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There are 40.3 million modern slaves today



Paul De Maeyer - published on 08/10/18

The Walk Free Foundation has published its "Global Slavery Index 2018."

Approximately 40.3 million people around the world today live and work as slaves. This statistic was revealed last July 19 by the Global Slavery Index 2018, prepared and published by the Walk Free Foundation. The report denounces the fact that 5.4 out of every thousand inhabitants of the planet are “modern slaves.”

Women and children are the most common victims of this practice: women constitute 71 percent, or nearly three quarters, of those in modern slavery. Only 29 percent are male. It is estimated that more than half of the people reduced to slavery are minors.

Of these 40.3 million slaves, the report continues, 15.4 million are women or children in forced marriage. Nearly 25 million people are victims of forced labor, imposed in some cases by their own countries’ authorities.

The least virtuous countries …

The 10 least virtuous countries—that is to say, those with the highest rate of slavery—are all in Africa and Asia. The first three places on this unenviable list are North Korea, Eritrea, and Burundi. They are followed by the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Mauritania, South Sudan, Pakistan, Cambodia, and Iran.

As explained by the Global Slavery Index 2018’s authors in the over-200-page report, the situation in most of these countries is marked by grave problems—primarily armed conflicts, but also the lack of physical safety and of rule of law.

The three top countries—North Korea, Eritrea, and Burundi—are also three states in which slavery is imposed by the State. According to Walk Free’s report, one out of 10 North Korean citizens—which is to say 2.6 million people—is in a situation of slavery. This is the fate of many North Korean Christians, who, imprisoned in the infamous kwan-li-so, are obliged to forced labor by the Pyonyang regime.

On his part, the president of Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki, who has been in power for 25 years, has used the long conflict with Ethiopia to introduce the military drafting of citizens for an indeterminate amount of time, which, according to Amnesty International, has contributed to creating a “generation of refugees.”

Regarding Burundi, where the practice of forced labor continues, it’s important to remember that it’s the country with “the worst rate of child labor” in the world, according to La Repubblica in June 2014. In that African country, at least one child in five is the victim of some form of exploitation, and these little slaves are “often paid little, or not paid at all.”

Many Burundian children work in the fields; others, in urban areas as “houseboys” in wealthy households, “a scourge exacerbated by the fact that the little workers aren’t guaranteed any kind of rights; so much that, very often, they live in conditions of authentic slavery,” writes the Roman newspaper.

Among the countries that do “very little” in the fight against slavery, “despite their wealth and resources,” are included some nations with a high GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita, such as Kuwait, Qatar, Singapore, and the Sultanate of Brunei.

… and the best

However, there are also countries that have been fighting for years with great commitment to bring an end to the phenomenon. In the Global Slavery Index, only one country gets an A rating: Holland. The Netherlands lead the list of the 10 most active countries in the fight against the scourge of slavery. Besides Holland, other countries on the top 10 list are the USA, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Belgium, Croatia, Spain, Norway, Portugal, and lastly, the small country of Montenegro.

Even though they have only limited resources, the commitment of countries such as Georgia, Moldova, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Mozambique is edifying; according to the report, they “are responding relatively strongly.” Indeed, Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita GDP of $519 in 2017 and a low Human Development Index (HDI: 0.418).

From Europe and Central Asia to the USA

According to the Global Slavery Index, within the large region of Europe and Central Asia, the highest prevalence of modern slavery is found in Turkmenistan, Belarus, and Macedonia. Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine have the highest absolute number of victims of modern slavery in the entire region.

Belarus is also among the countries in which government-imposed forced labor persists. In that country, there is still a system of so-called Subbotniks or “communist Sabbaths,” which forces state workers to work on Saturdays or weekends and to “donate” the respective income to government-selected projects.

There is also “new slavery” in the USA. According to the report, there are more than 400,000 enslaved people people in the country, “a truly staggering statistic,” which “demonstrates just how substantial this issue is globally,” explained the Walk Free Foundation’s founder, Andrew Forrest, in a press release.

“The United States is one of the most advanced countries in the world, yet has more than 400,000 modern slaves working under forced labor conditions,” added the Australian businessman and philanthropist. “This is only possible through a tolerance of exploitation,” he emphasized.

The “driver” of modern slavery

The Walk Free Foundation’s report also dedicates ample attention to the G20 countries’ importation of products that are produced with forced labor; the volume of these importations has reached a collective value of $354 million. Consequently, according to the authors of the Global Slavery Index, importations are the “driver” of modern slavery.

Electronic devices, including desktop computers, laptops, and smartphones, make up the largest portion of these $354 million: $200.1 million, to be precise. Another significant sector is that of clothing: G20 countries import “at risk” garments to the tune of $127.7 million dollars. In third, fourth, and fifth place are fish ($12.9 billion), cocoa ($3.6 billion), and sugarcane ($2.1 billion).

The largest economy in the world is also the number one global importer of products at risk of being produced through slave labor: the USA imports at-risk products with a total value of $144 billion per year, of which a total amount of $122 billion accounts just for electronics and garments from China. Vietnam, at $11.2 billion, and India, at $3.8 billion, are the 2nd and 3rd largest exporters of at-risk products to the USA.

The volume of American importation of at-risk products is three times greater than that of the second importer of these products among the G20 countries, Japan ($47 billion). In third place is Germany, with $30 billion, and then the United Kingdom with $18 billion and France with $16 billion. Canada follows in sixth place with $15 billion.

Urgent action

In addition, the report reveals that as many as twelve G20 member countries do nothing to tackle or bring a halt to the problem, including Argentina, Mexico, and Russia. Andrew Forrest’s home country hasn’t done anything yet either, but Canberra is working on new legislation that is considered to be on the vanguard.

And action is needed. Images of an auction of Nigerian migrants in Libya, made public by CNN last autumn, caused great consternation. The videos show how, at the beginning of the third millennium, slave markets still exist.

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