When we hear the word “slavery”, many of us think of the American Civil War, or perhaps the Roman Empire. It is surprising just how many people seem to be completely unaware that slavery, in a multitude of forms, continues to this very day. In fact, we may live in an era when more people may be enslaved through human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage or commercial sexual exploitation than ever before in human history.
Just how many people have to live in some form of modern slavery may never be known precisely, but a new estimate by the 2016 Global Slavery Index puts the number at almost 46 million people. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Spain – and it’s far more than previously thought.
The Global Slavery Index is the result of meticulous research by Australia’s Walk Free Foundation, which has been a tireless advocate for putting an end to slavery around the world. Their researchers knocked on the doors of virtually every government to ask for data and conducted interviews with thousands of people around the world. The results are sobering and shocking, to say the least.
Most modern slaves, roughly 58 per cent of the 46 million, live in just five countries – India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. In per capita terms, no country has a higher percentage of modern slaves than North Korea. More than four percent of its population are estimated to live in conditions of slavery.
Now, those of us living in the developed world shouldn’t be led to conclude that slavery is a phenomenon confined to developing countries or totalitarian regimes. In fact, as the Index shows quite clearly, slavery is everywhere. Take the UK, not commonly seen as a place where slavery could flourish. The Global Slavery Index ranks the UK in 52nd place out of a 167 countries analysed – not exactly a clean sheet.
As it turns out, people in conditions of slavery can be found in the most unexpected places – from Vietnamese children forced to toil on illegal cannabis farms in Britain’s Northwest, to foreign childcare workers in London whose immigration status is tied to that of their foreign employers. Thankfully, the Modern Slavery Act is an important step in the right direction to mobilise businesses to take a much closer look at slavery in their supply chains. What’s needed is broader public awareness of the slavery risks in almost all human activities. Time to eradicate the scourge of modern-day slavery once and for all.