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In the early years of the Cold War, important debates took place on the nature and scope of both slavery and forced labour. The adoption of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery in 1956 and the vote on the Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour in 1957 were preceded by long and heated discussions within key international bodies such as the United Nations Social and Economic Council (‘ECOSOC’) and the International Labour Organization (‘ILO’). Yet, conventional legal histories tend to minimise these debates on the ground that they relate to the ‘political context’ of the Cold War. What is more, they tend to present the adoption of the two conventions as building blocks of the abolitionary project pursued by modern international law. My aim in this chapter is to destabilise such linear narratives. Focusing on the issue of forced labour, I will make five points.
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