“Talk about slavery! . . . It exists wherever men are bought and sold, wherever a man allows himself to be made a mere thing or a tool, and surrenders his inalienable rights of reason and conscience. Indeed, this slavery is more complete than that which enslaves the body alone. . . . I never yet met with, or heard of, a judge who was not a slave of this kind, and so the finest and most unfailing weapon of injustice. He fetches a slightly higher price than the black men only because he is a more valuable slave.”Henry David Thoreau (1817–62), U.S. philosopher, author, naturalist. Journals (1906), entry for 4 Dec. 1860.
Slavery is a "peculiar institution." In the era before powered machinery, it might even have been an economic necessity in agricultural societies. At the same time, it should be pointed out that the large-scale use of slaves in Roman agriculture destroyed the small landholder that Rome originally depended on for its legions.
Regardless, slavery is morally reprehensible for anyone who agrees with Thomas Jefferson's proclamation in the Declaration of Independence, “...that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. . .”
The slave labor scandal involving Jack Abramoff and manufacturing in the U.S. controlled Marianas Islands, and the multitude of news stories about sex slaves illegally imported into the United States (as well as Western Europe and Israel) from Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia; demonstrates that despite our best intentions, slavery is still extant, and staging a significant comeback, in the United States and the other western democracies.
Slavery, de facto or de jure, is an institution which far too many human beings secretly and perversely desire and appreciate, as long as they are not a slave. To know that someone cannot say “no” to you, I suspect, is perversely as satisfying to those individuals as being able to give an unconstrained “no” is to most other human beings.
I would define true slavery as a circumstance where an individual is in an enforced, unjust state of subjection without access to due process, legal rights or other realistic recourse to remedy or improve their condition; that further, it is a state where refusal of an order by the subjecting authority or its agents is not possible without severe physical and emotional repercussions for the individual and/or his family.
Closely related to slavery is the concept of serfdom. Serfdom is similar to slavery, except the serf has a few rights; e.g., he is tied to his lord's land, and cannot be sold; the serf may not be killed without cause by his lord, if he is, the lord must compensate the serf's family.
Serfdom per se, has never formally existed in the United States. However, we hear strong echoes of this institution in the practices of sharecropping, tenant farming, and the old company mining towns, where a miner could say (in the words of the Tennessee Ernie Ford song) “I owe my soul to the company store.”
My point is this: any human institution that requires the dehumanization of human beings to function (as slavery and serfdom do), is by its very nature immoral, even if it is not illegal. To intentionally treat another human being as a thing, as something less than human; to degrade ourselves (as Thoreau stated above) as human beings by surrendering our conscience, our reason, our dignity, or our self worth for some temporary advantage; are crimes against the inherent value of all members of mankind.
The “personhood” of corporations is likewise a crime against the dignity of humanity.
Are corporations in fact in a position similar to the serfs of Medieval Europe, possessing a limited number of rights while in the service of its lord/owners?
If that is true, how does the very existence of that corporation confer additional legal privileges and protections upon its owners?