Are Kevin Bales' suggestions for reforming the United Nations so as to bring the end of slavery too idealistic?

Reconsidering the importance of the UN

by Georg Müller (Author)

Essay 2013 8 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Public International Law and Human Rights


Are Kevin Bales‘ suggestions for reforming the United Nations so as to bring the end of slavery too idealistic? - Reconsidering the importance of the UN

Today slavery is not only officially illegal in all nations but furthermore every human being has, in reversion, a non-derogable right not to be enslaved thus giving the crime of slavery a jus cogens status. Nonetheless, together with other jus cogens norms such as the prohibition of torture or genocide, slavery still prevails in the world with unprecedented numbers of modern slaves. Kevin Bales claims, however, that the UN together with other transnational organizations can potentially contribute to ending slavery rather sooner than later – if they are reformed. This paper will focus on his arguments for reforming the UN and its associated organizations so as to achieve this goal. It will argue that while Bales makes a very good case for reforming the UN his propositions seem sometimes only to have aspirational character and it appears questionable whether they can ever be implemented. However, this is not to say that his suggestions are not of tremendous importance, but rather, this essay wants to argue that the importance of the UN should not be overstated. Generally this essay will focus first on whether the reforms suggested by Bales are feasible and second if they are to be implemented how effective they can be in eradicating slavery. Regarding the first point this essay will outline different arguments regarding the implementation of the reforms according to Slaughter’s and Mearsheimer’s line of argumentation. In regard to the latter point this essay will focus first on the lack of enforceability while acknowledging the informational power of the UN and second on the underlying problems of slavery that stand to some extend in contrast to the UN’s mission. Finally this paper will conclude that while it is not impossible to implement the proposed changes in the UN there are considerable challenges to be overcome and furthermore the effect these changes might have on the process of abolishing slavery might be rather small.

Bales outlines a five point plan, which the UN, including the Security Council, should implement to effectively fight slavery: first, appoint a special representative of the secretary-general on slavery; second hold a Security Council meeting on the matter of slavery; third make significant contributions to the budget of the special representative; fourth appoint a committee of experts to review slavery conventions and fifth determine how to expand the UN inspection mandate to slavery (Bales, 174). On first sight these steps seem quite straightforward; however, considering the complexity of competing interests within the UN as well as its bureaucratic structure it seems anything but simple to achieve these goals. It is undoubtedly true that the state is still the most important actor in international issues and the UN represents the interests of those countries; although power is very much skewed. Furthermore it is true that slavery exists in every country in the world no matter how developed it is. If one accepts these premises one needs to ask, keeping Mearsheimer’s theory in mind, why countries should make any additional efforts in abolishing slavery. Economically slaves present only a small fraction of the population, especially in Western countries. In European countries slaves constitute mostly less than 0.5% of the population according to recent extrapolation estimates by Datta and Bales (21). There is no doubt that holding any person prisoner through the use of physical or psychological force is a heinous crime that needs to be prosecuted; however, the political and economic reality seems to suggest that the abolition of slavery often comes second or third to other interests of the state. With this in mind it seems not surprising that it took the German government, which is certainly considered a very liberal and democratic legislative branch, over six years to ratify a European convention on the fight against slavery and human trafficking due to concerns about migration control (3sat.de). These policy lags in national legislative cast some doubts on whether such changes are feasible on the international level, where multiple state interests collide. On the other hand is not true anymore that states only act as a unit but rather can the increasing importance of transnational networks be observed.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
577 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Richmond
kevin bales united nations reconsidering


  • Depending on your browser, you might see this message in place of the failed image.

    Georg Müller (Author)


Title: Are Kevin Bales' suggestions for reforming the United Nations so as to bring the end of slavery too idealistic?