Last week I blogged about the prevalence of modern day slavery: there are currently more persons in slavery today than were transported during the 350 years of the Atlantic slave trade. In short, it is a massive, and underappreciated, problem. Today, in response to some questions left by a couple of the (many) discerning readers of this blog, I thought that I would provide more details about the current slavetrade and where today’s slaves are being held.
According to the Global Slavery Index, a site run by the Walk Free Foundation, there are about 46 million people in slavery today. This figure is considerably higher than that estimated by the UN which I reported last week. The Index draws on research from 167 countries, surveys conducted in 25 countries covering nearly half of the world’s population and conducted with over 42,000 respondents.
Although the problem of slavery is global (even New Zealand has about 800 slaves while there are 100 in Luxembourg!) the majority of today’s slaves are concentrated in just 5 countries in a concentrated geographic area. 58% of the 46 million people in slavery live in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.
However, when it comes to the proportion of the population that are slaves, the countries that top the list are North Korea (4.3% of its population are slaves – surely that should 99.5%??) Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India and Qatar. North Korea’s high proportion can be explained by its government run slave labour camps and its high number of women provided as slave brides to Chinese farmers (I wrote about this terrible phenomenon three years’ ago). Uzbekistan’s situation is different: it is the sixth largest cotton-producer in the world. There, its citizens are subjected to state-sanctioned forced labour during the annual cotton harvest. Estimates from the 2015 harvest period place the number forced to work in the field at over one million people or nearly four per cent of the population.
According to the Index, the factors which make a population vulnerable to slavery include the lack of civil and political protections for human rights, lack of access to the necessities of life, lack of personal security due to war, being part of a refugee population, or large-scale migration group.
While some countries, like the USA, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have a very strong response to modern slavery, many rich nations like Qatar, Singapore and Kuwait have taken little action to combat modern slavery (such as criminalising the trafficking of humans, providing support for victims and developing action plans to coordinate their governments’ responses). Those governments which have taken the least action are generally poor, suffering conflict or complicit in slavery themselves and include North Korea, Iran and Eritrea.
But even the richest countries, with no war and a strong committment to human rights cannot be complacent. There are about 58,000 slaves in the USA today, 12,000 in France and another 12,000 in the UK, while there are 6,500 in Canada and 4,300 in Australia. In short, this is a global phenomenon, albeit one that is much more prevalent in some parts of the world than others.