Fall 2024 - LBST 307 D100

Unfree Labour and Modern Slavery: Understanding Coercion and Exploitation in Contemporary (3)

Class Number: 5850

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 4 – Dec 3, 2024: Thu, 2:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    Strongly Recommended: LBST 101.



An exploration of the expanding forms of unfree labour in capitalist economies as products of changing labour processes, global labour markets, and the policies of neoliberalism and 'austerity'.


Slavery, many claim, is not a thing of the past. Contrary to the expectations of economists, policymakers and political theorists, contemporary processes of capitalist globalization have not ended unfree labour. Modern slavery and trafficking are back in the spotlight. This course explores the expanding forms of unfree labour in capitalist economies as products of changing labour processes, global labour markets, and the policies of neoliberalism and 'austerity'. The course seeks to understand these phenomena from a labour perspective, focusing on workers and labour markets in the global political economy. We will address the question of why the deepening and expanding global markets for commodities and labour have given rise to, or resurrected, the most severe forms of exploitation captured in the term ‘unfree labour.’ Specifically, this course asks how far and in what ways is the growth of unfree labour related to the rise of neoliberal economic and social policies? We will pay close attention to questions of gender, race, and inequality in the construction and expansion of global markets, as well as to the role of various agents and social movements in contesting and reinforcing these dynamics.

Overall, our objective is to critically reflect on contemporary contexts concerning ‘modern-day slavery’ in order to arrive at a historically informed and socially nuanced political economic explanation for unfree labour’s acceleration during neoliberalism. We will examine course themes in relation to: the historic role of unfree labour in capitalist development; the organization of global production as it shapes unfree labour; poverty, inequality, and vulnerability to unfree labour; and the global restructuring of labour markets and immigration policies.


Students will learn to critically analyze:

1. The definitions and understandings of free and unfree labour in contemporary market societies.

2. How current understandings of forced labour and modern slavery relate to historical struggles against labour exploitation and the social construction of categories of difference such as race, gender and class.

3. The relationships between unfreedom, migration and immigrant labour.

4. The contemporary politics of trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery.


  • Paper Proposal & Annotated Bibliography 20%
  • Mid-term Exam 20%
  • Weekly student led discussions 15%
  • Participation 10%
  • Final Essay 35%


Grading: Where a final exam is scheduled and the student does not write the exam or withdraw from the course before the deadline date, an N grade will be assigned. Unless otherwise specified on the course syllabus, all graded assignments for this course must be completed for a final grade other than N to be assigned. An N is considered as an F for the purposes of scholastic standing.

Grading System: The Undergraduate Course Grading System is as follows:

A+ (95-100) | A (90-94) | A- (85-89) | B+ (80-84) | B (75-79) | B- (70-74) | C+ (65-69) | C (60-64) | C- (55-59) | D (50-54) | F (0-49) | N*
*N standing to indicate the student did not complete course requirements

Academic Honesty and Student Conduct Policies: The Labour Studies Program follows SFU policy in relation to grading practices, grade appeals (Policy T 20.01) and academic honesty and student conduct procedures (S10.01‐S10.04). Unless otherwise informed by your instructor in writing, in graded written assignments you must cite the sources you rely on and include a bibliography/list of references, following an instructor-approved citation style.  It is the responsibility of students to inform themselves of the content of SFU policies available on the SFU website.

Centre for Accessible Learning: Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need classroom or exam accommodations are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (1250 Maggie Benston Centre) as soon as possible to ensure that they are eligible and that approved accommodations and services are implemented in a timely fashion.



Readings will be available through the library.

Additional material may be available on Canvas.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the term are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.