

The Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in 1833. It only instantly free slaves under the age of 6.


William Wilberforce was criticised for agreeing to the staged abolition of slavery. He argued that slaves had not been educated and they would have to be trained to live outside the shackles of slavery. Many others disagreed and campaigned for the immediate release of slaves.

Many slaves were sacked if they refused to live in their old slave quarters and the smuggling of slaves became a problem. Slaves were smuggled in secret in worse conditions than before as there was no-one to regulate.


Slaves under the age of 6 freed in 1833.

Age categories were created to promise freedom after four years.

Britain increased pressure on other nations to abolish slavery making a positive change for black people globally.

When was slavery abolished in Russia? - History

International Abolition and Anti-Slavery Timeline

International Abolition and Anti-Slavery Timeline

The Pennsylvania Colony prohibits enslavement for more than 10 years or after the age of 24. The Rhode Island Colonial Assembly declares slavery illegal. This legislation is reversed in 1700 and slavery survives in Rhode Island for more than 150 years.

In England, Chief Justice Holt rules against the legal basis for slavery. He writes, &ldquoAs soon as a Negro comes into England, he becomes free.&rdquo [1]

Portugal declares that any African entering Portugal will be considered free (except for the Portuguese colony of Brazil).

Pope Benedict XIV issues a papal bull declaring the Catholic Church&rsquos opposition to slavery in Brazil.

In Russia, Czar Peter III declares that one aspect of slavery is abolished.

Catherine the Great of Russia frees 900,000 peasants who reside on Church owned property.

Individuals in the Virginia House of Burgesses begin a boycott of the British slave trade. They resolve that &ldquothey will not import any Slaves or purchase any imported, after the First day of November next, until the said [Tax] Acts of Parliament are repealed.&rdquo Additional boycotts are started in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

Serfdom is abolished in the Kingdom of Savoy.

King Louis XV of France orders that individuals of African ancestry in the French colonies will be given the same rights as White citizens.

King Carlos III of Spain announces opposition to slavery. Fugitive slaves seeking refuge in Spanish possessions will be given their freedom. This does not, however, apply to the Spanish possessions in Latin and South America.

The Virginia House of Burgesses enacts a high tariff on slaves imported into the Colony, to limit slavery. It writes King George II of England that &ldquothe importation of slaves into the colonies from the coast of Africa hath long been considered a trade of great inhumanity, and under its present encouragement, we have too much reason to fear will endanger the very existence of your Majesty&rsquos American dominions.&rdquo The proposed action is rejected by the Crown Government.

English Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield, rules against slavery in the &ldquoSommersett Case.&rdquo &ldquoThe state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England and therefore the black must be discharged.&rdquo [2] Slavery, however, remains legal in the North American colonies.

Portugal abolishes slavery within Portugal.

First Continental Congress is held. Delegates Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin call for action of the delegates to end the importation of slaves by December 1, 1776. This provision is put in the Articles of Association of the Continental Congress.

The Second Continental Congress passes resolution calling for end of the importation of slaves to America. The resolution states that &ldquono slaves be imported into any of the thirteen United Colonies.&rdquo

The United States Congress passes the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. It outlaws slavery in the Northwest Territories, north of the Ohio River.

The French National Assembly orders the abolition of slavery in French colonial possessions. In 1802, Napoleon reinstates slavery in the French colonies.

In England, the House of Commons approves resolution to abolish African slave trade, but House of Lords rejects it.

United States Congress passes law forbidding the slave trade to foreign ports.

Denmark becomes the first modern state to abolish the slave trade.

British Parliament approves resolution calling for the abolition of the slave trade.

Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and Vermont submit resolutions to the U.S. Congress for an amendment to the constitution to end the slave trade. Bills are presented in both houses calling for the end to the importation of slaves after December 31, 1807.

President Thomas Jefferson, in a message to the Congress, calls for a law criminalizing the international slave trade. He asked Congress &ldquoto withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights&hellipwhich the morality, the reputation, and the best of our country have long been eager to proscribe.&rdquo

United States Congress enacts law for the general abolition of slavery to take effect January 1, 1808.

Slave trade is declared illegal for British subjects. The Act goes into effect in 1808 as the General Abolition Act.

President Jefferson signs the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves into law. It takes effect on January 1, 1808.

The U.S. Congressional Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves takes effect. There are one million slaves residing in the United States.

British Colonial Government in India passes Abolition Act of 1811, which outlaws further importation of slaves to India. Slavery will continue in India until it is prohibited in 1838.

British Parliament passes law making it a felony crime to participate in African slave trading.

Sweden abolishes its involvement in the African slave trade.

The Netherlands officially abolishes its involvement in the African slave trade.

European maritime nations attending Congress of Vienna issue proclamation condemning the African slave trade.

On return from exile, Napoleon Bonaparte, former emperor of France, announces abolition of the African slave trade.

France officially abolishes its involvement in the African slave trade.

The Spanish government abolishes its participation in the African slave trade in areas south of the Equator.

The Republic of Gran Columbia adopts policy of gradual abolition of slavery.

General José de San Martín outlaws African slave trade in Peru. The government of Peru further enacts a law to begin abolition.

Britain signs treaty with Zanzibar to limit slave exports.

Gradual abolition of slavery begins in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Peru.

Simón Bolívar drafts Constitution for Bolivia. It officially abolishes slavery.

The government of Mexico abolishes slavery on September 15, 1829. In December, however, it exempts Texas from the ban on slavery.

French and British diplomats negotiate a joint treaty to end African slave trade in international waters.

France bans French citizens from participating in the African slave trade.

British Parliament passes the Emancipation Act, which abolishes slavery in all its colonies. By 1838, all slaves in the British colonies are freed. The government provides slave owners in the West Indies with £20,000,000 in compensation for the abolition of slavery.

The Kingdom of Sardinia ends its participation in the African slave trade.

Jamaica and British Guyana abolish slavery.

An act calling for gradual, compensated abolition of slavery in the colonies is passed in the British Parliament. United States anti-slavery groups are encouraged and highly motivated by this action. American and English abolitionist groups will increasingly work together.

Mexico announces it will ban slavery in Texas, overturning an exemption made in 1829.

Portugal makes it illegal to export slaves from its colonies.

Hanseatic League of the Baltic Region outlaws its participation in the African slave trade.

The Kingdom of Tuscany outlaws its participation in the African slave trade.

Importation of slaves into Uruguay is banned.

Mexico passes new legislation abolishing slavery. It calls for compensated emancipation.

By this date, slavery has been officially abolished in the British colonies.

India (Hindustan) officially abolishes slavery.

The Kingdom of Naples abolishes its participation in slavery.

Slavery is abolished in British Honduras (Belize).

British Parliament passes Palmerston Act, which authorizes British Naval vessels to inspect and intercept ships suspected of carrying slaves to the Americas.

Venezuela abolishes slave trade.

Pope Gregory XVI issues Papal Bull in Supremo, in which the Catholic Church condemns slavery and the slave trade.

Programs of gradual abolition are adopted in Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

The World Anti-Slavery Convention is held in London. It refuses to admit women as delegates. Numerous American abolitionists attend and many protest the exclusion of women.

Austria signs treaty with Great Britain, Prussia, France and Russia that outlaws its participation in the African slave trade.

Czar Nicholas I of Russia enacts law abolishing slavery. Millions of Russians remain as impoverished serfs.

Paraguay begins process of abolishing slavery.

Indian government passes Act of 1843, abolishing legal status of slavery.

Great Britain and the United States enter into agreement to send Naval patrols to the west coast of Africa to prevent shipment of slaves.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels publish The Communist Manifesto , a call to workers to fight to end wage slavery.

France abolishes slavery in its colonies.

Ecuador and Columbia pass laws freeing all their slaves.

Argentina, Venezuela, and Uruguay complete program of gradual abolition that began earlier.

Peru abolishes slavery under a policy of compensated emancipation.

Mexico adopts new Constitution. It guarantees freedom for fugitive slaves arriving in Mexico. Many U.S. slaves escape to Mexico until 1865.

The Dutch East Indies Colonial Administration abolishes slavery.

Start of the Civil War in the United States.

United Kingdom issues Proclamation of Neutrality in the American Civil War.

Czar Alexander II of Russia issues degree freeing serfs.

Treaty signed between United States and Great Britain for the suppression of the slave trade (African Slave Trade Treaty Act).

Paraguay completes program of gradual emancipation that was started in 1825.

Abraham Lincoln sends message to the U.S. Congress proposing a plan of gradual, compensated emancipation.

Law is passed by United States Congress providing for compensated emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia.

United States Congress announces it will cooperate with any state in the gradual emancipation of its slaves.

United States President Abraham Lincoln issues preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The Netherlands abolishes slavery in its colonies.

United States President Abraham Lincoln signs Emancipation Proclamation and it goes into effect, freeing slaves in states that have seceded and are part of the Confederacy.

The United States Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the U.S. By December 18, it becomes official.

American Civil War ends. Four million slaves are freed.

In the recently conquered region of Bukhara in Central Asia, the Russian government imposes abolition of slavery.

Spain enacts legislation to gradually abolish slavery in its colonies.

Slavery is ended in Puerto Rico.

Government of Siam (Thailand) begins reforms that begin the process of the abolition of slavery.

Government of Cambodia begins abolishing practice of slavery. It officially ends slavery in 1884.

All slaves in Mozambique are liberated by order of Queen Victoria of England.

Spanish government passes Law of Patronato, which will eventually provide for gradual emancipation of slaves in Spanish possessions.

Korean government enacts policy to limit slavery to only one generation. It abolishes hereditary slavery forever.

Pope Leo XIII issues Encyclical in support of enslaved peoples.

Slavery is ended in Brazil.

The Korean Choson (Yi) government abolishes slavery in Korea.

French government abolishes slavery in Madagascar.

The Ching (Quin) Imperial rulers in China decree the abolition of slavery in China.

Colonial administration of Malaya enacts law abolishing slavery.

Colonial administration of Burma enacts law abolishing slavery, beginning the process of compensated emancipation.

[1] Dumond, Dwight Lowell. Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961, p. 5.

This Day in History- Abolition of Serfdom in Russia

On February 19, 1861, Александр II (Alekandr II) singed a Manifesto, which contained the most important social and economical reforms of the century in Russia. Aleksandr II aimed to take over the process of modernisation started with Пётр Великий (Peter the Great) and his act began with the abolition of serfdom in the Russian Empire.

Before the reform peasants lived in conditions of slavery they weren’t allowed to leave their land and landlords had full control over them. Peasants had to work for and pay a labour rent to their owners, who had the right to buy and sell, to punish or exile them to Siberia.

After the defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856) Russian peasantry were exhausted by taxes and extra recruitments. The landowners increased the labour rents and mass riots sprang up in the whole country. The situation highly affected the economic system and led Aleksandr II to carry out the reforms to prevent a catastrophic revolution.

The royal Manifesto announced that the serfs were given personal liberty and civil rights and the landlords had to give them plots of land. The reform goals were to increase the social mobility, promote the growth of the urban population, and so the development of the Russian economy.

The rural and urban reforms that followed, change the structure of local government. Contested action, trial by jury, magistrate court and legal defence were first introduced as part of the court proceedings. In addition the reform made education accessible to all social classes while universities became more independent and censorship less severe.

These political and economical turn in favour of freedom gave Alexander II the name of “Liberator”, but nine years after the abolition of serfdom the situation was far from ideal. The peasants still worked for the landlords and paid the rents. The Manifesto turned out to support mainly the interests of the landowners and the government, since the plots given were usually inconvenient and infertile and peasants had to pay if they wanted to redeem the land.

The great reform didn’t bring the immediate freedom declared in the Manifesto, but realized profound social transformations. The institution of serfdom a true form of slavery in Russia, had been demolished. The declaration introduced new structures in justice and education while the migration of peasantry increased. The Manifesto was the leading step towards freedom and social progress in Russia.

Why Russian serfdom was not slavery

Varro, an ancient Roman writer, in his work &ldquoRes Rusticae&rdquo (&ldquoVillage affairs&rdquo), which is a manual on the management of slave-run estates, says that a slave is a &ldquotalking tool&rdquo (compared to &ldquohalf-mute tools&rdquo like cows and &ldquomute tools&rdquo like carts.

Russian serfs were never &ldquotools,&rdquo but regarded as people &ndash first of all, because they were baptized Russian Orthodox Christians. In Tsarist Russian society, morally organized by religion, perceiving baptized persons as things was considered blasphemy.

However, there were kholops &ndash the people who, according to ancient Russian law code Russkaya Pravda, were indeed perceived as tools. Their legal status can be described as slavery. They became kholops either by being captured as war prisoners, or sold themselves into slavery for fear of dying from starvation, large debts, to save one&rsquos family etc. Kholops didn&rsquot pay taxes, so becoming one was an option for the poorest, those who had fallen so low they had no other options, and the laziest alike.

In 1723, Peter the Great banned kholops &ndash the remaining ones were made serfs and started paying taxes like everybody else. So, if we&rsquore talking about &lsquoproper&rsquo ancient-type slavery, we may say that in Russia, it was banned in 1723. Serfdom was a different thing.

2. Serfdom was a legally regulated system of personal dependency

Sobornoye Ulozheniye. Moscow, Printing Yard 1649.

To put it simply, Russian peasants needed protection from the plundering raids of nomads, which happened very often in ancient Russian times. On the other hand, the princes and boyars needed food and supplies, produced by the peasants. Initially, production was exchanged for protection, and it was a system of mutual dependency.

However, as the Moscow tsardom developed, it waged wars and needed more resources, so, to control serfs, the state limited their mobility. From 1497, they could only relocate from one landlord to another at certain times of the year. In 1649, they were totally forbidden from leaving their lands and landlords by another legal code, Sobornoye Ulozhenie. The code also stated that baptized people must not be bought and sold. However, beginning in the late 17th century, landowners found ways to buy and sell people without their land.

3. Serfs were deprived of some human rights &ndash not all of them

It is true that in the 18th and 19th century, serfs were very limited in their human rights. However, there was never a law that defined serfs as property legally they were treated as persons.

Even though in 1746, the state formally banned all Russians except the nobility from possessing serfs, rich priests and merchants found ways to register serfs in some nobleman&rsquos name and de facto own them.

Serfs were obliged to work for their landlord for the most of their working day. They usually had very little time to work for themselves. From 1722, all male peasants also had to pay poll tax. In 1730, all peasants (including state-owned serfs, serfs owned by the nobility, and free peasants) were banned from buying real estate in towns, in 1731 &ndash banned from entering into contracts, in 1734 &ndash banned from organizing cloth factories, in 1739 &ndash banned from buying serfs for themselves etc. This reflected the fact that peasants were quickly developing business skills. In 1760, landlords were allowed to exile their serfs to Siberia for misconduct and crimes. Landlords also could use corporal punishment on their serfs.

4. The state protected serfs from their landlords

"bargaining. Scene from serf life" by Nikolay Nevrev

Nikolay Nevrev/Tretyakov Gallery

Landlords represented their serfs in legal matters. The landlords collected the peasants&rsquo taxes, but those who withheld their peasants&rsquo money could be deprived of serfs completely (after 1742). In 1721, Peter the Great banned selling individual serfs and the splitting up of families in 1771, Catherine the Great banned auction blocks for selling serfs.

Catherine cared about the serfs &ndash but only as power to support the country&rsquos needs during times of war, and because Russia was eyed warily in Europe as a country where serfdom still existed. This is why in 1762-1768, Catherine initiated a show trial over &ldquoSaltychikha&rdquo, an obviously mentally ill landlady who tortured and murdered her serfs.

However, it was under Catherine when the trade in serfs was the most ugly: children, especially virgin girls, were taken from their families and sold. Trade couldn&rsquot be stopped, although the ban on selling serfs without land was repeated in 1833 and then again in 1842 but it remained so until the end of serfdom. After 1823, the state banned landlords from lending their serfs to work for people of other castes (merchants or priests). Unfortunately, these laws were never fully implemented.

5. Serfs were better off than slaves (most of the time)

A Senate law of January 19th 1769 reinstated the fact that all land that serfs lived on was the property of the landlords. But it would be a mistake to say that serfs had nothing. Their private tools, houses, clothes and possessions, very often cattle and simple modes of transport belonged to them, not their landlords.

A Croatian missionary Yuriy Krizhanich (1618-1683) wrote that in Russia, serfs were much better off than in European countries. And in the 18th-19th century, historians have calculated, any Russian serf worked 2.6 times less time than America&rsquos slaves did (mainly because of the large number of Holy days when people, including serfs, were given the day off).

Even through the darkest times of Catherine&rsquos rule, serfs could post collective and individual complaints to the Emperor and the Governing Senate. In 1812, peasants were once again permitted to participate in trade and enter into contracts. In 1818, peasants, serfs included, were returned the right to establish mills and factories. In 1848, sefs were returned the right to own lands and real estate (at the consent of their landlords). Still, they were deprived of their main asset: the land they worked on, and even the emancipation reform of 1861 didn&rsquot immediately allow them to own it. Only the most hard-working and talented could afford a decent living, which meant that in many respects they differed little from most peasants in Europe at the time.

It is self-evident that any kind of possession of one person over another, and any kind of violation of basic human rights, is an indictment of society and the state. And surely, there were periods of time when serfs were living in dire conditions under demanding and cruel landlords, and were closer to slaves in their status but, considering everything above, it is clear that Russian serfdom was not slavery.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

When was slavery abolished in Russia? - History

The Global Slavery Index estimates that 794,000 people lived in conditions of modern slavery in Russia on any given day in 2016, reflecting a prevalence rate of 5.5 victims for every thousand people.

The latest statistics provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), based on statistics collected by the Russian government, show that in 2015, there were 285 detected victims of trafficking under the different trafficking-related articles 1 of Russia’s criminal code. Eighty-three of those were confirmed as victims of trafficking in persons and slave labour, and 202 were child victims of trafficking or other types of sexual exploitation. 2 The number of cases investigated for trafficking in persons and other related offences under those criminal code articles amounted to 2,717. Additionally, 1,473 individuals were prosecuted, and 1,196 individuals were convicted for trafficking or trafficking-related offences in 2015. 3

Forced labour

Forced labour in Russia predominantly occurs in informal and less regulated industries. Forms of labour exploitation can be found in a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, begging, trash collection, and illegal logging. 4 Forced labour involves migrant workers, who are either already in the country (including irregular migrants 5 ), or foreign citizens who are brought to Russia for the purpose of exploitation. 6 Migrant workers who fall victim to exploitation primarily originate from Central Asian countries (such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan), Ukraine, Vietnam, China, and North Korea. 7

There were documented cases of exploitation of construction workers working on stadium sites for the 2018 FIFA Soccer World Cup. 8 Research conducted by Human Rights Watch identified a range of abuses among these construction labourers, including non-payment and delayed payment of wages, as well as lack of employment contracts and other documentation required for legal employment. 9 Workers also reported having to work outside in extremely cold temperatures and facing retaliation or threats for raising concerns about their labour conditions. Seventeen workers have reportedly died on World Cup stadium sites in Russia. 10

Internal migrants from Russia’s poorer regions and migrants from the former Soviet satellite states are reportedly trafficked (sometimes involving drugging and kidnapping) and then forced to work against their will in brick factories and small farms in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. 11 This involves unscrupulous recruiters who target migrants at train stations in major Russian cities. These migrants come to Russia searching for work and are tricked into forced labour by recruiters offering fraudulent employment opportunities, 12 but then kidnapped or drugged and brought to far away Russian republics, such as Dagestan, where they are forced to work against their will. 13 There are also reports of workers from Ukraine 14 and Myanmar 15 who have experienced forced labour in Russia’s fishing sector, involving recruitment agencies that deceived these workers about their working conditions.

Children exploited in forced begging is also increasingly an issue. 16 This type of forced labour mainly occurs in large cities. Victims are lured by promises of jobs, brought to the cities from other Russian provinces or foreign countries and then forced to beg in the streets. If they do not bring back a certain amount of money a day, they may be punished. 17

State-imposed forced labour

Compulsory prison labour was re-introduced as a criminal punishment from January 2017. 18 Under the current legislation, convicted prisoners may be forced to perform labour at state prisons or private companies. Although prisoners’ working conditions are technically covered by general labour laws, the voluntary consent of the prisoner to perform such work is not required. Therefore, there are concerns that prisoners are forced to work for private companies against their will. 19 In addition, Russian law allows for compulsory labour to be imposed as a punishment for various activities, including the expression of political or ideological views which are deemed to be ‘extremist’. The definition of ‘extremist activities’ is vague, which could therefore result in arbitrary imprisonment involving compulsory labour. 20 Recent amendments to the law also allow changing the punishment from compulsory labour to a prison sentence if the convict evades the conviction or violates the regime of compulsory works. 21

In early 2018, following the adoption of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2375 on 11 September, asking that all UN member states ban North Korean migrant labour, 22 and adoption of UNSC Resolution 2397 on 22 December 2017, demanding the repatriation of all North Korean migrant workers working overseas, 23 the Russian government reportedly began repatriating North Koreans who had previously entered Russia under a labour agreement between the two countries. 24 North Koreans who were previously sent to Russia under this agreement were reportedly subject to forced labour, including seized wages to cover living expenses and other “mandatory contributions”, which are an ongoing source of income for the regime in Pyongyang. 25 It is estimated that more than 50,000 North Korean migrant workers have been sent abroad through the North Korean state-sponsored system, most of whom were sent to Russia and China. Once overseas, North Korean migrant workers are primarily employed in the mining, logging, textile, and construction industries. 26 Workers often do not know the details of their employment contract, parts of their salaries are withheld, and they are forced to work up to 20 hours per day. 27 In 2017, allegations of North Korean migrant workers being exploited in the construction of the St. Petersburg World Cup stadium emerged, 28 which FIFA later confirmed. 29

Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children

Russian women and children are victims of forced sexual exploitation, both within Russia and overseas. Additionally, foreign women from Europe (mainly Ukraine and Moldova), Southeast Asia (primarily Vietnam), Africa (mainly Nigeria), and Central Asia fall victim to sex trafficking within Russia. 30 There are reports of Nigerian women and girls being trafficked to Russia on student visas and subsequently forced into sex work to repay their alleged “debts” for visa and travel costs. The victims are allegedly officially accepted into universities in Russia so that they may obtain their visa document, but rarely make contact with the universities once they had arrived in Russia. 31

Child commercial sexual exploitation is prevalent throughout Russia, although the visibility of the crime has decreased due to an upsurge in internet usage, which has created new pathways to approach and exploit victims. It is reported that teenage girls are primarily sexually exploited in brothels, hostels, saunas, and increasingly in private apartments. 32

Forced marriage

There are reports of Russian women and girls being abducted for forced marriage in the northern Caucasus region. 33 In 2015, the case of a 17-year-old girl who was reportedly forced into marrying a 46-year-old police commander in Chechnya in the northern Caucasus received international media attention. 34 The police chief took the girl as his second wife although polygamy is prohibited in Russia, but apparently common in Chechnya. 35

Imported products at risk of modern slavery

While Russia is affected by modern slavery within its own borders, the realities of global trade and business make it inevitable that Russia, like many other countries globally, will be exposed to the risk of modern slavery through the products it imports. Policy-makers, businesses, and consumers must become aware of this risk and take responsibility for it. Table 1 below highlights the top five products (according to US$ value, per annum) imported by Russia that are at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery. 36

Table 1 Imports of products at risk of modern slavery to Russia
Product at risk of modern slavery Import value
(in thousands of US$)
Source countries
Laptops, computers and mobile phones 3,884,695 China, Malaysia
Apparel and clothing accessories 3,025,133 Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
Cattle 917,523 Brazil, Paraguay
Sugarcane 321,834 Brazil
Fish 249,360 China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand

The highest value at-risk products that may be produced using modern slavery and imported by Russia are laptops, computers, and mobile phones, and apparel. In fact, over 60 percent (corresponding to a value of US$ 3.8 billion) of all laptops, computers and mobile phones imported by Russia are from China, which is considered at risk of using modern slavery in the production of these goods. Similarly, of the more than US$ 3 billion worth of clothing from various at-risk countries, nearly US$ 2.7 billion come from China. Cattle from Brazil and Paraguay are the third largest import to Russia that may be produced using modern slavery (US$ 917.5 million). Russia imports 85 percent of its sugarcane from Brazil, totalling US$ 321.8 million in value. Fish from various at-risk countries are imported into Russia up to an annual value of US$ 249.4 million. Fish imports from China make up the by far largest share of these fish imports (nearly US$ 178 million).


Xenophobia, intolerance, and negative attitudes toward migrant workers, 37 asylum seekers 38 and marginalised groups, such as the LGBTQI community, 39 exposes these populations to increased risk of exploitation and abuse in Russia. For example, in 2017, brutal campaigns against gay men in Chechnya reportedly led to abduction, forced disappearances, torture, and deaths by authorities. 40

The large majority of Russia’s migrant workers are irregular migrants 41 – a status that can make them particularly vulnerable to modern slavery. An estimated 10 to 12 million workers enter Russia annually. 42 After the collapse of the Soviet Union, civil war and increasingly repressive regimes caused many individuals from the Central Asian republics to move to Russia in search of employment, taking advantage of visa-free travel arrangements. Once in Russia these individuals faced physical abuse, withholding of documents, and unsafe working conditions. 43 In recent years, the rouble has been devalued amid the contraction of the Russian economy due to low crude oil prices and western sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in Eastern Ukraine. 44 In light of this and increasingly negative public and government attitudes towards migrants from Central Asia 45 – combined with more restrictive migration policies aimed at Tajik, Belarusian, Kazak, and Armenian citizens 46 – more migrants from Central Asia are entering Russia irregularly and thereby are more vulnerable to exploitation. 47 Patterns exist where irregular migrants, due to their undocumented status, are willing to accept jobs without knowing exactly the nature and conditions of the work they are committing to.

The conflict in the eastern part of the neighbouring Ukraine has increased the risk of cross-border trafficking and forced labour due to war, displacement, and economic crisis. 48 Ukraine has one of the largest diasporas in the world, with the major share residing in Russia. 49 Russia was one of the most popular destination countries for Ukrainian migrants seeking work abroad in 2014-15 despite the conflict, with 2.5 million Ukrainian citizens registered in Russia. 50 The main destination country of all Ukrainian victims of human trafficking who were provided with IOM assistance between 2010 and 2015 was Russian. 51 A survey commissioned by the IOM also found that the percentage of Ukrainians who would agree to precarious offers regarding working abroad increased from 14 percent in 2011 to 21 percent in 2015. 52 This may reflect a worsening economic situation and increasing conflict in the Ukraine.

Government corruption and complicity heightens vulnerability of Russian citizens and migrants to modern slavery. There have been reports of Russian government officials facilitating trafficking and entry of trafficking victims into Russia. 53 Some employers reportedly bribe Russian officials to avoid penalties imposed on them for employing irregular migrants. 54 There are also suspicions that officials charge migrant workers who enter the country excessive fees for work permits. 55

There are strongly patriarchal views of marriage in some of Russia’s republics in the North Caucasus, such as Dagestan and Chechnya. 56 These views are reinforced by cultural traditions and religious views that do not respect women’s rights. Rules practiced in these regions contradict rights set out in the Russian Constitution and may contribute to women’s vulnerability to forced marriage in these areas. 57

Response to modern slavery

Russia has criminalised human trafficking in article 127.1 of the criminal code. While the use of slave labour is criminalised under article 127.2 and article 127.1 mentions slave labour as a type of exploitation as part of the crime of human trafficking, the act of slavery itself is not distinctly criminalised. 58 Articles 240 and 241 address recruitment into sex work and pimping. 59

In relation to the alleged exploitation of migrant workers from North Korea on the construction site for the St Petersburg stadium for the 2018 Soccer World Cup, the St Petersburg construction committee reported that authorities had regularly conducted inspections to ensure Russian labour laws are respected. 60 Although Russia has a labour code and inspections are carried out under this basis, labour inspectors do not specifically target forced labour or rigorously investigate workers’ complaints during their inspections. At the time of writing there had not been any criminal investigations as a result of labour inspections carried out on construction sites for the World Cup. 61

New legislation that limits temporary agency work (known as “outstaffing” in Russia) came into effect in January 2016. The new law amends the labour code, tax code, and existing employment law. 62 It limits the amount of time an employer can send employees to work for other firms and requires these outsourced employees to earn the same amount as permanent employees. 63 Previously, companies were able to use temporary employers to carry out harmful or hazardous work without paying additional benefits, so this legislation may help reduce the vulnerability of these temporary workers. 64

The Russian government has put tougher restrictions on migrant workers in an attempt to cut the number of irregular migrant workers in the country. At the beginning of 2015, a new law came into effect that requires foreign workers from countries that do not have a visa policy with Russia to obtain a license to be able to work legally, to pass Russian language and history tests, and pay extensive medical insurance and examination fees. 65 The new law has particularly affected migrant workers from CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries, such as Tajikistan, who were previously able to use their national identity cards to enter and remain in Russia, but now need to produce an international passport instead. 66 This law has resulted in a slight decline in influxes of migrant labour in 2016-2017, but – despite concerns 67 – it is unclear if it drove considerable amounts of workers underground or prevented them from coming to Russia altogether.

A new extradition agreement between Russia and North Korea, signed in February 2016, introduced measures to allow mutual deportation of illegal immigrants. 68 The Main Directorate for Migration Affairs (until April 2016, previously called the Federal Migration Service) is now allowed to repatriate North Koreans who are “illegally” residing in Russia, even though they may face serious risk of abuse and exploitation in labour camps, or even the death penalty, upon their return to North Korea. There are concerns that this may also affect those North Koreans with refugee or asylum seeker status in Russia. 69 In addition, the repatriation of North Korean migrant workers as a result of the sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 2397 70 could expose those repatriated workers to exploitation in their home country.

A 2012 law, which demanded that foreign-financed NGOs and other international organisations that engaged in political activities register as “foreign agents” was further amended in 2014 to authorise the Justice Ministry to register “undesirable groups” as “foreign agents”, even without their consent. 71 This law effectively cracks down on civil society, including groups combatting modern slavery and providing support services for victims. Human Rights Watch reports that as of July 2017, the list of active “foreign agents” consisted of 88 groups. 72 At least one NGO that performs counselling for victims of trafficking and one NGO that assists migrants were added to this list. 73

The Russian government provides no funding for dedicated shelters for modern slavery victims. 74 Limited shelter services are exclusively provided by a limited number of NGOs. 75 In major cities such as St Petersburg or Moscow, shelters for homeless people may take in trafficking victims on a case-by-case basis. There are shelters for women and children in distress in major cities, which are usually funded by municipalities, that can deal with modern slavery victims, although they are not specifically trained to care for these types of victims. Adolescent victims of trafficking are placed in shelters for children in distress. 76

Generally, victims are identified and referred by either NGOs or law enforcement on an ad hoc basis. The Russian government has not yet introduced a comprehensive National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which would provide a framework for cooperation among the different actors involved in identifying and protecting victims. 77

The Russian government re-introduced compulsory labour in its prison system, beginning 1 January 2017. Compulsory labour was originally included as a provision in the Russian Criminal Code in 2011 to offer an alternative punishment to prison, but its implementation had been postponed due to a lack of facilities. 78 Four new correctional facilities have recently opened, that will house criminals sentenced to compulsory labour. These facilities have lower security than prisons and allow convicted criminals to leave with permission from authorities. However, individuals will not be allowed to refuse or switch jobs once they are assigned to a role. It is reported that individuals subject to compulsory labour will receive a salary. 79 Starting in 2018, individuals who violate the regime of compulsory labour or try to evade it may also receive a higher penalty, such as a prison sentence. 80

The Russian government did not draft a national action plan and failed to establish a body or similar measures to effectively coordinate the government’s response to modern slavery. 81

Response to modern slavery in supply chains

Public procurement

Public procurement in Russia is primarily regulated by the Federal Law No. 94 on Placing Orders for Provision of Goods, Works, and Services for State and Municipal Needs of July 21, 2005. The law created a unified nationwide procurement system and established mandatory procedures for all federal, provincial and municipal government agencies. 82 However, the procurement law does not contain any explicit policies or guidelines that prohibit the use of businesses suspected of using forced labour, or purchasing products that were made using forced labour. 83

Impact of the UK Modern Slavery Act in Russia

In 2016, Walk Free and WikiRate 84 partnered to develop a UK Modern Slavery Act Research project that would contribute to transparency on corporate action on modern slavery by enabling members of the public to view and assess modern slavery statements produced under Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act. 85 Section 54 requires businesses either headquartered or conducting business in the UK and with an annual turnover of over GBP36 million per annum to release an annual statement on the actions they are taking to respond to modern slavery. 86 There are an estimated 12,000 to 17,000 statements that will be produced under this reporting requirement, many of which are housed on the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) Modern Slavery Registry. 87

The UK Modern Slavery Act Research project employs a crowdsourcing approach to reviewing and assessing the statements housed on the BHRRC platform, recognising the value of having a fully transparent platform, but also the enormous amount of time and resources it would take to conduct this analysis. The Wikirate platform enables university students and the general public to access the statements and answer a series of questions assessing whether the statements meet the requirements of the Act (signed by a board member, approved by the board and hosted on the company homepage) and if they detail policies that enable the business to better respond to modern slavery. To date, over 400 statements have been assessed by university students at Columbia University, ESCP Europe Business School, Johns Hopkins University, University of Nottingham, and the University of Western Australia.

The statements analysed by the Modern Slavery Act Project were the most recently available statements at the time the research was conducted – in most cases, this would be the 2016 statement. All statements analysed by the project can be found on the relevant business page at Some businesses have subsequently updated and improved their statements, and the updated statement will be included in the next iteration of the research.

Only one Russian company has to date released a statement under the requirements of the Act: VTB Capital, 88 from the diversified financials sector. The statement released by VTB Capital is available on the company’s website, though it has not been signed by a CEO or Director. It is also unclear if the statement has been approved by the board. The content of the statement very briefly outlines the company’s commitment to human rights and its zero-tolerance approach to modern slavery. The statement mentions that VTB Capital prohibits the use of modern slavery through specific requirements in its contracting processes.

Business supply chains

Since the publication of the 2016 Global Slavery Index, Russia has not implemented any law that requires private businesses to report on steps taken to reduce risk of forced labour in their supply chains.

Zong slave ship trial

Hearing arguments in the case of the Zong, a slave ship, the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in London states that a massacre of African slaves “was the same as if Horses had been thrown over board” on June 22, 1783. The crew of the Zong had thrown at least 142 captive Africans into the sea, but the question before the court was not who had committed this atrocity but rather whether the lost �rgo” was covered by insurance. The trial laid bare the horror and inhumanity of the Atlantic slave trade and galvanized the nascent movement to abolish it.

The Zong left Accra in August of 1781, carrying 442 enslaved Africans and bound for the colonial plantations of Jamaica. As was common in the slave trade, the Zong was grossly overcrowded, carrying more than double the amount of people a ship its size could safely transport. Running low on water and having lengthened their journey due to a navigation error, the crew voted to jettison some of its human �rgo” in order to ensure the safe delivery of the rest, a loss for which the shipping company could be compensated under British law. Over the course of several days, the crew threw at least 122 Africans overboard. The Zong arrived in Black River, Jamaica with 208 enslaved people on board.

The trial commenced in March of 1783, and the court found that the insurance company was liable for the damages, as enslaved people were the same as any other cargo. Two months later, the Chief Justice overturned the decision due to new evidence, but his statement that the enslaved were equivalent to horses remained the opinion of Britain’s highest court.

Formerly enslaved man and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano told the abolitionist Granville Sharp of the Zong affair, leading Sharp to explore the possibility of having the crew tried for murder. Nothing approaching that level of justice would ever touch those responsible for the massacre, but Sharp and Equiano’s efforts to publicize the story did build momentum for the abolitionist movement. A few months after the Zong trial, the Society of Friends began to campaign against slavery, and the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded four years later. Thanks largely to their efforts, in which the story of the Zong featured prominently, Parliament outlawed the Atlantic slave trade in 1807 and abolished slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.

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