Slavery and Prison Labour as Principal – Agent relationship
Through this paper I hope to provide the reader with a better and more comprehensive understanding of the concept of “Principal and Agent”, I will be individually analyzing and comparing the similarities and differences between Principal-Agent, Slavery and Prison Labor. In this paper we will also be looking at the essentials required for a relationship to be deemed to be of the nature- “Principal-Agent”, the similarities between Principal Agent and slavery, the essential elements of Slavery, what constitutes Prison Labor, whether Prison Labor is a form of Slavery. And finally, I will establish that both Slavery and Prison-Labor fall under the ambit of a principal agent relationship through my various arguments concerning the same.
Keywords: Principal-Agent, Slavery, Prison Labor, Essentials.
- Can Slavery be considered to be a principal agent relationship?
- Is Prison Labor a form of slavery?
- Can Prison labor be considered as a Principal-Agent relationship?
What is a Principal-Agent Relationship?
The relationship that is created when the principal appoints another person (the agent) to act on his/her behalf is called Agency. An agent can be an individual such as an employee or business partner, or an entity such as an accountancy firm or an outsourcing company. An important part of the Principal-Agent relationship is that the agent must be authorized before he/she can act on the Principal’s behalf. Usually, this authorization is written down into a contract which details exactly what an agent can and cannot do, but it doesn’t necessarily always have to be. One can give authorization orally, and an agency relationship may be implied in certain circumstances. The relationship itself is called a fiduciary relationship. This means the principal always places special trust and confidence in the agent to act for the benefit of the principal.
“Agent” is defined in Section 182 of the Indian Contracts Act in the following words:
Section 182. “Agent” and “principal” defined- An “agent” is a person employed to do any act for another, or to represent another in dealings with third persons. The person for whom such act is done, or who is so represented is called the principal”.
What is a Master-Slave Relationship?
Slavery was a form of dependent labor performed by a non-family member. The slave was deprived of personal liberty and the right to move about geographically as he desired. There were likely to be limits on his capacity to make choices with regard to his occupation and sexual partners as well. Slavery was usually, but not always, involuntary. Slaves were generated in many ways. Probably the most frequent was capture in war as a form of incentive to warriors, or as by-product, as a way of disposing of enemy troops or civilians. Others were kidnapped on slave-raiding or piracy expeditions. Many slaves were the offspring of slaves. Some people were enslaved as a punishment for crime or debt, others were sold into slavery by their parents, other relatives, or even spouses, sometimes to satisfy debts, sometimes to escape starvation.
The relationship between slaves and their masters could, be titled as exploitative, submissive under the master’s authority and Power. It was characterized by what may be called a mutual dependency: the master was dependent on the slave’s loyalty and the slave dependent on the master’s maintenance and humane treatment of him. While slaves had to bow to their master’s wishes under the constant threat of punishment, they could also become indispensable to them, function as their confidants, and be party to their secrets. One may assume that masters who had one or a few slaves only stood in a closer relationship to them than those who owned many. But even in large households some slaves will have been closer to their master than others, depending on their respective functions.
What is Prison Labor?
Prison labor is a generic term for various kinds of unfree labor, which prisoners are required to perform, typically manual labor. The work may be light or hard, depending on the context. Forms of sentence involving Prison labor have included involuntary servitude, penal servitude and imprisonment with hard labor. The term may refer to several related scenarios: labor as a form of punishment, the prison system4 used as a means to secure labor, and labor as providing occupation for convicts. These scenarios can be applied to those imprisoned for political, religious, war, or other reasons as well as to criminal convicts.
Essentials / Characteristics / features:
Essentials of Agency:
- Principal must be competent to contract – Sec 183 lays down that, any person who is of the age of majority according to the law to which he is subject, and who is of sound mind, may. employ. an agent.” Thus, it follows from S 183 that a minor cannot appoint an agent to act for himself. The appointment of an agent involves a contract and a minor’s contract is void. Thus, it is clear that a minor himself cannot employ an agent and the appointment of an agent by a minor will be void. Thus, an agent may be appointed only by a person who is competent to Contract.
- Agent need not be competent – Sec 184 clearly provides that, “As between the principal and third persons, any person may become an agent, but no person who is not of the age of majority and of sound mind can become an agent, so as to be responsible to his principle
- No consideration is necessary to create an agency – Sec 185 provides “no consideration is necessary to create agency.” Although an agent is generally remunerated by way of commission for services rendered yet no consideration is immediately necessary at the time of his appointment.
Characteristics of Slavery:
- The slave is considered to be property.
- He/She does not possess basic human rights.
- His/Her wellness and maintenance are looker after by the master.
- His/Her actions are for and on the behalf of his owner, provided that the owner bestows that power upon him/her.
- His/her consent in being a slave is immaterial.
- He/She may or may not be rewarded or remunerated for his work.
- They live in deplorable conditions and suffer inhumane treatment.
- Their labor directly benefits their master.
Characteristics of Prison Labor:
- He/she may be imprisoned for a civil wrong, a crime, as a war prisoner, as a mere temporary detention or they may even be imprisoned for no justifiable reason.
- He/She may be given the choice to do work or may be forced to do work.
- The work is for the Prison or the warden and is for the benefit of the Prison/Warden
- He/She may be compensated, but compensation is not a necessity.
- They often suffer inhumane treatment.
- They possess basic human rights.
- Their labor directly profits the prison.
Prison Labor as slavery:
The fact that prisoners are forced to work for the benefit of a higher authority regardless of their consent and regardless of whether or not they get remunerated makes this a form of institutionalized legal slavery. This form of legal slavery is only allowed when used as punishment for committing a crime. In the United States, the 13th Amendment states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Unconvinced detainees awaiting trial cannot be forced to participate in forced labor programs in prison as it violates their rights, yet it is commonly observed.
Slavery as Principal-Agent Relationship:
One could argue that if slavery possess the basic essentials of Agency and if the parties involved in slavery perform the duties and occupy similar roles as those of Agency then they form the same relationship. By that logic, looking at the essentials of Agency, considering The Principal (the master) as a competent major, who purchases and possesses slaves. The slave owner can be seen as competent. Next, considering that the slave in question is of sound mind and above the age of maturity, then they too can be seen as competent. (keeping in mind that slaves are seen as property and not as people, therefore their consent to the whole affair is immaterial). And finally, since consideration is not mandatory for Agency and since Slaves under most circumstances do not get paid, the two situations seems very similar. But for even more proof it can be argued that the duties of the Principal and Agent seem eerily similar to those of a Master and Slave…
- Duty of loyalty. The agent must act according to the principal’s wishes, put the principal’s interests first and not benefit from the relationship at the principal’s expense.
- Duty of care, competence and diligence. The agent must exercise authority carefully and diligently.
- Duty of good conduct/good faith. The agent should always act ethically and professionally.
- Duty to compensate. The principal must pay the agreed-upon fee for the agent’s services.
- Duty to indemnify. The principal must pay back the agent for any liability incurred in the course of her duties.
- Duty to deal fairly and in good faith. The principal should not do anything that could harm or cause loss to the agent.
- A prisoner and a prison merely by existing do not create a Principal-Agent relationship, there exists a duty on the prison to watch over and maintain the prisoners but when the prisoner is forced by the prisons or by the administrative authority to clean the halls, cook, repair and maintain the facilities etc., all these forms or work relate to the running and up keep of the prison. It can be argued that it is the duty of the Prison or Prison Administration to do this kind of work (or get it done). Prisoners appear to be contributing to the running of the prisons itself by way of delegation, and therefore creating a Principal-Agent dynamic. The existence of a Principle-Agent relationship exists both, if a prisoner is paid for his work and even if he is not remunerated.
- There are some rather easy to identify similarities between Prison-Labor, slavery and the Principal-Agent relationship. Especially when looking at the essentials of agency, the duties of the Agent and the Principal and finally, the characteristic features of slavery. It can and has been argued in many ways, shapes and forms that prison labor is a form of “Modern-Day Legal Slavery”. Through the treatment of the convicts, their living conditions and most importantly their consent in the work they do and their remuneration. Therefore, through the transitive property, after establishing the commonality between the Principal-Agent relationship and the Prison- Labor and Slaver; And after arguing that prison labor is a form of modern-day legal slavery, through my I will prove that prison labor can, in a sense be viewed as a Principal Agent Relationship and as a form of slavery.
- The very Definition of slave means a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them. They can be used or made to do manual, physical, or even household labor, with little to no form of payment or remuneration. In some cases Prisons pay their inmates for their labor, in other cases it is not compulsory but entirely optional for a Prisoner to do Prison Labor. Therefore one cannot simply make a blanket statement that all Prison Labor is slavery.
- It can be argued that since these Prisoner are being punished, therefore they deserve to be forced into do prison labor. (This line of thinking makes use of the Retributive Theory of Punishment).
- It can also be argued that an example needs to be made out of these Prisoners so as to deter the rest of society from acting the same (This line of thinking makes use of the Deterrence Theory of Punishment).
Application of law:
- From the Constitutional provisions on Slavery and Prison Labor (point number 4) it can clearly be seen and observed that the constitution of U.S.A allows for slavery, but exclusively as a form of punishment for crimes, and as result the modern western prison system, which India currently follows was born. It should be noted that this is the reason why forced and mandatory prison labor is allowed it the U.S.A, because their constitution allows slavery as punishment. But in a country like India where Article 23 of the constitution clearly stands again any form of slavery prison labor must be looked at and reconsidered. And we can argue that at the very least mandatory or forced Prison Labor is a form of Slavery.
In conclusion, there are some rather easy to identify similarities between the Master Slave relationship and the Principal-Agent relationship. Especially when looking at the essentials of agency, the duties of the Agent and the Principal and finally, the characteristic features of slavery.
It can and has been argued in many ways, shapes and forms that prison labor is a form of “Modern-Day Legal Slavery”. Through the treatment of the convicts, their living conditions and most importantly their consent in the work they do and their remuneration.
Therefore, through the transitive property, after establishing the commonality between the Principal-Agent relationship and the Master-Slave relationship. And after arguing that prison labor is a form of modern-day legal slavery, through this paper I have proved that prison labor can, in a sense be viewed as a Principal Agent Relationship.
 The Indian Contract Act – Sec 182.
 University of California, San Diego – “Slavery in the Hebrew Bible”
 Human Trafficking: A Historical Perspective, Chapter-3 (by Jagdeep singh)
 Discussing the essentials of agency (by Adan Hooda)
Author: Aditya Aluvila,
School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University), 3rd year