Bonded Labor Essay Writing

(NB: The following is a short essay I wrote for the completion of one of my modules in my Masters at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London this past year, more of which I’ll be posting for comment as I get back into blogging. This one addresses the nature of bonded labour in capitalist development from a Marxist theoretical and historical perspective in light of the ILO’s campaign for decent work. I’m grateful for discussions with my tutor Frido Wenten and my comrade John Buttell which helped bring the following scattered thoughts to fruition.)

The Role of Bonded Labour in Capitalist Development


Within the past decade, civil society institutions in the west have devoted an increasing amount of attention to the problem of unfree labour in its various incarnations: child labour, debt bondage, slavery and indentured servitude. Their continued existence long after the legal extinction of slavery and other forms of bonded labour in most of the world, it is thought, makes combatting them today an especially pressing issue. Bales (2004), a prominent figure in the contemporary anti-slavery movement, estimated that there are 27 million people in the world today working under slavery, which he defines as a relationship in which the subject is controlled by violence, paid nothing, and economically exploited. The concern with ending these conditions demonstrated by NGOs and civil society actors has been matched by the International Labour Organization which announced a ‘global alliance against forced labour,’ (ILO 2005) and campaigns for the elimination of forced labour as two out of four of its core labour standards.

Campaigns to end bonded labour in the developing world have been subjected to a withering critique by the left for their single-minded focus on the worst conditions and the general belief that slavery, bonded labour, and other forms of work by coercion are somehow exceptional in the course of capitalist development, from its origins to the present day. The question therefore arises of whether forms of bonded labour are integral to capitalism, are optional to it, or are outside its sphere entirely.

This essay will attempt to answer that question from within a Marxist framework. While there are different approaches within Marxism to the question of free labour, tied to various discussions including the relationship between extra-economic coercion and pre-capitalist modes of development, uneven capitalist development, and the articulation of different modes of production within capitalism, little attempt will be made to address these here, except as they impact directly on the main argument. After defining Marx’s conception of free labour and the role of bonded labour in primitive accumulation, the critique will move on to a discussion of Banaji’s (2011) article on the “fictions of free labour,” in order to critically elaborate on contemporary Marxist theorizations. Finally, a case study will be attempted of the American South to illustrate concretely the existence of bonded labour within capitalist production. By this it should be shown that although Marx’s notion that ‘doubly free’ labour is constitutive of capitalism at a fundamental level, this functions as one end of a continuum with forms that are less ‘free’ and play a role in capitalism while not being integral to it in the same way.

Free and Unfree Labour in Marx

Marx most explicitly deals with the division between free and unfree labour in the discussion of primitive accumulation in volume one of Capital. His most lucid statement on the relation between free labour and capitalism is as follows:

The silent compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker. Direct extra-economic force is still used, but only in exceptional cases. In the ordinary run of things, the worker can be left to the ‘natural laws of production,’ i.e., it is possible to rely on his dependence on capital, which springs from the conditions of production themselves and is guaranteed in perpetuity by them. It is otherwise during the historical genesis of capitalist production… (Marx 1992, p. 899)

Under primitive accumulation, then, the rising bourgeoisie needed the state to enforce conditions necessary to accumulation through violence. But compulsion which was not needed after these conditions were finally secured. Whereas Marx in this passage recognizes a role for both economic and extra-economic coercion under capitalism, he describes a broad qualitative separation between “direct extra-economic force” and “the silent compulsion of economic relations” which find their division expressed temporally in the divide between the period of initial accumulation and the subsequent history of capitalist development, when direct extra-economic coercion of the working population becomes the exception rather than the rule.

In the pages following the above passage, Marx develops a justly famous history of the period of primitive accumulation, centred on the coercive measures that were used to establish the preconditions for capitalist production in early modern England. The enclosure of common land and the expropriation of the free peasantry, the enforcement of brutal laws on begging and vagrancy, the establishment of hellish poorhouses and work-houses, and the purposeful driving down of wages follow each other in this history. What was meant by this process, according to Marx, is the creation of a class of wage workers that was “doubly free”—free to sell their labour-power to anyone they choose, and freed from any ownership over the means of production.

Marx evidently meant the formula of “double freedom” to be understood in an ironic sense. “Freedom” from ownership over the means of production is a negative freedom brought on by some of the most brutal methods in history, while it leads directly to the freedom of the wage-labourer to sell their labour-power. It would be best to understand Marx as using his caustic wit to express a real paradox that is central to capitalist social relations.1 This is implied in another formula in Capital: “the wage-labourer… is compelled to sell himself of his own free will” (Marx 1992, p. 932). Here, Marx again expresses the dialectical contradiction between the freedom to sell one’s labour that is brought into being by the “silent compulsion” of capitalist relations in the labour market. It would be a misreading of Marx, however, to imagine that because this freedom is the product of coercion, it is devoid of any real content.

Marx’s concern with the conditions of free labour, and that he thought much of the struggle to emancipate bonded labour, are evident throughout his entire career. To take just one example, his writings on the US Civil War (1861-1865) display his concern that the Union, representative of the system of free labour under capitalism, should be victorious over the slave-capitalist society of the South (Marx and Engels 1961).2 Here, Marx’s concern was that not only the condition of free labour was superior to that of plantation-slavery, but that only the extinction of this system, which he regarded as brutal and exceptional within the course of capitalist development, could lead to a united American labour movement—that white workers could never emancipate themselves while black workers were bound in slavery (Marx 1992).

Banaji’s ‘Fictions’ of Free Labour

Banaji’s (2003) article “The Fictions of Free Labour” represents an engagement with the contemporary debate on bonded labour, particularly the writings of Ramachandran (1990) on Indian agriculture and Brass’ (1999) broader theorization of unfree labour. It also represents a belated intervention in the “modes of production” debate in Indian agriculture, carried on during the 1970s in Economic and Political Weekly, in which Banaji made several key contributions.3 The article elaborates on a point made in an earlier article (Banaji 2011a): that the epoch of capitalist relations featured a wide variety of different modes of surplus extraction. Capital could extract a surplus through forms incidental to wage-labour such as slavery or debt bondage. In this earlier work, Banaji stresses the need to determine the underlying relations of production both by reference to the “laws of motion” analysed as particular to a mode of production, and by empirical study of each individual case.4

His later article shifts from this to regard the laws of motion—what Banaji calls the level of “social capital”—almost exclusively. Marx, in Banaji’s reading, developed an understanding of the labour-contract as a mystification and/or mediation of the worker’s subjection to the capitalist, and he quotes from Capital in support of his view that the nature of wage-labour cannot rely on the ‘free’ contract between capitalist and worker, which Banaji regards as merely an ideological legitimation of this subjection (Marx 1992). Rather than being non-capitalist, debt is actually a way by which the wage-labour typical to capitalism can be recruited. Both Brass and Ramachandran, by emphasizing the consensual wage-bargain between capital and labour as integral to capitalism, buy into a form of Marxism that is tainted by liberal mystification.

The upshot is that forms of ‘unfree’ labour such as sharecropping, labour tenancy, and debt-bondage “may just be ways in which paid labour is recruited, exploited and controlled by employers” (Banaji 2003, p. 83). Capitalism, in other words, can and has used a multiplicity of such forms of exploitation that are based on wage labour, and indeed more extreme ones—Banaji here cites sharecropping in the American South, the forced recruitment of labourers in French West Africa, and the use of slave labour in German-occupied Poland during the World Wars.

There is much to be said in criticism of Banaji’s essay. All the historical cases he mentions might well be recognized within the Marxist framework as exceptional circumstances—which Marx regards as aberrations from the norm. Furthermore, whereas Banaji says early on that it is impossible to draw a clear line between free and coerced labour, it is clear that Marx regarded these as distinct categories, even if they were not completely separable. As Bernstein (2013) notes, in Banaji’s account borders between primitive accumulation and industrial capitalism, along with those between capitalist and pre-capitalist societies tend to dissolve, eliding the historical specificity of capitalist economic coercion.

Rather than this absolutism of Banaji, it is more correct to view the distinction between free and unfree labour as a continuum, as Lerche (2007) discusses, in which forms of labour can be identified as free or unfree relative to each other. Or more precisely,

… it has become clear that pure ‘free wage labour’ in the double Marxian sense is an ideal type, the conceptual nucleus of far more complicated historical realities. Pure free wage labour… forms a kind of analytical core surrounded by numerous rings of labour relations that we would like to call intermediary (Amin and van der Linden 1999, p. 7).

Banaji, therefore, starts out with a distinction that is useful—that all forms of labour under capitalism are subject to some form of coercion—but by focusing entirely on the level of social capital, his thesis becomes useless analytically. As Lerche (2007) notes, what Brass and Banaji, as well as and Rao (1999) all have in common is that their critiques operate at an abstract, a-historical level—which they share with mainstream conceptions of unfree labour, including ‘anti-slavery’ campaigners such as Bales and the ILO. As Banaji’s article in many ways shows us the dangers of abstraction, the essay will conclude with the illustration of one historical case study of unfree labour which he mentions—sharecropping in the American South.

Sharecropping in the Southern U.S.

Banaji deals with sharecropping in the southern U.S., relying solely on Angelo’s (1995) article, alongside similar labour systems in colonial India and the Byzantine Empire. This inevitably involves a series of major (and unwarranted) historical and theoretical abstractions. The remainder of the essay will take up the case of sharecropping in the American South to concretely demonstrate the nature of this form of “bonded” labour.

Sharecropping was a system stamped by profound class struggles in the postbellum South. As Post (2011) notes, the defeated planter class initially imposed a series of laws known as the Black Codes which would reduce the former slaves to wage-labour on the plantations. The freedmen, however, having successfully thrown off slavery in a general strike with the support of the federal army, were not inclined to return to cotton-picking in conditions which they recognized as being similar to slavery. The class of freedmen, holding local political office and buoyed by the federal occupation of the South, were powerful enough to bury the Black Codes and substitute sharecropping, a system which allowed them considerably more autonomy. As Foner writes,

Planters strongly resented the sense of “quasi-proprietorship” blacks derived from the arrangement—the notion that sharecropping made the tenant“part owner of the crop” and therefore entitled to determine his own family’s pace of work… While sharecropping did not fulfil blacks’ desire for full economic autonomy, the end of the planters’ coercive authority over the day-to-day lives of their tenants represented a fundamental shift in the balance of power in rural society, and afforded blacks a degree of control over their time, labour and family arrangements inconceivable under slavery. (Foner 1988, p. 405-6)

Rather than providing abundant supplies of cheap labour as it is often seen, sharecropping instead tended to drive up labour costs across the board and blacks, being able to survive on their share in addition to traditional subsistence plots, had no desire to work longer hours (Post 2011). The planters increasingly turned to violence to reassert their power. Simultaneously, merchant capital entered the rural South offering loans to the freedmen against a portion of the crop, which was ruthlessly exploited to extract exorbitant levels of interest—providing the solvent that unglued black sharecroppers’ economic autonomy.

Even despite the great amount of autonomy the sharecropping system afforded the former slaves, even at its height it could never have been regarded as truly existing in their interest. The slogan “forty acres and a mule,” translatable as a demand for the federal government to empower ex-slaves as a class of petty farmers, had never received a hearing outside of the most utopian of the Radical Republican circles. Freedmen were in the end unable to resist reincorporation into the system of cotton production for the world market, a prospect they had vigorously rejected ever since Emancipation. They remained dependent on the planter and merchant to provide the seed and equipment, and bound to give up part of the crop they worked under a relationship of contractual obligation. In the last instance, the freedmen were much closer to the position of wage-labourers than that of their aspiration, petty proprietorship—a distinction which must be treated with some care.5

Even at its empowering height, Southern sharecropping was at best a bitter compromise that left both of the main classes deeply dissatisfied. It would best be regarded not as an iteration of “democracy against capitalism” and hence a non-capitalist labour system, as Post (2011) argues,6 but rather as a relationship of surplus extraction in which market relations were increasingly mediated through the personal relationship of the freedman to the merchant and planter. By the end of the Reconstruction period, sharecropping was no longer a system allowing blacks some amount of economic and political autonomy, but one that forced free blacks into dependence on their former masters in a barely disguised wage-relation.


This essay has demonstrated that forms of bonded labour have a contradictory nature under capitalism. As it has been seen, Marx (1992) recognized a role for generalized forced labour during primitive accumulation, regarding at as an exception afterwards. While Banaji (2003) dissolves the category of free labour in a fit of over-abstraction, the most defensible Marxist theory of the distinction between free and bonded labour would rest on a continuum, in which a number of mediated labour forms lie between the ideal type of doubly-free labour and absolute coercion. The case study of sharecropping in the American South allowed us a glimpse of the concrete dynamic in which one of these mediated forms was brought into being and reshaped through the class struggle between planters and freedmen. It shows that forms of bonded labour do not exist outside of the capitalist economy, and just like free labour may be shaped and negotiated by the struggle over terms and conditions of employment.

The existence of a defensible concept of capitalist bonded labour should encourage a return to the origins of the contemporary debate outside of Marxism, where debt-bondage, child labour and slavery are still thought of as exceptional in the course of capitalist development. A Marxist intervention into these debates would not only maintain the idea these “worst forms of exploitation” are just as capitalist as “free labour,” but would extend its inquiry into the forms of agency of employers and bound labourers. Examining the ways in which these intermediary labour relationships are constantly open to resistance and contestation would mark the beginnings of a project vital to the understanding of a global struggle seeking to emancipate labour from all forms of coercion, exceptional violence and normal economic laws alike.


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Child labour is the act of employing and engaging children in the economic activities like in the exploitative industry, illegal business, etc on part-time or full-time basis.

Essay on Child Labour

Child labour is a big social issue in our country as well as abroad which everyone must be aware of. Let your kids and children know what is child labour, its causes and what prevention measures are. These child labour essay are written in very simple words especially for the use of children and students going to school. By using such essay on Child Labour, students can easily win the essay writing competition because all are written in very easy English language.

Child Labour Essay 1 (100 words)

Child labour is the service paid by the children in their childhood in any field of work. This is done by the child own due to the lack of resources for the life survival, irresponsibility of the parents or forcefully by the owner for increasing their return on investment at low investment. It does not matter the cause of child labour as all the causes force children to live their life without childhood. Childhood is the great and happiest period of the lives of everyone during which one learns about the basic strategy of the life from parents, loved ones and nature. Child labour interferes with the proper growth and development of the children in all aspects like mentally, physically, socially and intellectually.

Child Labour Essay 2 (150 words)

Child labour is the full work taken by the children in any field of work. It is a forceful act either by the parents, bad events or owners. Childhood is the birth rights of everyone which he/she must live under the love and care of their parents however this illegal act of child labour forces a child to live life like elder. It causes lack of many important things in the life of child like improper physical growth and development, inappropriate development of the mind, socially and intellectually unhealthy.

Child labour keeps a child away from all the benefits of the childhood, a happiest and memorable period of the life of everyone. It interferes with the ability of attending regular school which makes them socially dangerous and harmful citizen of the country. This illegal activity of the child labour is increasing day by day even after lots of the rules and regulations against this by the government to completely prohibit the act of child labour.

Child Labour Essay 3 (200 words)

Child labour has become a biggest social issue in India which needs to be solved on regular basis. It is not the responsibility of the government only, it should be solved and taken care by all the parents, owners and other social organizations. It is the issue of everyone which should be solved personally as it can be happened with the child of any person.

In many developing countries child labour is very common because of the existence of high level of poverty and poor schooling opportunities for the children. The highest incidence rate of the child labour is still more than 50 percent in which children of age group 5 to 14 are working in the developing country. The rate of child labour is high in the agriculture field which is mostly found in the rural and informal urban economy where most of the children are predominantly employed into the agriculture work by their own parents instead of sending them to the school and free them to play with friends.

The issue of the child labour has now been an international concern as it highly involved in inhibiting the growth and development of the country. Healthy children are the bright future and power of any country thus child labour is damaging, spoiling and destroying the future of the children and finally the country.


Child Labour Essay 4 (250 words)

Child labour is the crime to humanity which has become a curse to the society and big issue preventing the country growth and development. Childhood is the most memorable period of the life which everyone has right to live from birth. Children have full rights to play with friends, go to school, feel the love and care of parents and touch beauty of the nature. However, just because of the improper understandings of the people (parents, owners, etc), children are forced to live life of the elder. They are forced to arrange all the resources for life survival in their childhood.

Parents want to make them very responsible towards their family in the early childhood of their kids. They do not understand that their kids need love and care, they need proper schooling and play with friends to grow properly. Such parents understand that their kids are the only property of them, they can use them as they want. But really, every parents need to understand that they have some responsibility towards their country too. They need to make their kids healthy in every aspect to make the future of the country bright.

Parents should take all the responsibility of the family by own and let their kids to live their childhood with lots of love and care. The main causes of the child labour all over the world are poverty, parents, society, low salary, joblessness, poor living standard and understanding, social injustice, lack of schools, backwardness, ineffective laws which are directly affecting the development of the country.

Child Labour Essay 5 (300 words)

Child labour involves the regular working of children in their childhood at very young age from five to fourteen years. Children in many developing countries are forced to work hard for full day against their will at very low pay for their survival. They want to go school, play with their friends and need love and care by their parent like other children living in rich houses. But unfortunately, they are forced to do something against their will.

In developing countries, the rate of the child labour is high because of the poverty, low level awareness for education and poor schooling opportunities. Most of the children of age group 5 to 14 are found to be involved in the agriculture by their parents in the rural areas. Poverty and lack of schools are the primary reasons of child labour in any developing country all across the world.

Childhood is considered as the happiest and vital experience in the life of everyone as childhood is the most important and friendly period of learning. Children have full rights to get proper attention from their parents, love and care from their parents, proper schooling, guidance, playing with friends and other happiful moments. Child labour is corrupting the lives of many precious children every day. It is the high level of illegal act for which one should be punished but because of the ineffective rules and regulations it is going side by side.

Nothing effective is happening to prevent the child labour from society as quickly as possible. Children are too young, cute and innocent to realize the things happening to them in the early age. They are unable to recognise that what is wrong and illegal for them instead they become happy getting small money for their work. Unknowingly they become interested in the getting money on daily basis and ruining their whole life and future.


Child Labour Essay 6 (400 words)

Children are conserved as the most important asset of their country however improper understanding of the parents and poverty making them the reason for the weakness of the country instead of being the power of the country. Most of the children under poverty line are forced to do the child labour daily even after the lots of awareness program run by the government and future welfare of society towards the welfare of the child.

Children are the new flower with powerful fragrance of any nation however some people are declining the power and destroying the future of the country just for earning small money by illegally involving the growing kids. They are playing with the moral of the innocent people and their kids. Protecting children from the child labour is the responsibility of each and every citizen living in the country. Child labour is the socio-economic issue which is coming from long ago and now need to be solved on ultimate basis.

After the independence of the country, various laws and regulations has been implemented regarding the child labour however it did not found its end in the country. Child labour ruining the innocence of the kids by directly destroying their health physically, mentally, socially and intellectually. Children are the lovely creation of the nature but it is not fair that due to some bad circumstances they are forced to do hard labour before their appropriate age.

Child labour is the global issue which is more common in the underdeveloped countries. Poor parents or parents under poverty line are unable to afford the education expenses of their kids and they own unable to earn enough money for the family survival. So, they better choose to involve their kids in hard work to fulfil their needs instead of sending them to school. They understand that schooling is a waste of time and earning money in early age is good for their family. It is the urgent need to aware the poor people as well as rich people (to not use asset of country in wrong way) about the bad effects of the child labour. They must be availed with all the resources which they lack. It should be done by the end of everyone. Rich people should help the poor people so that their children too can get all the required things in childhood. It needs some effective rules and regulations by the government to completely end its roots forever.


Child Labour Essay 7 (1000 words)

What is Child Labour
Child labour is a type crime in which children are forced to work in their very early age and perform the responsibilities just like adults by taking part in the economic activities. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there is an age limit applied to the children that children up to age fifteen will not involve in any type of work forcefully. It is an employment of the children in any type of work which makes children deprived of childhood, proper education, physical, mental and social well being. It is completely forbidden in some countries however has been an international concern in most of the countries as it is destroying the future of children to a great extent.

It is a serious matter (a big social problem) in most of the developing countries. Small age group children are being involved in the child labor hugely by the people of high status. They are avoiding the fact that children are the big hope and future of the nation. Millions of children have been deprived of the childhood and proper education in our country which is a dangerous sign. Such children do not get the chance of living a healthy life as they are not satisfied physically, mentally and socially from their childhood.

According to the Indian law, children below the age of 14 years cannot be employed to any type of work forcefully whether by the parents or owner in a factories, offices or restaurants. It is a common practice in India as well as other developing countries in a small scale industry, domestic aid, restaurant service, stone breaking, shopkeeper’s assistant, every house-hold industry, book binding, etc.

What are the Causes of Child Labour
There are various reasons of child labor in our country. Some of the causes of global child labor are similar however differ country to country. Most common reasons are like poverty, repression of child rights, improper education, limited rules and laws on child labor, etc. Following are some important points regarding causes of child labour:

  • Poverty and high level of unemployment in the developing countries are the main reason of child labor.
  • According to the U.N. statistics of 2005, more than 1/4th of people worldwide are living in extreme poverty.
  • Lack of access to the regular education in many countries. It was found in 2006 that around 75 million children were away from the school life.
  • Violating laws regarding child labour give the way to increased child labor in any developing country.
  • Inadequate social control gives rise to the child labor in the agriculture or domestic work.
  • Limited child or workers’ rights which affect labor standards and living standards to a great extent in order to eliminate child labor.
  • Small children get involved in the child labor in order to increase income of their family to manage two times food.
  • They are hired by the industries to get more work at reduced labor cost.

What are the Solutions to Child Labour
In order to eliminate the social issue of child labor, there is need to follow some effective solutions on urgent basis to save the future of any developing country. Following are some solutions to prevent child labor:

  • Creating more unions may help in preventing the child labor as it will encourage more people to help against child labor.
  • All the children should be given first priority by their parents to take proper and regular education from their early childhood. This step needs much cooperation by the parents as well as schools to free children for education and take admission of children from all walks of life respectively.
  • Child labour needs high level social awareness with the proper statistics of huge loss in the future for any developing country.
  • Every family must earn their minimum income in order to survive and prevent child labour. It will reduce the level of poverty and thus child labour.
  • Family control will also help in controlling the child labour by reducing the families burden of child care and education.
  • There is need of more effective and strict government laws against child labour in order to prevent children from working in their little age.
  • Child trafficking should be completely abolished by the governments of all countries.
  • Child workers should be replaced by the adult workers as almost 800 million adults are unemployed in this world. In this way adult will get job and children will be free from child labour.
  • Employment opportunities should be increased for adults in order to overcome problem of poverty and child labor.
  • Business owners of factories, industries, mines, etc should take the pledge of not involving children in any type of labour.

Child Labour as a Crime
Child labour is still practiced in many countries even after being a big crime. Business owners of the industries, mines, factories, etc are using child labour at great level in order to get more work at low labour cost. Poor children are more prone to be involved in the child labour as they are forced by parents to earn some money to give economic help to their family in the very young age (too young to realize their responsibilities towards family) instead of getting proper education and play with friends in childhood.

Child labour is a big social problem which needs to be solved on urgent basis by the support of both, people (especially parents and teachers) and government. Children are very little however they carry a prosperous future of any developing country. So, they are the big responsibility of all the adult citizens and should not be used in negative ways. They should get proper chance to develop and grow within the happy environment of family and school. They should not be limited by the parents only to maintain the economical balance of the family and by the businesses to get labour at low cost.


A range of students studying in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc classes can use any of the above given essay on child labour. All are simply worded to let students understand without any difficulty. Apart from child labour essay, you can get other related essays and information such as:

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