debt peonage

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debt peonage

a coercive form of labour whereby the labourer is tied to an employer or landholder through indebtedness. It was a common method of ensuring a labour supply in AGRARIAN SOCIETIES until the 20th-century, although in some areas of the THIRD WORLD the practice persists illegally. Various forms of indebtedness were found: landowners sometimes paid taxes for the peasantry, requiring their labour services until payment had been made; sometimes labourers became indebted through transportation costs, such as was the case with Chinese immigrants to the US in the 19th century, when they worked without pay until their transport costs had been deemed to be covered. At its most extreme individuals were never able to work off the initial or subsequent debt which may even have been passed on to descendants. In such cases debt slavery may be the more appropriate term. See PEASANTS, PEASANT SOCIETY, LATIFUNDIUM.