Incredibly, there are still millions of slaves in the world today. According to the first Global Slavery Index Report by the Walk Free Foundation, there are around 30 million slaves in the world today. When I read this, I wasn’t as surprised as I would have been a few years ago.  This was because I attended a public lecture by Baroness Cox a few years ago where she set out her work in the field of buying slaves and setting them free in Southern Sudan (among other amazing stories about her experiences in Georgia/Armenia etc).  Now, when I heard about the widespread prevalence of slavery in the world at that lecture I was astounded. Slavery is something we got rid of in the nineteenth century right? Of course, this attitude simply reflected my ignorance of the history of this topic outside of Wilberforce, the Atlantic slave trade and the American civil war.

According to the Walk Free Foundation’s report, slavery certainly did not end with the Confederacy’s surrender 160 years ago. 

“Slavery remains a serious global problem, with 29.6 million people in various states of forced servitude, including sexual exploitation, debt bondage and forced marriage, according to a new report… Native-born slaves are often found in poorer countries, while exploited workers from poorer parts of the world regularly end up in rich countries where they are often trafficked. In India, some native-born slaves never leave their own villages, Walk Free found.”

And slavery is not a regional problem either – it exists throughout the world.

“The 10 countries with the highest number of enslaved or exploited workers, according to Walk Free, are: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russian Federation, Thailand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

But Mauritania, with about 150,000 slaves, retains the highest proportion of enslaved people in the world, with aspects of “chattel slavery” that back to the American experience of the institution, where human beings are considered “full property of their masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants.”

Many slaves in the West African nation were born into classes that have toiled as slaves for generations.

Haiti, with 200,000 slaves, has the second-highest proportion of slavery in the world. Many of its slaves are children.

Child slavery in Haiti stems from the cultural practice called “restavek,” where poor families send children to work in return for room and board in the homes of richer families, arrangements that often lead to abuse.”

Nearly half of the world’s slaves live in India (14 million). This includes inter-generational bonded labour, child labour, commercial sexual exploitation and forced marriage.  We’ve already reported before on this blog about forced marriages in India and in China due to those countries terrible sex imbalances (too many men seeking too few girls to marry). 

However, the problem is truly world-wide, with Iceland having the fewest number of slaves (absolutely and on a per capita basis) but still being found with about 100 slaves within its borders.

Slavery today may not be identifiable with plantations, whips, branding and manacles, but it is extremely widespread. It is an affront to us all that human beings throughout the world are owned as chattels by others. Unfortunately it seems as if this is a perennial problem that has not gone away despite us being so “enlightened and modern”.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...